I was particularly pleased with this post, assessing the pattern of Obama’s career.
Stemming the tide of urban decay in Chicago’s worst neighborhoods in the late 1980s was beyond even the most tireless efforts of one man. “Sisyphean” is the term that keeps coming to mind, but I would note that what Obama actually accomplished – “a successful effort to convince the city of Chicago to locate a jobs placement office on the far South Side and his part in a drive to push the city to clean asbestos out of a housing project in the same area [Altgeld Gardens]” – aren’t a ton to show for three years of effort.
As a state legislator, Obama had been in office for all of four years before he decided he was ready to replace Rep. Bobby Rush in Congress. The voters in his district didn’t see it that way. Relatively powerless when Democrats were in the minority, Obama’s accomplishments piled up in the final two years in the state legislature, as his political godfather, Emil Jones Jr., helped Obama take a lead role in just about every piece of high-profile legislation. By the end of 2003, Obama focused heavily on the upcoming U.S. Senate race.
This brings Obama to the U.S. Senate. His first general election ad touts a bill he didn’t vote for, his signature accomplishment in foreign policy (the nuclear nonprofileration bill) was so uncontroversial it passed by unanimous consent; and with his signature domestic policy accomplishment, ethics reform, nonpartisan observers conclude he has exaggerated his role in passage. Two years isn’t a lot of time to bring about “real change,” and most of his supporters would concede that Obama’s accomplishments as a freshman senator have been modest. He’s been rebuked by his colleagues for taking credit for legislation he had little role in crafting.
It’s easy to wonder whether the candidate who talks about “real change” and pledges a government that will “heal the sick” and “stop the oceans from rising” actually knows how to get big things done – or whether he had the patience. Obama would seem to have the skills and brains to be a legendary community organizer, or state legislator, or U.S. senator. But momentous accomplishments in each of those positions take time, and at each level, Obama hit a wall, and turned his attention to a position of greater power.
I concluded then, responding to a Boston Globe investigation of housing projects Obama touted that are now uninhabitable, “one of the problems of constantly moving on to the next promotion is that you never get to see the consequences and ramifications of past actions.”
I mention that because the Chicago Sun-Times has done a terrific article looking at what happened after Obama gave $100,000 in state money to a campaign volunteer to create a botanic garden in one of Chicago’s most blighted neighborhoods. The result? The money’s gone, the volunteer says he doesn’t have the paperwork to prove he spent it properly, a landscape architect from the Illinois Green Industry Association who found no evidence of the work that Obama’s volunteer said he did, and the site is strewn with weeds, garbage and broken pavement.
Big promises. Little follow-up. Once again, one of the problems of constantly moving on to the next promotion is that you never get to see the consequences and ramifications of past actions.