#5: Barack Obama
“This is what change looks like. In a big, messy democracy like ours, a country that’s huge and diverse, it’s not smooth. But it’s worthwhile.”
Like many Americans, President Barack Obama had a tough year in 2010.
The struggling economy continued to struggle; the so-called “Recovery Summer” failed to put a dent in the unemployment rate (which is still hovering around 10 percent); and in April, just weeks after announcing his intention to expand oil and gas exploration and offshore drilling, the BP/Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. In the November midterm elections, the Democrats and the president took a self-described “shellacking” as Republicans re-took the House of Representatives.
To be sure, it hasn’t all been rainbows and sunshine since Obama took office. But the president’s victories in 2010—fulfilling three key campaign promises—solidified his status as a man capable of effecting serious change. And though we don’t agree with all of his policy choices, we argue here that it would have been much worse without his sober leadership.
As Obama wraps up his sophomore year, it should be clear to any dispassionate observer that he is neither the benevolent despot so desired by the left, nor the Communist dictator so feared by the right.
Instead, the president has consistently governed as a centrist—always willing to compromise if that’s what it takes to get things done. These days, with the country so divided and facing so much uncertainty, it’s hard for us to imagine how anything could get accomplished any other way.
On March 23, after months of heated negotiation in Congress, the president signed his landmark health care reform bill into law—a feat that several past administrations had tried, and failed, to accomplish. And on July 21, he signed the Wall Street reform bill—the largest overhaul of the country’s financial system since the New Deal.
Both bills faced substantial opposition from corporate interests. Both bills were flawed. In neither case did the administration achieve everything it set out to achieve. But despite facing an uncooperative Congress that many onlookers described as “broken,” Obama managed to take two unprecedented steps forward.
In addition to those legislative victories, Obama ended major combat missions in Iraq, crossing yet another item off his 2010 to-do list.
As we write, his tax-cut proposal was just advanced in the Senate. It will move to the House, where it may face serious opposition. Some have noticed that what appears to be a spineless compromise is deceptively clever: over the next two years—right up until Obama’s reelection—a stimulus of nearly $1 trillion will be pumped into the economy, adding as much as 1 percent to the GDP and lowering the unemployment rate by about 1.5 percentage points.
Yes, he seemed to piss off just about everybody in the process. Yes, the administration probably sustained collateral damage from these hard-fought victories on November 2. Obama knows every compromise is a gamble: he continually risks losing his base to hook the support of independents. But without compromise, he recognizes, there can be no action, and no progress.
The Top 10 Good Men of the Year
10) Josh Hamilton
7) Mick Foley
5) Barack Obama
3) Dan Savage