You Probably Don’t Want to Read This

Posted on December 15, 2010


as it’s seven pages of hardcore politicsy business. I thought it was pretty terrible, but my teacher gave me full points, so I guess it’s not as terrible as my 4:00 in the morning post-writing evaluation suggested. That, or my teacher has never heard of

“Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive… that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]” (Inaugural). Barack Obama repeated this George Washington quote during his inaugural address in January of 2009, and it summarizes, not only the war that gave the United States its independence, but also the sentiment proliferated by Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.  In 2008, America was struggling with an economic crisis, two wars in the Middle East, and eight years under President Bush. Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois, was young, articulate, energetic, and appeared as a breath of fresh air in the hearts and television sets of Americans nationwide. Obama’s charisma and connection with the people landed him in the Whitehouse.

Along the campaign trail, however, Obama promised the American people drastic reform and specific policy changes. This includes promises of health care reform, financial regulation reform, significant investment into renewable energy sources, immigration reform, and much more. Progress has been made on many of these issues. But for many more issues, advancement is frozen. This fact angers many voters, who do not understand why they are not getting the drastic reforms they were promised. What they cannot see, however, is all the logistics and politics that must go on before a policy can be implemented.  There are several promises that Obama made while campaigning that have not been turned into policy. There are many reasons for this.

Obama seemingly hit the ground running when he ordered the close of the Guantanamo Bay detention center on his second day in office. Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is the home of a prison the United States uses to detain enemy combatants and terror suspects. It has long been a source of controversy, surfacing allegations of prisoner abuse and torture, and has raised questions about whether the United States has the right to detain inmates without trial (Childs). While he was running for office, Obama released his plan to combat terrorism, in which he pledged to close Guantanamo Bay (“Obama’s Plan”, 5).  When he ordered its closure, Obama acknowledged that it would probably be a long, complex battle. But it is doubtful that he could have foreseen the amount of resistance that would occur to his plan.

Almost as soon as he issued the order, grievances poured in from Republicans and Democrats alike. They argue that there is no satisfactory way to deal with the current detainees in Guantanamo Bay, and for this reason, tried to prevent its closure. In May of 2009, the Senate denied Obama the $80 million he requested to close the detention center (Herszenhorn). In October of 2009, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow some inmates at Guantanamo Bay to be transferred to U.S. soil for trial (Pleva). Although the bill did not pass in the Senate, this signified a possible willingness to compromise. A prison in Illinois had been identified and Obama’s administration hoped to purchase and renovate the site (Pleva). Detainees currently at Guantanamo Bay could then be transferred to this new facility. Congress, however is still not onboard with this new plan, and in May of 2010 it approved a bill with language “which specifically prohibits the use of funds to purchase or modify an U.S. facility for Gitmo prisoners” (Pleva). This bill will halt the Obama administration’s latest attempt to close the detention center.

Efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay facility have been vehemently blocked at every turn by Congress. While Obama claims that he remains committed to shutting down the detention center, little progress is being made. Meanwhile, media coverage of the issue has stagnated, and the public has moved on. Unless there is a significant shift with regards to Congress’s stand on this issue, it is unlikely that Guantanamo Bay will be closing anytime soon.

While campaigning, Obama came out strongly against the military policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which prevents gays and lesbians from serving openly. The military had used this law to investigate and discharge service members if they are suspected of being gay. In July of 2008 he outlined his complaints with the rule. “There are equity issues involved,” he said, “but there are also effectiveness issues involved” (“Military Times”). He argues that the military needs all the resources it can get, and should not be expelling talented personnel on the grounds of sexual orientation. He promised to work to repeal the law.

In his first year in office, however, progress toward a repeal was stagnant. The biggest problem lies in the fact that Obama does not have the power to change the law himself. The power to legislate lies with Congress, so in order to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Obama will have to get both the House of Representatives and the Senate to vote to end the measure. The issue was brought up in the beginning of this year, when “the nation’s two top defense officials” (Bumiller) called for a repeal of the law. In May of this year, the House of Representatives passed the defense bill for 2010, which was amended to include a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (H.R. 5136). Obama applauded the move (H.R. 5136), but the bill was blocked from coming onto the floor in the Senate.

One of the most vocal proponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is Senator John McCain, from Arizona. He maintains that neither Congress nor the president should alter the law unless military officials advocate a repeal (Shear). McCain has blocked and voted against any attempt to pass a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the Senate. Both McCain and Obama got what they were looking for on November 30, when the Pentagon released a study on potential effects on the military if “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were to be repealed. The study found that any negative effects would be minimal (Keyes). In light of these findings, Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, urged the Senate to repeal the law as quickly as possible (Keyes).

In light of this these recent developments, it would seem that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has a brief life ahead of it. After two years in the Whitehouse, Obama will have finally completed his campaign pledge to repeal the law, although, he does not have much control over the issue. He has adamantly opposed the rule, and commended anyone who worked towards its repeal, and under his influence, it may be repealed.

Probably the most ambitious and, so far, most successful of Obama’s campaign promises were those dealing with healthcare reform. In 2008, he released his plan for reforming healthcare. Some key provisions of this plan were to force insurance providers to cover individuals with pre-existing medical conditions and to create a public option, a state-run health coverage option that would compete with for-profit insurance programs (Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s).  On March 23, after a long battle in the House and Senate, Obama signed into law the healthcare reform bill. This bill ensured many of Obama’s campaign promises, including coverage for those with pre-existing conditions (Health Care Bill).

Missing from the bill, however, were many things Obama proposed in his healthcare plan released in 2008, most notably the public option. When it was proposed, there was an outcry among many Republicans, who think that a public option is tantamount to a “government takeover” of healthcare (Stolberg). It appears that only liberal Democrats are were favor of a public option, so in order for moderate Democrats and Republicans in congress to vote for a health care bill, inclusion of a public option had to come into question. The version of the health care bill that passed in the House of Representatives included a public option, but the version that passed in the Senate did not (“Side-By-Side”).  The final version of the bill did not mandate a public option. Although the public option was a major talking point for Obama during the campaign, his health care bill would not have passed in Congress if it had been included, so Obama had to do without the initiative.

The midterm elections, in which people voted overwhelmingly against the president’s party, showed that voters are unhappy with the way things are going in their government. In 2008, they voted for Obama’s visions of hope and change, and they are disappointed with the lackluster manifestations of those dreams. People voted for Obama for exciting new policies and issues that they cared about, and they have seen many of those issues forgotten, or get tied up in bureaucratic gridlock. They blame Obama for not delivering them the change they were promised.

But what many people fail to recognize is that Obama has completed many of the tasks he undertook. While it may not be perfect, Obama passed comprehensive health care reform. U.S. combat missions are over in Iraq. He has supported and invested in renewable energy solutions. While it may not be the dramatic change voters were looking for, Obama has signed into law many of the issues he campaigned on. What people also fail to recognize is that Obama is not operating in a vacuum. The president has to work with Congress in order to work out a compromise and implement policy. Congress not only has the power to pass laws, it also controls where the funding goes, so it is crucial that the president not only work with Congress in order to get his agenda signed into law, but also to make sure there is money to implement it. If Obama was expecting to walk into the Whitehouse and revolutionize the way politics is done in the United States, he has since learned that it is not that easy. It is time his supporters learned that, too.

Works Cited

Bumiller, Elisabeth. “Top Defense Officials Seek to End ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'” The New York Times 2 Feb. 2010.

Childs, Nick. “Guantanamo Controversy Rumbles On.” BBC News 18 Oct. 2004.

“Health Care Bill- H.R. 3590 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” Open Congress. Participatory Politics Foundation.
Hersxenhorn, David. “Funds to Close Guantanamo Denied.” New York Times 20 May 2009.

“H.R. 5136: National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011.” Open Congress. Participatory Politics Foundation.

Keyes, Charley, et al. “Pentagon: Letting Openly Gay Troops Serve Won’t Hurt Military.” CNN. 30 Nov. 2010.

Obama, Barack. “Military Times Editorial Board Meeting with Sen. Barack Obama.” Interview by Military Times editorial board. Military Times. Gannett Government Media Corporation, 8 July 2008.


Obama, Barack Hussein. “Inaugural Address.” 20 Jan. 2009.

“Obama’s Plan to Defeat Terrorism Worldwide.” Barack Obama: The War We Need to Win. Obama for America, 2008. 5-6.

Pleva, Lukas, Angie Drobnic Holan, and Catharine Richert. “Close the Gauntanamo Bay Detention Center- Obama promise No. 177.” The Obameter: Tracking Obama’s Campaign Promises. PolitiFact, 16 Sept. 2010.

Shear, Michael D. “McCain Appears to Shift on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'” The Washington Post 3 Feb. 2010.

“Side-By-Side Comparison of Major Health Care Reform Proposals.” Chart. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010. PDF file.

Stolberg, Sheryl Gay. “‘Public Option’ in Health Plan May be Dropped.” New York Times 17 Aug. 2009.

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