THE MAINE DEBATE

Obama: Is he revived or should he be reviled?

President Barack Obama walks off stage after speaking at a Democratic fundraiser at the Paramount Theater, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011, in Seattle.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais | AP
President Barack Obama walks off stage after speaking at a Democratic fundraiser at the Paramount Theater, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011, in Seattle.
Posted Sept. 26, 2011, at 1:50 p.m.

Nearly a year before voters will decide whether to return him to the White House, few Americans are giving President Barack Obama their resounding affirmation and approval. His administration had the potential to be transformative in the way that Franklin Roosevelt’s and Ronald Reagan’s presidencies changed how people thought about government.

Regardless of whether you voted for him, President Obama’s tenure has been more about attempted compromise and conciliation and less about charting new directions for solving old problems. In recent weeks, Mr. Obama has displayed some of the passion for the ideals that vaulted his improbable candidacy to victory. But is this passion manufactured or genuine? Was he lost and now is found, or have the last three years revealed his inexperience and naivete?

Join us here at The Maine Debate from 10 a.m. to noon to consider these questions.

Hard-right Republicans were never onboard for this president, since his campaign rhetoric clearly repudiated the values of President George W. Bush. Mr. Obama — correctly — painted the invasion of Iraq as a mistake, asserted that better dialogue with the Muslim world would reduce our external threat and promised to shift the tax burden back on the wealthiest Americans after Mr. Bush had lifted it.

For moderate Republicans, these positions prompted a lot of rethinking, with some joining Mr. Obama’s move for change and others believing that a less drastic course shift was needed.

Democrats — both moderate and progressive — were moved by Mr. Obama’s vision of a third approach toward governing. He pledged to end the partisan divide and accept Republican ideas when they were worthy. His vision of government was not the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson or the New Deal of Mr. Roosevelt, but one that would spur innovation, provide economic justice and launch the nation into the global economic competition that was well underway.

In short, Democrats were inspired.

Independents — always the key to winning — were impressed with Mr. Obama’s intelligence, his ability to articulate the problems we faced, his competence and the overwhelming reasonable arguments he offered for what might have been dismissed as liberal dogma by another candidate.

What Mr. Obama did not anticipate was the depth of the economic collapse in September 2008. Stabilizing the banking system and Wall Street came at a great political price, even though most of that response was approved by President Bush. The necessary stimulus package helped shore up the economy and kept unemployment from cracking 10 percent. But 9-percent-plus unemployment after some 30 months does not look like success.

The health care law was a remarkable achievement — though the president failed to sell it as a necessary fix to ease the burden on businesses. And its complexity — as opposed to expanding something like Medicare for all ages — was exploited by his political foes to imply truly awful, if inaccurate, ramifications.

This summer’s embarrassing debt ceiling debate saw the president cave on one of his key promises, to shift more of the tax burden back to those making $250,000 and up.

Yet now, belatedly, we see the Barack Obama those who supported his election — such as this newspaper — expected. His jobs bill is a pragmatic, fiscally responsible response to a still-stalled economy. His plan to tax millionaires is a symbolic but still substantive aid to the growing deficit and debt, problems that were not of his making but exacerbated by the poor economy.

Is this the real President Obama, or is he in election mode? Has he learned from his mistakes — see Ron Suskind’s “Confidence Men,” which argues that the president surrounded himself with those responsible for the economic collapse — or has he not grasped why he struggles to connect with Congress and voters? Does he deserve more chances?

Join us for The Maine Debate.

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