At long last, the United States will get a semblance of a decent health care system. Barring some unforeseen reversal, U.S. President Barack Obama’s reform package will receive final approval next month.
It’s far from ideal. There is no public option, for example. But it’s a major step forward after decades of repeated failed attempts.
This, along with the steadying of the American economy after its near collapse, will mark the most significant achievement of the first year in office for Obama. Many anticipated more from him. Following the years of regressiveness under former U.S. president George W. Bush, his expectations were enormous. But he has shown himself to be more of a middle-of-the-road compromiser than a reformer.
This was particularly evident in his decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan. In the election campaign he had spoken of moving America away from the post 9-11 fear mentality. The idea was that the most powerful military nation in the world would no longer be held hostage to little bands of terrorists hiding away in mountains. Yet, though no one has laid a glove on the United States in eight years, the fear of what extremists might do was at the heart of the Afghan escalation.
Terrorism will be around forever. If they’re not in Afghanistan or Pakistan, you’ll find them in North Africa or somewhere else. Until the American attitude changes, there will be no end to wars. Politicians will always be able to concoct a terrorist attack scenario, as they do now. Obama was under heavy pressure from the legions on the American right, now led by hillbilly Sarah Palin, who makes even Bush sound erudite. Had he not opted for more war, they would have pilloried him.
While the results of his first year have been mixed, it is still enormously comforting to have Barack Obama in place as the world’s most powerful man. Watching him, you can see a calm, balanced and enlightened mind at work, a president with a global perspective who views the world without prejudice.
What a beautiful contrast this represents as compared to the narrow-minded confrontationalism of his predecessors. Unlike so many other leaders whose smaller minds are steeped in combat-politics, Barack Obama is one who is on the high road and who will stay there.
Lawrence Martin is a journalist and author of 10 books who writes about national affairs from Ottawa.