Obama's First Year: Has He Fallen Short?

Is the health care bill a victory for President Obama, or is the bill too watered down for his constituency to consider it a winner? How has the rest of the administration's agenda fared in Obama's first year? Host Scott Simon speaks with NPR news analyst Juan Williams for reaction, as well as an assessment of how President Obama has fared in his first year in office.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Going to turn now to our friend Juan Williams to talk about - good morning, Juan...

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: ...to talk about President Obama's first year in office. But first, he was apparently informed yesterday in Hawaii, where he is on vacation. Do we know much about what the president did?

WILLIAMS: Well, there was a secure conference call so that he was informed of what's taking place. There is now a White House group that's working to make sure that they are in touch with all aspects, as we just heard from Dina, and beyond that to say that what they're looking at specifically is, one, increasing the level of security at airports here and abroad; not raising the threat level, which is now orange, but taking steps within the threat level that exists to make sure that there is more a sense of security during this holiday travel season.

Because there's worry, given the pattern that Dina was talking about, the increased number of these aspirational attempts over the last few months, to make sure that the Obama administration is being as completely thorough as possible in resisting and putting up all alerts for any possible occurrence of an attack.

SIMON: And let's try to slide into at least a brief, condensed conversation about Mr. Obama's - President Obama's first year in office. Elected by a great popular majority, he now has an approval rating somewhat below 50 percent, although he remains personally popular. How do you assess what some of the - as his administration sees it, some of the gains that they've had in the first year in office, and where have people been dissatisfied, that puts that approval rating below 50 percent?

WILLIAMS: Well, without a doubt, you know, the big accomplishment would be whether he gets a health-care bill through. It's now through the House and the Senate. The House will come back, you know, in - I think it's January 12 - the Senate will be back the 19th, and then it'll be all about reconciliation of these two bills. That would clearly be his biggest accomplishment.

Secondly, I think the White House would point to the economy. Their argument is that this administration, through the use of the stimulus package and some of the bailouts, prevented the country from going into a depression. So those would be the highlights.

I think, though, the question is - especially when it comes to health care and the declining approval numbers that you referred to, Scott - is that the president has not done a good job so far of selling it to the American people. Everything has been about the arguments here in Washington over the bill, over the possible negatives - things like cuts in Medicare, increased taxes to pay for the bill.

So the question now is whether or not he can get out there and sell it, particularly to his base. And I think that's another part of the story, that in his first year, I think the base has occasionally been dissatisfied. For example: Don't Ask Don't Tell, gay marriage, sending the additional troops to Afghanistan, the Wall Street bailout - some people see that as helping the big guy, not the little guy - and not to mention human rights. He didn't meet with the Dalai Lama and the like.

So a lot of people are questioning exactly where he's going.

SIMON: Yeah. What about the observation that Mr. Obama had such an ambitious -President Obama had such an ambitious agenda in his first year in office, he didn't focus, didn't concentrate.

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, he was supposed to be a transformative president. And he has been sort of, across the board, working on big-ticket items. And I think that's what he wanted to do - is to say, you know, I'll take on the major issues, such as health care, that had absolutely befuddled American presidents for generations. How do you get a national health-care program in place that would cover more of who are insured? This plan is going to cover 94 percent of Americans.

And yet he has really been damaged by the process because he has not taken control, as I said, gone out there and sold it aggressively. Fifty-four percent of Americans right now think he's governing too far to the left. So we'll see where it goes, Scott.

SIMON: NPR News analyst Juan Williams, thank so much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome.

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