1 Year Later: Has America Been Remade?
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Almost a year has come and gone since that cold day, last January, when Mr. Obama put his hand on Abraham Lincoln's bible and challenged Americans to tackle tough times together.
President BARACK OBAMA: But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin, again, the work of remaking America.
(Soundbite of applause.)
WERTHEIMER: Now that the dust has settled a bit, we're taking stock of Mr. Obama's first year in office. NPR White House correspondent, Scott Horsley, joins us. Good morning, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: So, how is that process of remaking America going? The president started operating on several fronts at once.
HORSLEY: Yes, he had a very ambitious agenda, not only to overhaul health care, but to reshape energy policy and rewrite financial rules. He ended the year on a high note, with regard to health care, with the Senate passing a bill, but that took a lot longer than the president wanted, and it gobbled up energy that might've gone to other things - an energy bill and the financial overhaul bill have passed the House but are nowhere near passing in the Senate. And of course, all of this has been overshadowed by the worst economic recession in a generation.
WERTHEIMER: Which, of course, the Obama team had to respond to.
HORSLEY: That's right. Even before he took office, President Obama was lobbying hard for Congress to pass a big economic stimulus bill. He promised that $787 billion measure would save or create some three and a half million jobs.
Unfortunately, since this recession began, the economy has lost about twice that many jobs. So, even if the stimulus delivers - and there are signs that it is delivering - a lot of people are still going to be out of work. The unemployment rate has been climbing for most of the past year, and Republicans, who were almost unanimously against the stimulus, have been using that to beat up on the president.
In recent weeks, we've seen the White House and Democrats in Congress take more visible steps to respond to the jobs mess, and that's going to continue in the new year.
WERTHEIMER: Let's talk, for a minute, about foreign policy. The president, just by his election, an African-American president in the United States, many people predicted that that would change U.S. standing abroad.
HORSLEY: Well, Mr. Obama has certainly been aggressive in reaching out, both to friends and adversaries of the United States. He's visited more than 20 countries in his first year in office - more than any other president - and there's some possibility that that will pay some dividends, perhaps in a more coordinated international response to Iran's nuclear program, for example -we'll see. But like it or not, the biggest legacy for this president in foreign policy may be the big gamble he's taken in Afghanistan; where he has both increased U.S. forces, and at the same time, promised this is not an open-ended commitment and that some of those troops - underscore some - will begin coming home in the summer after next.
WERTHEIMER: Now, in his inaugural address last January, President Obama challenged Americans to put aside petty bickering and suggested that there should be a change of tone in Washington. From where I sit, that is not working.
HORSLEY: You've noticed there's still some petty bickering here in Washington, Linda? Both at home and abroad, the president continues to face some tough struggles. And he said, earlier this month, at the climate conference in Copenhagen, after getting a deal that was less than many had hoped for but still a deal, he said, you know, this stuff is hard.
President BARACK OBAMA: One of the things that I've felt very strongly about during the course of this year, is that hard stuff requires, not paralysis, but it requires going ahead and making the best of the situation that you're in at this point, and then continually trying to improve and make progress from there.
HORSLEY: That's the other side of Barack Obama. If the inaugural address was the inspirational Obama, urging unity in the service of big goals, the Copenhagen comment was the pragmatic president - recognizing sometimes unity is not an option. So, you take what you can get and you keep going.
WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much.
HORSLEY: My pleasure.
WERTHEIMER: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley.
You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.