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Obama delivers on work ethic; other results mixed

WASHINGTON – President Obama has not yet achieved the big campaign promises he’ll be judged on years from now, on health care, war, the economy and so much more. It’s early, it’s a colossal load and Rome wasn’t built in 100 days.

He has delivered, though, on the work ethic he outlined back when his Republican presidential rival challenged him to suspend campaign events and confront the financial crisis. “You know,” he said then, “presidents are going to have to deal with more than one thing at a time.”

So he has.

Obama has moved ahead on the towering problem of health coverage, succeeding on the first baby steps, and has taken on still big-ticket items that other leaders might have mothballed in perilous times like these.

On foreign policy, energy and the environment, Obama the president is trying to do what Obama the candidate promised. No bait and switch here.

But he’ll be judged on results, not effort.

Here’s a look at Obama’s progress on a sampling of his major promises:

The deficit

The promise: “Every dollar I’ve proposed, I’ve proposed an additional cut that it matches.” – Presidential debate, Oct. 15, 2008.

The performance: Obama’s contention that his programs would not deepen the deficit was treated with great skepticism in the campaign, even before the financial crisis was in full fury. The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated his policy proposals would add a net $428 billion to the deficit over four years, even accounting for his spending reduction goals. Now, the deficit is nearly quadrupling to $1.75 trillion, and few independent analysts believe he can meet his goal of halving the deficit in five years.


The promise: To pursue direct diplomacy with Iran and other hostile governments. Asked in a Democratic debate in 2007 whether he would meet the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea without conditions during his first year in office, he said: “I would.” Later in the campaign, Obama hedged on that after being called naive by rival Hillary Rodham Clinton, now his secretary of state. But he stuck to his basic position that the U.S. should engage with unfriendly countries.

The performance: Obama has offered dialogue to Tehran, made a video appealing to the Iranian people and included Iran in multinational discussions on Afghanistan, while sticking to his insistence that the Iranians not be permitted to develop nuclear weapons.

And Obama, without conditions, crossed a room at the Summit of the Americas to shake the hand of Hugo Chavez, the fiercely anti-American leader of Venezuela, and chat briefly.

The promise: “There are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban-Americans. That’s why I will immediately allow unlimited family travel and remittances to the island.” – May 23, 2008, speech, Miami.

The performance: This month, Obama delivered on the promise by announcing he will allow Cuban-Americans to visit families in Cuba and send money to them. He also opened possibilities for telecommunications cooperation between the two countries while honoring his pledge to keep the trade embargo largely intact until Havana allows more freedom.


The promise: “Obama will fund No Child Left Behind and improve its assessments and accountability systems.” – Obama’s “Blueprint for Change” platform.

The performance: The economic stimulus bill signed Feb. 17 includes $25 billion for education improvements, including No Child Left Behind.

The promise: “When I’m president, we’ll fight to make sure we’re once again first in the world when it comes to high school graduation rates.” – Dayton, Ohio, Sept. 9, 2008.

The performance: This will be a work in progress for a long time. Obama’s 2010 budget proposes new spending aimed at keeping at-risk kids in school.


The promise: “I will set a hard cap on all carbon emissions at a level that scientists say is necessary to curb global warming, an 80 percent reduction by 2050. To ensure this isn’t just talk, I will also commit to interim targets toward this goal in 2020, 2030 and 2040. These reductions will start immediately.” – Oct. 8, 2007, Manchester, New Hampshire.

The performance: The president’s proposed budget would put the U.S. on his promised path. His administration’s declaration that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare was a stage-setting pronouncement for the long and contentious debate ahead. Prospects are uncertain.

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