et alS, with Cord Jefferson: Obama's Kinda Meh First Year

et alSWhat were you doing over the Thanksgiving break, friend? Drinking? Eating? Pitying your one cousin who could have been totally cool if your aunt wasn’t such a Christian whackjob? Of course you were-and good for you! That’s what people do.

Me on the other hand, I’m not a person, I’m a vegan, from even before that neon green book came out. So I was doing what all vegans do when you sickos annually sacrifice poultry to long-dead Puritans: straight up fuming, about absolutely everything. Here’s a fume about how hard it is to find grocery store stuffing that doesn’t use chicken broth. There’s a fume about how Lil Wayne actually sucks, and just the general idea of Nike. And of course, right here’s a fume about Slate, a website that I love, but also one that tests my patience from time to time.

I find it hard to imagine Jacob Weisberg’s Obama’s Brilliant First Year wasn’t relegated to Slate’s “Saturday After Thanksgiving” slot for a reason, that reason being that even the most plugged-in word over-consumers were too busy marauding for bargain ‘Tendo X-Cubes or whatever to pay attention to the Internet. Weisberg may be El Jefe over there, but everyone has to be told “No” from time to time, especially if they’re, y’know, wrong.

The dek-“By January, he will have accomplished more than any first-year president since Franklin Roosevelt”-is more irksome than the article’s title, which, by itself, was actually just innocuously vague (or vaguely innocuous, perhaps). Because Obama’s first year actually has been quite brilliant. I’m half-black, man, and it’s awesome to see another half-black dude chilling in the Oval Office like it ain’t no thang. It’s awesome that, unlike when my father was a boy, single mothers of children of color can hold their babies in their arms and promise them, in all seriousness, “You can be the leader of the world one day.” It’s awesome that there’s finally a president courageous enough to stand before the United States and tell it that, in the “War on Terror,” it’s not necessarily as innocent as it thinks it is.

All that stuff is indeed brilliant. And I applaud it. But “accomplished more than anyone since Roosevelt”? The buck stops here, Weisberg!

Did I not use that phrase properly just now? Oh well. I only wrote it to segue into a paragraph about Harry Truman, the president who originated it and the guy who immediately succeeded FDR. Harry Truman is also someone who, in his first year in office, accomplished more than Barack Obama will in the same time span.

After just about six months in office, Truman gave the executive order to incinerate a quarter of a million Japanese people with the most horrific weapon known to man-even today. Reasonably terrified, Japan surrendered to the Allied Powers, and World War II was completely over. Kind of a big event. Since then, the A-bomb’s ugliest fallout hasn’t been its radiation, but the fact that every bad guy in the world with dreams of executing entire nations has been after it.

Now, you can certainly argue that it wasn’t Harry Truman who ordered the creation of the bomb, and that FDR himself-or any president-would probably have acted exactly as his former vice president did. But when I shot out my dad’s windshield with a BB gun my brother gave me, which someone else invented and ordered to be built, guess who took the heat?

In his first 365 days as president, Harry Truman also began work on this one thing with Jewish people in the Middle East.

In the often quoted statement addressed to four American envoys from the middle east who, at a meeting in the White House on November 10, 1945, warned [Truman] of adverse effects of a pro-Zionist policy, he declared: “I am sorry, gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism: I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents.”

Maybe Mr. Weisberg forgot this accomplishment of Truman’s presidency, because nobody ever talks about it and there’s no lingering conflicts surrounding it, at all.

Later, in his first year as president, Jack Kennedy created the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, and earlier that same year he scared the hell out of Fidel Castro during the disastrous Bay of Pigs. Ronald Reagan got shot, survived and began operating under the belief that God spared him to help destroy Communism! That precipitated Iran-Contra and a whole host of other fun things. And George W. Bush? Welp, within his first year he entered a good war in a bad way, possibly rendering it unwinnable. Either way, thousands of Afghan civilians and American troops have died since.

I suppose none of that stuff is as big as what Truman did, but it’s certainly bigger than what Weisberg is claiming Obama’s done-or, more accurately, MIGHT DO. Weisberg wrote: “The case for Obama’s successful freshman year rests above all on the health care legislation now awaiting action in the Senate.” Thanks, Weisberg. Joe Lieberman has no doubt read your article and is at this very moment gleefully massaging his jowls in anticipation of proving you wrong. Because that’s what that guy does.

The stimulus was huge, but definitely not as important as ending WWII or the acceptance of Zionism as an American ideal. And as for foreign policy?

When it comes to foreign policy, Obama’s accomplishment has been less tangible but hardly less significant: He has put America on a new footing with the rest of the world. In a series of foreign trips and speeches, which critics deride as trips and speeches, he replaced George W. Bush’s unilateral, moralistic militarism with an approach that is multilateral, pragmatic, and conciliatory. Obama has already significantly reoriented policy toward Iran, China, Russia, Iraq, Israel, and the Islamic world.

Ah, yes, he’s not immediately a xenophobic asshole to the browns! What a brilliant year!

Congrats, America: Our bar is now this low.



Previously: Newspapers Are Doing as Badly as You Think.

Cord Jefferson is a writer-editor living in Brooklyn and The Awl’s Special Correspondent for Slate’s Counterintuitiveness. Some of his other work has appeared in National Geographic, GOOD, The Root and on MTV.