He used George W. Bush as a foil in his first campaign and sought to distance himself from his predecessor’s policies once in office. But as president, he has carried out, and in some cases expanded, some of those Bush policies.
On Thursday, he sought to defend what he has done while replanting his presidency on the ground on which he ran in 2008. He set out a clear justification for the use of drones while issuing new restrictions on their use. Although he has been unable to close Guantanamo, he said he is more determined than ever to do so. And he said journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs.
Criticism came quickly from some conservatives, who described Obama as naive in his desire to bring an eventual end to the global war on terror or to return to a pre-9/11 approach to dealing with threats of terrorism. But he also won endorsement from sometime-adversaries on the right, such as Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who said they would work with him to try to close the prison at Guantanamo.
Obama did not chart a wholly new course on Thursday. What he offered was a statement of his values and an expression of his aspirations. History ultimately will judge how successfully he put them into practice.
A personal note: Haynes Johnson died unexpectedly Friday.
He was already a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter when I first met him as a college student. I admired him from afar for many years. We then worked together at The Washington Post until he left to teach at the University of Maryland. Four years ago, we collaborated on a book about the 2008 campaign. He was an inspiration, a colleague and a friend.
Haynes was one of the giants of journalism. He was as energetic, exuberant and determined as any reporter I ever knew. He had an irrepressible zest for the big story, and he always wrote it with sweep and grace. He had a master’s degree in history from the University of Wisconsin, and he might have been a historian had he not been so drawn to the action of news. And yet he wrote, in his newspaper articles and especially in his books, with a historian’s sensibility.
He covered civil rights and presidential campaigns and presidential administrations. No one was better at traveling the country and describing the ever-changing landscape. He was fascinated by it all: by the people he found along with way, by the politicians he knew or skewered.
He always said that at its best, journalism is storytelling, and he was as good as there was. Like no one else, he wrote the story of America for more than half a century, and his loss is deeply felt.
For previous columns by Dan Balz,
go to postpolitics.com.