The Clock Is Ticking

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 22, 2009; 10:52 AM

It is well past time to ask the question: What has Barack Obama really accomplished as president, anyway?

I mean, the inaugural speech was nice, the big crowds behaved themselves, the first couple danced at 10 balls and Michelle's dresses are getting pretty good reviews. But the economy is still in the deep freeze, we've still got troops in Iraq and global warming continues apace. How long are we supposed to wait for the change we've been waiting for?

Think I'm being a tad impatient? Well, the coverage has been so positive in the past week that you almost got the impression Obama would solve all of America's problems while fixing the college football playoff system and discovering a cure for cancer.

Expectations are sky-high, which is why I believe Obama chose to deliver a sober, almost grim inaugural address rather than an uplifting peroration. Government is a hard, tough slog. Passing legislation, getting programs to work, is often a process measured in inches. A president can inspire, can use the bully pulpit, but when banks aren't making loans, people are losing their homes and the Detroit automakers are teetering on the brink, speeches aren't enough.

Obama dived into substance yesterday by issuing executive orders on ethics and the closing of Gitmo. These are low-hanging fruit, in that the president can act unilaterally, but important nonetheless.

A lot of people, and not just conservatives, think the media have rolled over for Obama. I've certainly been critical of the coverage at times. But what's past is prologue. If journalists don't start holding the 44th president accountable -- in the same way the left wanted us to hold George W. Bush accountable -- we will have defaulted on our mission. It will be bad for the country, and bad for Obama. He didn't run as a black candidate. He ran as a politician who happened to be black. And so our journalism must be color-blind as well.

I did a double-take yesterday, seeing the first photos of Obama in the Oval Office, in that familiar chair. There is something undeniably uplifting about that, given our history. But the question now is what he can produce from behind that desk.

In the Wall Street Journal, Juan Williams warns against a racial double standard:

"If his presidency is to represent the full power of the idea that black Americans are just like everyone else -- fully human and fully capable of intellect, courage and patriotism -- then Barack Obama has to be subject to the same rough and tumble of political criticism experienced by his predecessors. To treat the first black president as if he is a fragile flower is certain to hobble him. It is also to waste a tremendous opportunity for improving race relations by doing away with stereotypes and seeing the potential in all Americans.

"Yet there is fear, especially among black people, that criticism of him or any of his failures might be twisted into evidence that people of color cannot effectively lead. That amounts to wasting time and energy reacting to hateful stereotypes. It also leads to treating all criticism of Mr. Obama, whether legitimate, wrong-headed or even mean-spirited, as racist.

"This is patronizing. Worse, it carries an implicit presumption of inferiority. Every American president must be held to the highest standard. No president of any color should be given a free pass for screw-ups, lies or failure to keep a promise . . .

"There is a dangerous trap being set here. The same media people invested in boosting a black man to the White House as a matter of history have set very high expectations for him. When he disappoints, as presidents and other human beings inevitably do, the backlash may be extreme."

CONTINUED     1                 >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company