ONE YEAR LATER: OBAMA'S PLAN CHALLENGED
Some Obama goals for administration have still not been met
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
They met for the first time inside the White House, three anonymous Americans who would be transformed into icons of President Obama's vision. There was a South Carolina teenager who had next to nothing, a Kansas mayor whose town had lost everything and a Miami banker who had $60 million to give away. They shared little in common except their status as honored guests of the president on Feb. 24, 2009, the night Obama planned to outline the goals of his administration in his first speech to Congress.
After a private tour of the White House, the three were driven to the Capitol by the Secret Service and ushered into seats next to the first lady. They sat in the balcony of the House chamber, surrounded by a dozen others who had been selected to personify the sweep of Obama's values: an injured soldier, a clean-energy innovator, a 78-year-old janitor, a studious young Muslim. But when Obama reached the climax of his speech, he introduced only three guests to the crowd.
Here was Leonard Abess, a bank president who had split his $60 million bonus among 471 employees, now flashing a thumbs-up while he received a standing ovation.
Here was Bob Dixson, a mayor rebuilding Greensburg, Kan., from a prairie of tornado devastation into a clean-energy hub, now beaming on national television.
Here was Ty'Sheoma Bethea, an eighth-grader who wrote to Congress about the decay of her 112-year-old school, now being hugged by the first lady.
"Their resolve must be our inspiration," the president said. "Their concerns must be our cause."
One year later, as Obama prepares to address Congress again in a State of the Union speech Wednesday night, the stories of his three guests remain instructive, even if their lessons have changed. The past year has challenged Obama's favored themes of togetherness, resiliency and hope. The economy remains unstable. Partisan contempt has intensified. Polls indicate that Americans are increasingly pessimistic. Obama instead has experienced a trial in patience, frustration and fatigue -- and so have his three guests.
"I see these headlines about the estimated Wall Street bonuses, and what it says to me is, 'Wait a minute! Didn't anybody learn their lesson?' " says the banker.
"What we need is more jobs, just like everybody else," says the mayor.
"Change takes a while," says the student.
* * *
Ty'Sheoma Bethea, who is now 15, received her invitation to the White House two days before Obama's speech, and most of Dillon, S.C., helped prepare her for the trip. She owned only jeans, so school administrators bought her two dresses. She splurged on a fancy haircut. A friend gave her new tennis shoes to wear on the airplane.