In response to a question from Oprah Winfrey about how he would grade his time in office, President Barack Obama gave himself a "solid B-plus."
Grade inflation? An example of Obama's notoriously high self-regard? No doubt a bit of both.
Obama may deserve a B-plus for effort, but he gets a C for performance.
Since George W. Bush left office nearly a year ago with an F-minus, the nation has enjoyed an obvious net gain. That, of course, is good news. But it is not good enough.
Because Obama is a remarkable person — intelligent, articulate, committed, and (at times) inspirational — there is a tendency to confuse promise with performance. (The president himself, ever the savvy communicator, conflated these two measures during his cozy chat with Oprah.)
His campaign raised national expectations. His watchword was "Hope"; his mantra, "Yes, we can."
But has he delivered on those promises?
Obama's record shows much to applaud: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; SCHIP expansion extending children's health care; the Public Land Management Act, one of the most significant pieces of environmental legislation in decades; the Serve America Act fostering volunteerism; a credit-card consumer-protection act; and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
The elimination of funding for the F-22 fighter bomber is more than a welcome step in controlling runaway military spending. It is an example of real change, in terms of thinking as well as spending. Ditto Defense Department procurement reform.
It is a given that congressional Republicans are a lost cause and a menace to national well-being. And it is true that divided House Democrats and a quartet of proto-Republican Democratic senators, of whom the loathsome Joe Lieberman of Connecticut is only the most visible, are hell-bent on destroying health-care reform. But the gains catalogued above would not have been possible without shrewd prioritization by the White House and deft coordination with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
The appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court was an appropriate, diversifying move and a solid judicial choice.
And though the Nobel Committee's award to Obama of its Peace Prize is a textbook example of having confused promise with performance, the change in tone in which the United States conducts its business with the rest of the world is more welcome than words can express.
So, in spite of all this, why does the Phoenix grant Obama only a C?
Because on three vitally important issues in which compromise equals calamity — the economy, Afghanistan, and gay and lesbian rights — Obama is lacking.
There is no escaping the 10 percent-plus unemployment rate. And the contours of the recovery Obama championed were taking shape before he took office. He did yeoman's work with the thankless task of bailing out Detroit, but has not brought the big banks and the rest of the financial industry to heel. No meaningful recovery is possible until the banks resume lending. And the Wall Street reforms that the Republicans say are too radical are not sweeping enough.
Obama's Afghanistan policy is a fraud. It is a surge toward withdrawal. The expenditure of additional lives to cover his political rump is not worth the price. Obama has the rhetorical gifts to make the case to the nation why the US should withdraw now. He only lacks the guts.