Grading President Obama’s freshman year as President

Politics, US — By George Davis on January 4, 2010 at 09:02

I have seen several grades for the first year of Barack Obama’s Presidency. Whenever I see a grade of “C”, I think that the grader has not marked on a curve that takes into account the difficulty of his particular test. Back when I used to grade work in my narrative writing courses at Rutgers University I attached a Comments Form to work that I’d pass back at the end of a term.

Here are the comments I would hand back to the President after looking at his narrative for the first year.

Barack Obama
Real Life University
Freshman Year

Course Title: Your Life as a Narrative
Term: Spring 2009 & Fall 2009

Course Objectives:

  1. Stick to real life elements of the universe in which the story takes place
  2. Create a realistic narrative with a happy ending for as many of your major and minor characters as possible

Story Elements

  1. You face the worst economy since the Great Depression
  2. You also have two wars, one necessary, but the more costly one, launched for reasons that are still highly suspect
  3. The world faces unknown numbers of terrorists who are diversifying their strategies for killing innocent civilians to create chaos
  4. You have no alternative but to work with corrupt, reactionary regimes that subjugate millions of people around the globe
  5. No President has had to struggle against an entire American political party solidly pledged to break him, no matter what he attempts to do
  6. No President has had an entire cable news network aligned against him
  7. Never has a Vice President from a failed former administration stayed on the national stage stirring up trouble over everything that a President tries to do
  8. Never have Wall Street Masters of the Universe held the economy in hostage as they do now

So far you, the protagonist, have:

  1. Paid the ransom that Wall Street demanded and recovered some of the money
  2. Saved the auto industry
  3. Reversed many Bush Administration policies that:
    • Threatened civil liberties
    • Ignored the rule of law
    • Could be classified as war crimes
  4. Presided over a nearly completed health reform bill, which, if completed, will be the most important social legislation in decades
  5. Gotten a Supreme Court judge confirmed
  6. Increased the standing of America in the world by:
    • Daring to make a major speech in Cairo, the most important city in the Muslim world, to assure billions of Muslims that our war is against terrorism and not against them
    • Winning a Nobel Peace Prize for giving billions of people around the world hope (Hope being one of the major intangible prerequisite to peace.)
  7. Just by being both black and white, advanced the 1960s messianic dream of racial integration of the population of the world. (There could be an interesting scene in the next pages that foreshadow how this will all look when it is completed.)

Your success on this first part of the narrative seems to result from an application of spiritual intelligence. This oxymoronic approach apparently gives you a good balance between making things happen and allowing them to happen.

This is the first time that new decision-making paradigms have reached into the political sphere at such a high level, involving so many matters of vital importance.

There are notable strengths to your role as protagonist:

  1. You work very hard and smart (You must like what you do)
  2. You do not panic (Is that because of faith?)
  3. You seem to be at peace with yourself. (Perhaps you should make the reason clear during the next portion of your work.)
  4. Most of your actions seem driven by moral themes rather than political plots designed to please either the left or the right
  5. You combine spiritual liberalism with social conservatism in an interesting way
  6. You have not stereotyped or made stock characters of your antagonists (villians)

Looking ahead to the next portions, I feel you should be aware that:

  1. Most people, as protagonists in their own narratives, have no idea that allowing things to happen is sometimes better than fighting to make them happen
  2. The spirit of money has gotten twisted inside the human spirit in America
    • Many people say things for money with no regard for the effect on the nation or humanity as a whole
    • Many people do things for money without regard for the future of the nation or the human race
  3. Change is frightening especially to those who need it most

During the narrative, while the White House was tied up struggling with Afghanistan, Iraq, Gitmo, terrorism, and Wall Street, I kept hoping you would call a meeting, inspire your cabinet, and create a task force to empower local banks, chambers of commerce, and small businesses to create jobs in vital sectors of the economy. This would be the most effective way to transform the story line.

During the Clinton narrative I knew all of the cabinet officers because they were out doing things. I seldom heard the names of yours because they seemed little more than caretakers of their respective bureaucracies. Can your narrative reach a happy ending if you and your White House staff remain the only heroes and lightning rods?

Finally, I do not like to give grades on incomplete stories, but the Registrar here at Real Life University demands that I put something on the grade sheet. You are being graded on a curve because the narrative you undertook was incredibly difficult. I am wavering between an A and an A+. But final grades have little to do with your grade on individual portions of your story. Your final grade will be based almost entirely on the outcome of the overall narrative.

Have a happy winter break. The next portion of the work will be waiting when you return from Hawaii.

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Author: George Davis (14 Articles)

George Davis

George Davis’ nonfiction novel, Until We Got Here: From "We Shall Overcome” to "Yes We Can" will be published in 2010. He has taught at Columbia, Colgate and Yale universities and is professor emeritus in creative writing at the Newark Campus of Rutgers University. He is author of the bestseller, Black Life in Corporate America, and the novel, Coming Home, upon which the Jane Fonda Vietnam War film is loosely based. He has been a writer and editor for Essence and Black Enterprise magazines, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.

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