Obama also set the bar high by imposing deadlines. On his first full day in office, he ordered the Guantánamo Bay prison camp closed in one year. In May, Obama was outmaneuvered in a congressional vote that bars the transfer of Guantánamo detainees to the US, hindering his ability to place them in other countries as well. The closure deadline is likely to be missed.
Obama also gave Congress an early August deadline on healthcare reform, which it missed by a mile. “No one’s afraid of Obama,” the charge went. Obama says he issued that deadline to keep Congress focused, but missing it opened him to charges of ineffectiveness.
David Axelrod, a senior Obama adviser, has allowed that the push for passage of healthcare by summer might have been too ambitious. “I might rethink that if we were to start over again,” he said Oct. 20 at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
The real test will come by year’s end, when Obama needs to have something to show for all his effort before the midterm election season kicks into high gear.
Obama’s election itself raised expectations, says Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. “There was a miracle at the ballot box, and people expect those miracles to continue later,” he says. “But [Obama officials] don’t help themselves by setting deadlines early on that they then don’t meet.”