On Aug. 10, 2007, during a NABJ convention in Las Vegas, U.S. Senator Barack Obama strolled into the Bally’s Hotel and Casino to face a horde of journalists of the young, hungry, seasoned, eager, and skeptical variety.

Obama’s arrival was highly anticipated, for his rise up the political ladder was unlike. Having only served a little over two years as a U.S. Senator, he was breathing down John Edwards’ neck for the number two position (Hilary Clinton was well ahead for the number one Democratic presidential nominee spot).

Just three years earlier, he was touting John Edwards for the vice-president chair as the keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention for presidential candidate, John Kerry.

He did more than tout those two. He ushered in a seminal movement across multiple cultures. His moment at the DNC—“There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America—there’s the United States of America.”—was his Michael Jackson-Motown 25 moment.

It was unforgettable and jarring how this unknown character skyrocketed to the forefront of political consciousness. He provided a fresh visual to co-opt the staid monochromatic politicians who had dominated the Beltway since America’s inception. That night, he went from being “that guy” to “That Guy.” In terms of being a Black man who the world revered, he was well on his way to becoming the closest thing to Martin and Malcolm.

I was a student journalist at the event in Vegas, covering the story for the NABJ Monitor. This was easily the biggest story of my nascent career, and though the environment was rife with smiles and “there’s no effing way I’m missing this guy” vibes, there was an air of uncertainty about this figure.

“Besides being Black, what does he really bring?”

“How will he undo the damage caused by Dubya over the past seven years?”

“Does he have the experience to deal with hardened pols in Congress?”

“Is he even ‘Black’ enough?”

The program started off with a few Q and A’s and panel discussions. But the crowd’s rumbling and muttering signaled growing impatience. Where was Obama?

Soon enough he arrived. And did he ever. From a room full of people whose vocational credibility is based on the ability to be objective and skeptical (or curious . . . tomato, to- mah-toe), he received a roar fit for a king. Obama was an event, a sight to behold. These things usurp journalism.

“You guys keep asking whether I am Black enough. So I figure I’d stroll in about 10 minutes late.”

Laughter. Obama provided the funny, the pitch, and, in the end, the heavy—guaranteeing reformation in the White House. He ended his speech by fielding questions from the crowd. But it didn’t end there.

Immediately afterward, he met in a meeting chamber with 15 or so journalists. I was fortunate enough to be included in this caucus as Obama faced inquisition from some of the top African-American journalists in the country.

Entrepreneurship. Street commerce. What is the notion of being Black enough. Mitigating the troubled political and economical turbulence in Africa. Transparency in White House operations. Iraq. NAFTA. Fixing the penal system.

He addressed all of them with aplomb, leaving yours truly convinced that he had “it.” He assured everybody in the room that they’d be welcomed by his administration, because “you were with me when few people else were.”

By now, you may have heard that Obama did well for himself after that day.

There has been no shortage of legislative action undertaken by Congress since Obama has been in office. Over the past two years, Congress has accomplished more legislatively than any other Congress since Lyndon Johnson and FDR’s tenures.

If you have Obama diehards in your circle, you have undoubtedly seen this. There are websites that spout Obama’s accomplishments, promises kept and promises broken. There are shills on Twitter, Facebook and in your local church who blur the lines between Obama the President and Obama the Savior.

Here are the highlights of Obama’s presidency:

  • Health care reform
  • Deal on tax and employment compensation
  • Financial reform
  • Ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
  • Ratifying a nuclear arms treaty with Russia
  • Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (eliminating unequal pay for women)
  • Invested billions of dollars in road work with the Recovery Act
  • Narrowing the cocaine/crack disparity

Indeed, President Obama has been active. But does activity equal effectiveness? The nature of politics in this country operates to keep politicians relevant. Both parties serve to increase the arm of government during each presidential tenure. Republicans who preach against the growing power of government contradict themselves. Why would you campaign to get to a position only to make yourself unnecessary?

Likewise, the Democratic agenda over the past two years has sought to increase government oversight to the point of spending its way out of problems. From financial forecasts, health care reform won’t decrease the deficit (even if it does, it would be very minimal), which is what Obama said it was to do. The recent Bush tax cuts extension won’t decrease the deficit either. Between the economic stimulus, Recovery Act stimulus, health care, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the country’s deficit will only b be exacerbated.

Leaving the country dependent on the government sets a dangerous precedent for even the purest politician, considering how often Americans vote for elected figures. While Obama has convinced many that his agenda is to protect the American people, his kowtowing to Big Business and injurious Bush policies leaves many scratching their heads.

Has Obama been true to his word to end Bush’s warmongering and civil liberty violations—close Guantanamo Bay, bring troops back, ending the Patriot Act? In a word, no. In fact, Obama has been as hawkish as his predecessor. After pledging to close Guantanamo, it is still open with no end in sight. He extended the Patriot Act. He deployed 50,000 plus troops to Afghanistan and still has many more in Iraq, albeit under a different alias.

Despite his excoriation of Bush’s torture tactics, he stuck his neck out to protect Dubya’s Administration from torture prosecutions. In November, Omar Khadr was successfully prosecuted with information obtained through torture, something Obama said he was thoroughly against.

And that transparency thing he promised? The Obama Administration blocked more FOIA requests in 2009, by far more, than Bush did in 2008.

What about Africa? Well, he eased restrictions on the use of child soldiers there.

What about appointing Michael Taylor, former chief of Monsanto, to be deputy commissioner for foods at the FDA, which is set to have complete oversight over what goes in our refrigerators?

On and on.

“Besides being Black, what does he really bring?”

“How will he undo the damage caused by Dubya over the past seven years?”

“Does he have the experience to deal with hardened pols in Congress?”

“Is he even ‘Black’ enough?”

These same questions linger in the minds of many.

Courtland Milloy, African American journalist for the Washington Post, called Obama “The Great Placator” in a scathing editorial. “Man up” he writes, citing assertions and backtracks that has been a thorn in Obama’s brief legacy. This piece encapsulated frustration numero uno from all critics of the U.S. president.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from his time in the Top Seat is just how limited that seat is. For years, being a Black president was an impossibility. We tend to be attracted to the unattainable. Obama’s time has left many not only asking if there will be another Black president, but whether another Black man (or woman) should want to be.

Obama isn’t as bad as he is made out to be, nor is he as blameless as some people would have you believe. For those not politically savvy prior to Obama’s ascension, this is a crash course. This is our crash course. The man I saw sitting a foot away from me handling a room full of reporters in Vegas is the same man we see before us today.

Abnormally intelligent. Charismatic. A healthy sense of humor. Yes, he’s a Black man in the White House. Yes, he gives our youth an example of an effective orator in the midst of “enemy terrain.”

But he is beholden to powers we aren’t even aware of. Just like Dubya. Clinton. Daddy Bush. Reagan. And on back to Abraham Lincoln. To ask “how effective is President Obama,” is to bestow a false sense of power to the seat. While Obama is going to govern how he governs, there are issues on the ground that demand immediate attention outside of the executive seat: economic illiteracy, bad health, ghettos and deferred dreams. All of which existed before Obama came.

All of which exist in full, now.

If focused energies aren’t spent on improving these conditions—rather than philosophical posturings about who is doing what and when—these things will exist long after he has left Pennsylvania Avenue.

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