Obama's pick for man of the year: George W. Bush

In his year-end interviews with friendly news outlets like The Washington Post and National Public Radio, President Obama had a curious choice for his biggest accomplishment of the year: the bailout of the financial sector.

It seems odd that a president whose mantra is change, change, change would pick a program initiated by his predecessor.

While the Troubled Asset Relief Program is surely the least popular initiative of President George W. Bush among conservatives, it is also widely reviled by many liberals and moderates.

Obama's choice says a great deal about the state of things in Washington at the end of his first year in power.

What was supposed to be the year when Washington was made new as the morning has come to an unsatisfying sunset. The Senate majority is defending a rank round of vote buying on the president's key domestic initiative. The House majority is fuming about a demand to fund another Bush-style surge in Afghanistan. Leaders of the president's party debate whether voters are angry at Democrats for being too liberal or too ineffective. None argues that voters aren't angry.

As a candidate, Obama was careful to keep his promises opaque. But he more than compensated in the period between his election and his first speech to a joint session of Congress as president. As the Senate prepares to flee Washington, we see the consequences of a scattered, overlarge agenda.

But candidate Obama only specifically promised a few things, and they all had a common theme: Reversing the wrongs done by Bush.

First and foremost was the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. That goal has not yet been achieved, but by following Bush's strategy and using Bush's military team, it is in sight. And, more important, the killing of U.S. troops has all but ended.

Obama was also adamant about closing of the detention center for enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — ignoring the fact that Bush also wanted to close the prison, but could find no alternative. The president is still stuck with the facility, which he has argued makes terrorists of radical Muslims.

Our own experience with homegrown jihad doesn't suggest that Guantanamo is a determinate factor. Having nearly 200,000 troops stationed and fighting in Muslim nations seems to have been enough to provoke Army Maj. Nidal Hasan's failed bid for martyrdom.

But it's clear that the inability to deliver on the promise of closing the facility still rankles the administration. Old Washington hand Greg Craig was thrown overboard as White House counsel for failing to close the prison. The administration then rushed out with plans to try the architect of the 9/11 attacks in Manhattan and to buy an underused prison in the president's adopted home state for conversion to a prairie Gitmo.

But after trumpeting the controversial move to bring al Queda to northern Illinois, the White House had to climb down with a leak to the New York Times' Charlie Savage. Congress won't provide the money to buy and fortify the old prison and won't touch the issue until after next year's elections. The White House thought it might be able to declare a national security emergency and swipe the hundreds of millions from another pot, but the statute apparently didn't treat Eric Holder's moral indignation as an emergency situation.

So, Obama is the same as Bush by choice on Iraq and by necessity on Guantanamo.

Still in flux are the president's other two big campaign promises: health care reform and ending global warming.

This may be remembered as the year when America's global warming fever finally broke. In Copenhagen last week amid discredited scientific evidence and a shakedown by Third World nations, Obama paid lip service to climate change — just as liberals accused Bush of doing.

Some health bill seems likely to finally flop out of Congress, but not in time for the president's look back at the first year of his era. He's just hoping that he doesn't have to push his State of the Union to Valentine's Day to have the chance to take a bow.

Obama was left with little to choose from for his top first-year accomplishment, especially since he dared not talk about being more Bush than Bush on Afghanistan.

Even so, his decision to take credit for not ending a program that borrowed $700 billion to be sprayed into corporate coffers seems an odd choice. If Obama is going to piggyback on one of his predecessor's accomplishments, he might have picked one that people like.

Chris Stirewalt is the political editor of The Washington Examiner. He can be reached at cstirewalt@dcexaminer.com.

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