It should be easier. Picking the United States president's best achievements in a 12-month span represents a relatively easy task, even in a slow year. Yet in 2011, it seems almost contradictory.
In a year filled with partisan strife, economic calamities and foreign policy conundrums, picking President Barack Obama's biggest achievements feels damned near impossible. But whittle away the lowlights and a rather substantive list remains.
5. Payroll Tax Pseudo-Win
Obama's early proposals for a millionaire's tax, supported by Berkshire Hathway (BRK.A) billionaire Warren Buffet, were met with the demonizing class warfare misnomer early in the debate. Republicans successfully stifled any hope the president had of passing the tax. Then he flipped the script.
In a politically deft move, Obama married a sort-of-millionaire's tax with a payroll tax cut, forcing the opposing party to lambaste a tax cut that largely benefits the middle class in order to protect the rich from tax increases. It worked. Republicans went through a very public identity crisis within 48 hours, arguing that the tax cut doesn't work and must be paid for, contradicting two core principles of their ideology.
Senate Democrats and Obama eventually decoupled the two provisions so a deal could be ironed out, eventually agreeing to a two-month stopgap extension. Democrats are expected to reintroduce the dual tax cut and increase in January, injecting a dose of class warfare that could provide a boost in an election year.
4. Jobs Numbers
How much of this is actually the president's doing is immaterial. The truth is that unemployment is at its lowest rate in more than two years, leading to a dip in concerns that his re-election bid will tank due to poor jobs figures.
That talk has quieted down slightly since Dec. 3, when new figures showed unemployment was down to 8.6 percent. It is still a far cry from the magic 7 percent threshold that has historically felled re-election bids. And the U.S. economy remains bound to the whims of a still-undetermined European government debt crisis, which still remains a strong liability in the United States, and could torpedo any recovery, however feeble.
3. Do Ask, Do Tell
The mandatory closeting of members of the military ended on Sept. 20, when Obama repealed the controversial policy that kept gays from serving openly. The move was hailed by liberals and civil rights advocates as a victory in a year that saw many for the gay community.
I have always been confident that our dedicated men and women in uniform would transition to a new policy in an orderly manner that preserves unit cohesion, recruitment, retention and military effectiveness, Obama said in a statement. Service members will no longer be forced to hide who they are in order to serve our country. Our military will no longer be deprived of the talents and skills of patriotic Americans just because they happen to be gay or lesbian.
The repeal, however, promises to be a topic of heated discussion during the 2012 election as Republicans will likely use the repeal as a wink-nudge to conservative voters.
2. Iraq War Ends
Obama entered the 2008 race promising to end the war in Iraq. He delivered on Dec. 18 when the last convoy of American troops left Iraq and entered Kuwait. The withdrawal came at a time when America's engagement overseas has taken a back seat to domestic economic concerns. The troops' departure lacked dramatic visuals, as the last troops left in the dead of the night. Still, in a year when Obama has few hard-fought victories, the ending of the engagement in Iraq when he could have justified a continued presence shows an obstinacy too often hidden.
1. Osama bin Laden: Justice has been done.
The May 2 killing of the 9/11 mastermind bin Laden induced one of the most cathartic moments of 2011. Obama's decision to send in special forces into Abbottabad, Pakistan, to carry out a clandestine mission to kill the al-Qaida leader exorcised considerable demons that had been stewing for a decade. News of bin Laden's death (and subsequent burial at sea) sent many into the streets to celebrate.
The event could, however, be almost oxymoronic in its grandeur yet lack of political potency. Obama's predecessor would have been assured re-election to a second term with bin Laden's capture or killing. The current president's odds are much slimmer.