The grades are in: Obama's first-term report card

Barack Obama vowed to close Guantanamo, but legal hurdles and resistance in Congress neutralized his executive order.

Story highlights

  • Barack Obama promised to end "petty grievances and false promises" in Washington
  • Republicans were quick to publicly admit they would not make his job easy
  • PolitiFact evaluated 508 promises and concluded the president has kept 37% of them
  • For the unfulfilled promises, PolitiFact editor said there is plenty of blame to go around

An energized electorate inspired by a groundbreaking election and expectations as high as Mount Everest had grown accustomed to greeting him with spontaneous chants of  "yes we can."

He promised to take "bold, swift action" on the ailing economy and break the partisan grip on Washington by ending what he called "petty grievances and false promises." 

Obama proclaims an end to 'petty grievances'

"There are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans," the president told the nation during his inaugural address in 2009.  "Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done."

This high bar assured there would be a very long to-do-list, and some Republicans were quick to publicly admit they would not make his job easy. 

But some political observers make the case that pushing a lot of promises was a necessity for an unproven freshman senator. 

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"He really needed to prove himself to a lot of individual Democratic constituencies," said Bill Adair, the creator and editor of PolitiFact, an online site best known for rating the truth in campaign advertisements.  "He made dozens and dozens of small but very narrow promises."

PolitiFact evaluated 508 promises and concluded that the president has kept 37% of them, compromised on 14% of them, has broken 16% of them, has gotten stalled on 10% of them and 22% are still "in the works."

It's all detailed in the online site's Obameter scorecard

One big stumble came soon after the president took office.  During an interview on the CBS program "60 Minutes," Obama had said he intended to "close Guantanamo" and vowed to "follow through on that."

But legal hurdles and resistance in Congress neutralized his executive order to close the detention facility within a year. 

Obama signs order to close Guantanamo Bay facility

Another promise that ran into a wall on Capitol Hill was the vow to repeal Bush-era tax cuts for the very rich.

And with homeowners trying to recover from a crippling mortgage crisis, especially in states such as Nevada and Florida, a promised $10 billion dollar foreclosure prevention fund never materialized. 

"He made some really sweeping promises about changing the culture of Washington, about bringing the parties together, about being more transparent in how he runs the White House," Adair said.

"He ran into trouble there. There's been a real realization on the part of the White House that some of the things he said during the 2008 campaign were just not realistic given the way Washington really works."

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The very long list goes on: No comprehensive immigration reform. No cap and trade system that regulates pollution emissions.

Some of these broken promises provide critics with plenty of fodder to argue he has been ineffective. But the White House views his bucket of promises as half-full. 

Health care reform. Check.

Auto industry bailout. Check.

"Don't ask don't tell," the policy that banned openly gays and lesbians from serving in the military, repealed. Check.

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The Obameter Scorecard also gives the president a thumbs up on national security.

In 2008 while visiting Jordan, the president vowed to end the war in Iraq. "My goal is to no longer have U.S. troops engaged in combat in Iraq."

That promise was fulfilled in December.

Added to that is that the conflict in Afghanistan is winding down and the world's most-wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, is dead.

"The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al Qaeda" the president said as he broke the news in a hastily arranged late-night Sunday address to the nation in May 2011.

Between now and Election Day, it's possible other promises stuck in the works could go either way, although campaigning has consumed much of the oxygen.

Adair said there is plenty of blame to go around.

Congress has created some impassable barriers but at the same time, he argues other promises were "low-hanging fruit" that the president could have accomplished through executive action but so far hasn't delivered.

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      A black man is returning to the White House. Four years ago, it was a first, the breaking of a racial barrier. Tuesday night, it was history redux. And more.
    • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage after his victory speech at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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