Election times are here again and Obama is going through the same criticisms that all past Presidents face during an election year. If a Democrat is President, the Republicans accuse him of being a bleeding heart socialist who’s out to destroy the American family and raise taxes unreasonably. If a Republican is President, then Democrats accuse him of being a heartless corporate shill who is in the back pocket of CEOs and is a crazy Christian fanatic. As I’m to the left of the political spectrum, I’m biased towards that direction, but I realize that Democrats and Republican Presidents tend to be more complicated than that. In the 2008 elections, I was originally a Hillary supporter, but I’ve grown to like Obama personally. Obama is not as great as his supporters say he is, but he’s not the worst President in our history, as his conservative critics say he is. He’s a decent president, who has accomplished a lot more than we realize.
I read a historian write that you can’t really judge a President until 20 years after his Presidency is over, and the full implications of his policies are played out. I like Obama, but I have a hard time judging him. I generally like the direction of his policies, although I have disagreements with his immigration policies and other issues. It’s hard for me to really judge him just because the Republican opposition has been so vehement. Past Democratic Presidents could always find common ground with moderate and conservative Republicans on some issues to get things accomplished. There really isn’t any common ground between Obama and the conservative Republicans that make up today’s Congress. I don’t really blame Obama for this. Over the past few years, the Republican Party has gotten more uniformly conservative, and these conservative partisans have done what they can to push out the more moderate Republicans from having any influence. More mainstream conservatives like Senator Bennett and Senator Lugar lost elections to Tea Party conservatives who are much less likely to compromise. So the collaborations between Democrats and Republicans on major legislation, like Senator Lugar working with Senator Kennedy on the Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 or Lugar’s collaboration with Senator Nunn on the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program of 1992, Senator Hatch’s famous collaborations with Senator Kennedy on the The Ryan White Aids Act, The State Children’s Health Insurance Program, The Americans with Disabilities Act, and various other legislation, are now less likely. It made me realize how important moderate Republicans really are to the political process.
Many conservative critics say that Obama is our worst President, but I don’t think Obama is a bad President at all. In my lifetime, the worst Presidents are probably Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. Both Presidents had some substantial achievements: Nixon opened up relations with China, pursued detente with the Soviet Union, and had some domestic programs that were surprisingly liberal; while Carter negotiated the Camp David Peace Treaty and had an energy conservation program that was decades ahead of its time. Both men though had deeply flawed presidencies that outweighed their good points.
Nixon overreacted to the Pentagon Papers and his enemies list, his use of the government to break into the psychiatric files of Daniel Ellsberg, the stonewalling of the Watergate investigation, his firing of his cabinet after his reelection, all point to a person who abused power and was a threat to the Constitution.
Carter was a good man who was way over his head when he was President. He had Democratic majorities in both the Senate and the House, yet he kept his distance from the Democratic legislators that he needed to pass his programs, and as the writings of Tip O Neil, Walter Mondale and Ted Kennedy attest, Carter often baffled the people in his own party. Since Carter didn’t take the time to build up relations with these legislators, there was no sense of loyalty to Carter’s more moderate policy proposals among the liberals in the party and the liberals turned to Ted Kennedy during the 1980 Democratic primaries. A President with better political skills, like FDR, wouldn’t have let that happen.
I don’t think Obama is on the level of a Franklin Roosevelt or an Abraham Lincoln, but I do think he’s a decent President. In researching this blog, I found two articles that do a good job of articulating Obama’s achievements.
Paul Gastris wrote an article for the Washington Monthly called The Incomplete Greatness of Barack Obama where he wrote:
Measured in sheer legislative tonnage, what Obama got done in his first two years is stunning. Health care reform. The takeover and turnaround of the auto industry. The biggest economic stimulus in history. Sweeping new regulations of Wall Street. A tough new set of consumer protections on the credit card industry. A vast expansion of national service. Net neutrality. The greatest increase in wilderness protection in fifteen years. A revolutionary reform to student aid. Signing the New START treaty with Russia. The ending of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Even over the past year, when he was bogged down in budget fights with the Tea Party-controlled GOP House, Obama still managed to squeeze out a few domestic policy victories, including a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction deal and the most sweeping overhaul of food safety laws in more than seventy years. More impressively, on the foreign policy front he ended the war in Iraq, began the drawdown in Afghanistan, helped to oust Gaddafi in Libya and usher out Mubarak in Egypt, orchestrated new military and commercial alliances as a hedge against China, and tightened sanctions against Iran over its nukes.
Oh, and he shifted counterterrorism strategies to target Osama bin Laden and then ordered the risky raid that killed him.
That Obama has done all this while also steering the country out of what might have been a second Great Depression would seem to have made him already, just three years into his first term, a serious candidate for greatness.
And yet a solid majority of Americans nevertheless thinks the president has not accomplished much. Why? There are plenty of possible explanations. The most obvious is the economy. People are measuring Obama’s actions against the actual conditions of their lives and livelihoods, which, over the past three years, have not gotten materially better. He failed miserably at his grandiose promise to change the culture of Washington. His highest-profile legislative accomplishments were object lessons in the ugly side of compromise. In negotiations, he came off to Democrats as naïvely trusting, and to Republicans as obstinately partisan, leaving the impression that he could have achieved more if only he had been less conciliatory—or more so, depending on your point of view. And for such an obviously gifted orator, he has been surprisingly inept at explaining to average Americans what he’s fighting for or trumpeting what he’s achieved.
In short, when judging Obama’s record so far, conservatives measure him against their fears, liberals against their hopes, and the rest of us against our pocketbooks. But if you measure Obama against other presidents—arguably the more relevant yardstick—a couple of things come to light. Speaking again in terms of sheer tonnage, Obama has gotten more done than any president since LBJ.
Tim Dickinson wrote an article for Rolling Stone called The Case For Obama where he wrote:
Less than halfway through his first term, Obama has compiled a remarkable track record. As president, he has rewritten America’s social contract to make health care accessible for all citizens. He has brought 100,000 troops home from war and forged a once-unthinkable consensus around the endgame for the Bush administration’s $3 trillion blunder in Iraq. He has secured sweeping financial reforms that elevate the rights of consumers over Wall Street bankers and give regulators powerful new tools to prevent another collapse. And most important of all, he has achieved all of this while moving boldly to ward off another Great Depression and put the country back on a halting path to recovery.
Along the way, Obama delivered record tax cuts to the middle class and slashed nearly $200 billion in corporate welfare — reinvesting that money to make college more accessible and Medicare more solvent. He single-handedly prevented the collapse of the Big Three automakers — saving more than 1 million jobs — and brought Big Tobacco, at last, under the yoke of federal regulation. Even in the face of congressional intransigence on climate change, he has fought to constrain carbon pollution by executive fiat and to invest $200 billion in clean energy — an initiative bigger than John F. Kennedy’s moonshot and one that’s on track to double America’s capacity to generate renewable energy by the end of Obama’s first term.
On the social front, he has improved pay parity for women and hate-crime protections for gays and lesbians. He has brought a measure of sanity to the drug war, reducing the sentencing disparity for crack cocaine while granting states wide latitude to experiment with marijuana laws. And he has installed two young, female justices on the Supreme Court, creating what Brinkley calls “an Obama imprint on the court for generations.”
What’s even more impressive about Obama’s accomplishments, historians say, is the fractious political coalition he had to marshal to victory. “He didn’t have the majority that LBJ had,” says Goodwin. Indeed, Johnson could count on 68 Democratic senators to pass Medicare, Medicaid and the Voting Rights Act. For his part, Franklin Roosevelt had the backing of 69 Senate Democrats when he passed Social Security in 1935. At its zenith, Obama’s governing coalition in the Senate comprised 57 Democrats, a socialist, a Republican turncoat — and Joe Lieberman.
In his quest for progress, Obama has also had to maneuver against an unrelenting head wind from the “Party of No” and its billionaire backers. “Obama is harassed as well as opposed,” says Princeton historian Sean Wilentz. “The crazy Republican right is now unfettered. You’ve got a Senate with no adult leadership. And Obama’s up against Rupert Murdoch, Dick Armey, the Koch brothers and the rest of the professional right.” Compared to the opposition faced by the most transformative Democratic presidents, adds Wilentz, “it’s a wholly different scale.”
Despite such obstacles, Obama has succeeded in forging a progressive legacy that, anchored by health care reform, puts him “into the same conversation with FDR and LBJ,” says Brinkley, “though those two accomplished more.” Goodwin, herself a former Johnson aide, likens the thrust of Obama’s social agenda to LBJ’s historic package of measures known as the Great Society. “What is comparable,” she says, “is the idea of using government to expand social and economic justice. That’s what the health care bill is about. That’s what Obama tried to do with the financial reforms. That’s what he’s doing with education. The Great Society was about using the collective energies of the nation to make life better for more people — and that’s what Obama has tried to do.”
When this elections comes along, I’ll follow the advice that Howard Zinn gave to progressives in 2008. Zinn advised progressives to vote for Obama, but that after the elections, to stay active and work to move the public to issues that are important. Don’t rely on just Obama or Congress for progressive change. We have the responsibility to try to move the country towards fairer immigration laws, climate change legislation, gay marriage, controlling corporate power, combating economic inequality and helping the poor and suffering in our community. Howard Zinn wrote in the May 2009 issue of the Progressive Magazine
I say that to indicate that, yes, Obama was and is a politician. So we must not be swept away into an unthinking and unquestioning acceptance of what Obama does.
Our job is not to give him a blank check or simply be cheerleaders. It was good that we were cheerleaders while he was running for office, but it’s not good to be cheerleaders now. Because we want the country to go beyond where it has been in the past. We want to make a clean break from what it has been in the past…
…This is the position that the abolitionists were in before the Civil War, and people said, “Well, you have to look at it from Lincoln’s point of view.” Lincoln didn’t believe that his first priority was abolishing slavery. But the anti-slavery movement did, and the abolitionists said, “We’re not going to put ourselves in Lincoln’s position. We are going to express our own position, and we are going to express it so powerfully that Lincoln will have to listen to us.”
And the anti-slavery movement grew large enough and powerful enough that Lincoln had to listen. That’s how we got the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth and Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.
That’s been the story of this country. Where progress has been made, wherever any kind of injustice has been overturned, it’s been because people acted as citizens, and not as politicians. They didn’t just moan. They worked, they acted, they organized, they rioted if necessary to bring their situation to the attention of people in power. And that’s what we have to do today.
A youtube video of Barack Obama’s “The Road We’ve Traveled”
A youtube video of Barack Obama signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
A youtube video of Barack Obama announcing the death of Bin Laden
A youtube video of Barack Obama signing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010
A youtube video of Barack Obama announcing the end of the combat mission in Iraq and discussing the future of the U.S. commitment to helping build a stable Iraq
A youtube video of Barack Obama signing into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — legislation to fight pay discrimination and ensure fundamental fairness to American workers
A youtube video of Barack Obama signing the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009
A youtube video of Barack Obama signing the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Act
A youtube video of Barack Obama talking about stabilizing the auto industry
A youtube video of Barack Obama signing the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act
A youtube video of Barack Obama nominating Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court
A youtuve video of Barack Obama nominating US Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the US Supreme Court