Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Case for Obama

I am so tired of left wing critiques of Obama that refuse to credit his achievements or acknowledge the constraints he has been under. His achievements, extremist criticism to the contrary notwithstanding, have been impressive.

Although now reviled by both the left and the right, the stimulus program, according to most economists, brought the economy back from the brink of real disaster. Yes, it should have been larger, but was arguably the best that could be done, given this dysfunctional Congress. Remember what a difficult time the President had getting three Republican votes in the Senate to pass the bill.

Despite implacable Republican opposition, President Obama, with a lot of help from Nancy Pelosi, still managed to pass a healthcare bill establishing access to heath care as a right of all citizens. Sure, it’s an imperfect bill, but once the economy revives, we will have the opportunity to improve it, just as we have had with other deeply flawed programs, such as Social Security. Just as Social Security, which excluded the majority of share croppers and domestic workers and thus effectively excluded the majority of African-Americans, was amended, this bill excluding undocumented workers and suffering from a number of other faults, can eventually be fixed.

The Republican attempt to repeal the bill is going to rub up against the genuinely popular parts of the bill, and will ultimately fail. Medicare at first met with fierce opposition, but gradually became an essential part of the social safety net. I expect the same to occur with Obama’s health care bill

Another accomplishment is the passage of meaningful—again not as much as we needed—regulatory reform. The dismantling of regulatory agencies at the root of the current economic crisis dates back to the Clinton years. This crisis was many years in the making and we in all probability have a long ways to go before real recovery. Reasonable people understand this.

Some of Obama’s achievements have gotten relatively little media coverage, and many voters have forgotten them. His overhaul of the college loan program resulted in significant savings for students, their families and the taxpayers, but has received little credit. Similarly, the rescue of the auto industry has earned the President nothing like the credit he deserves. And let’s not forget that Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan are on the Supreme Court: their nomination is a testament to Obama’s good judgment; their senate confirmation a testament to his political skill.

Considering the cards Obama was holding, his major achievements of the 2010 lame duck Congressional session—the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the extension of unemployment benefits—were far more impressive than most of us expected. The extension of unemployment benefits belies the charge that Obama is a poor negotiator. (For a similar point of view, read Jonathan Alters’ The Promise on the tough negotiating stand the President took during the bailout of the auto industry.)

Finally, consider Obama’s foreign policy achievements: He rid the world of Osama and finally brought the country some degree of closure after 9/11. Somewhat too slowly from my point of view, he is winding down the two wars he inherited. His policy in Libya, criticized as both too aggressive and too tepid, appears to have worked with the end of the Gaddafi regime. For anyone who reads the foreign press, there is no doubt that Obama has dramatically improved the image of the US around the world.

Many critics on the left make unfavorable comparisons between Obama and FDR-- ignoring real differences in historical context. FDR had a Democratic congress; Obama had one in name only—the Blue Dogs may have been Democrats but they were hardly supportive of Obama’s programs. In addition, globalization has changed the game; it’s much harder now for governments to have an impact on their national economies. Obama’s opposition is much stronger than Roosevelt’s was; for example, he is facing a capital strike right now, with corporate interests sitting on mounds of cash they refuse to invest. Is it because of uncertainty, as they claim, or are they are waiting for a Republican President and what they see as a more favorable investment climate?

There are far more constraints on Obama than there ever were on FDR. I can understand frustration that Obama has not used the bully pulpit as effectively as FDR (who has?), but let's be fair about what he’s dealing with and give credit where it’s due.

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