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.


  1. Thanks to Julie Welker for reminding me of President Obama’s first official act, "The Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay Act,” and for Stan Shapiro for reminding me of one of Obama’s major foreign policy accomplishments, the nuclear arms treaty.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly, Karen, thanks for a good summary of his achievements. I will work very hard for his reelection.

  3. I'm with you - he's a good man and a smart man and not as ineffective as he's been portrayed. Is he perfect? Hardly. I'm not looking for perfection, I'm looking for character and that is not something anyone can disparage. Do I wish he were more Type A? Sure. Then, again, I wish I were tall and blonde. As I tell my kids, "You can't always get what you want. But if you try real hard you just might find you get what you need."

    I wonder if Obama2012 will consider that as a campaign song?

  4. Ashleigh,
    What a great idea for a campaign song!

    Thanks or your wise words!

  5. Are you defending actions, or are you defending a person? Are you making arguments based on principle that do not change depending on the person involved, or are you making an argument of convenience that only applies as long as serves the defense of President Obama?

    "I am so tired of left wing critiques of Obama that refuse to credit his achievements"

    Question: when you criticize Republicans, do you make sure and mix in some praise of their positive accomplishments at the same time? Reagan signed a treaty requiring the prosecution of those who commit torture (hint hint). Herbert Walker Bush signed the landmark American's with Disabilities Act. And Dubbya protected a chain of islands from environmental damage by naming then a protected national monument.

    "or acknowledge the constraints he has been under"

    The constraints of a landslide election and the largest majority in a generation - two things Bush never had? Obama isn't constrained by conservatives in Congress - Obama is AGREEING with conservatives in Congress because Obama himself is extremely conservative. All you have to do is ignore the words coming out of Obama's mouth and pay attention to what he actually *does*. Particularly when he is acting as President and Congress is not involved.

    Like prosecuting child soldiers in violation of international law. Like continuing Bush's policies on rendition and indefinite detention. Like refusing to enforce the laws on banks and Wall Street while deporting more immigrants than Bush and prosecuting more whistleblowers than Nixon. Like authorizing assassinations, more drone strikes than Bush, and vowing to hold some terror suspects in prison - even if they are found innocent in a court of law.

  6. And then there's the fact that Obama simply ignores Congress when it's something he REALLY wants. Like when his Department of Justice unilaterally revised Miranda guidelines - after Congress voted down any changes. Or appointing his Catfood Commission - stacked with Social Security gutters - after Congress voted it down. And more recently, the Obama Administration has advanced the claim that the government can simply lie in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. As in: before, Karen Bojar could file a FOIA request to see if her phones are being tapped without a warrant by the NSA, and that request would be denied. Now, however, the NSA can simply lie and say your phone has never been tapped when they know they've been listening in for years.

    Now that's addressing the crux of you piece. Skimming over the rest, you praise Obama for repealing DADT. Problem: Obama could have halted DADT with the stroke of a pen under TWO different laws, for as long as he was president. Instead, he kicked the can down the road until gay activists embarrassed the Democratic leadership into passing a "repeal" that took the Pentagon months to certify and leaves the next Republican president free to go right back to kicking out teh gay because the anti-discrimination language (that Obama opposed) was stripped from the bill.

    "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"

    Problem: you're ignoring historical context. FDR started with 59 Senators at a time when it took *64* votes to override a filibuster. Whereas Obama had a filibuster-proof majority as soon as Frankin was seated. Meaning Obama started with a STRONGER majority than FDR. He just chose not to use it.

    Finally, you mentioned the student loan reform. Can you name a single other policy from Obama that both affects a large number of people and when there's a conflict between working people and monied interests, the working class comes out ahead on the deal? And again, previous Republican presidents have signed great legislation - like Reagan signing the treaty against torture (hint hint) and H.W. Bush signing the Americans With Disabilities Act. Do you sing their praises to the heavens based on an act here and an act there, giving them a free pass on their other, right wing policies - or did you look at their presidencies as a whole and call out right wing BS polices where they existed?