As Barack Obama’s first term comes to a close, I’d like to take a moment to grade his presidency. Never before in my lifetime has a president come into office with such hope – and no, I wasn’t alive yet when John Kennedy took office. As a strong supporter of Obama’s in 2008, I’ll have to admit I’m disappointed.
His signature issue was the long-overdue implementation of universal healthcare, something enjoyed by every other citizen of every other industrialized country in the world. Unfortunately, Obama decided from day one that a truly universal, single-payer system (such as the logical expansion of Medicare) would never be achieved, even though he enjoyed Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. Instead, the president opted for a so-called “public option,” in which citizens could decide for themselves if they wanted government-sponsored healthcare or private insurance – a watered-down stance, to be sure, but still palatable to me and others who elected him to bring affordable healthcare to the masses.
But then on the first day of Congressional negotiations, he publicly admitted that he could live without the public option. But what about us? What about those of us who can’t live without at least the public option? Those of us locked into high-deductible insurance plans which limit doctor choice and don’t cover every procedure, even those which are life and death? Alas, we received a bill of goods we did not vote for in 2008 – the biggest possible giveaway to the private insurers. A plan which, perhaps unconstitutionally, requires the purchase of private insurance by every American. Granted, it makes provisions for pre-existing conditions, and it covers far more Americans, but it is decidedly not what I expected.
It’s certainly better than nothing (that which we would have received under a John McCain presidency), but I’m giving Obama a straight “C” for his signature legislation. He watered it down to appease a Republican minority, and no Republican voted for it anyway. Hopefully, Obama will use this legislation as a stepping-stone to achieving real universal single-payer healthcare – even as a “public option.”
In foreign policy, I’m also giving the president a straight “C.” While it’s a welcome change to have a president who acknowledges that the United States and Israel cannot dictate Middle Eastern policy, the Guantanamo prison camp is still open, and alleged terrorists are still being held without charges. We still transfer some of these prisoners to countries which engage in torture, and I’m assuming the federal government can, and does, still tap into our cell-phone calls. So no improvement on civil liberties, no real vision for world peace, and worst of all, our young servicemen and women are still at war in two countries not responsible for the 9/11 attacks. (And here, I’m accusing Osama bin Laden and his small band of misfits of terrorism – not the entire country of Afghanistan.)
Remember when Gene McCarthy ran for president in 1968, saying that the Viet Nam War was not worth one more American life? Why hasn’t President Obama reached the same conclusion regarding Iraq and Afghanistan? How much more “nation-building” could there be for us to do there?
Now before you say, “But Andy, it sounds like you think Obama deserves an “F” for foreign policy,” let me point out that Obama hasn’t invaded any new countries – and don’t you think George W. Bush would have attacked at least Libya and Syria by now? Obama hasn’t escalated any war, the way Nixon did when he invaded Cambodia. And he was responsible for the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden. I’ll stick with the “C.”
While the economy is still sputtering, we must remember that the economy continued to sputter during Franklin Roosevelt’s first term too. The Great Depression of 1929 (like the Great Recession of 2008) was too big an economic catastrophe for recovery to occur quickly. Republicans would like to have us forget that it was their policies that caused the Great Recession in the first place – waging two wars and paying for them with tax cuts rather than tax increases, as well as a lack of banking and lending oversight. While he’s certainly trying to solve the tax-cut problem (albeit with GOP resistance), Obama has solved the problem of runaway capitalism, and has replaced it with much-needed government oversight – not just to the banking industry, but to the credit card industry, and oil industry, and many others. I, for one, am glad to see my government is actually working for me, rather than attempting to make my wife’s reproductive decisions for her. I’ll go out on a limb and give the president a “B” on the economy.
So where does the president earn an “A?” On what the Sunday quarterbacks like to call “intangibles” – those elements not obvious in the numbers and statistics. Like FDR, Obama inspires confidence that things are under control with his leadership. That’s a trait that can’t be taught, or obtained later in life. Obama has that ability to inspire a troubled nation. Mitt Romney does not.
Obama’s greatest strengths have been these intangibles. Consider, he’s finally beginning to tear down the barrier of fear which keeps homosexuals from attaining equal rights with the rest of us, he’s standing up to those who pollute our environment and accelerate global warming, and he’s appointed moderate-progressives to the Supreme Court. In fact, if there is one reason, and one reason only, to give Obama a second term, it’s the Supreme Court. Had John McCain won the 2008 election, abortion rights, birth control, and other personal freedoms may now be historical footnotes.
So what’s Obama’s overall grade? I’m going with a B- or a C+. Do I think Mitt Romney should be given a chance? Of course not! While I haven’t been so unenthusiastic about two presidential candidates since 1972, I’m not shortsighted enough to desire a return to the exact same policies that caused the mess Obama inherited. Could Obama have done more? Absolutely! Should we throw him overboard and change captains of this ship we call the United States? Are you nuts?
Next time, I’ll look at the Indiana Senate and gubernatorial races.