Op-Eds Speaking Truth to the Powers-That-Be
President Obama’s poll numbers don’t look good right now. The economy is still reeling. The Congress is even more obstreperous than it has been, getting virtually none of the People’s business done. The Beltway insider media’s take is an old one: If the economy does not improve, the incumbent president is doomed.
Yet the President is in-step with the majority of the American people both on policy and public sentiment. He is offering up solutions to jobs and the economy that are mainstream and endorsed by all but the most extreme of economists.
Costly military misadventures over the prior eight years under George W. Bush, tax breaks that drained out nearly two trillion dollars, and the massive housing bubble melt-down and excessive speculation on Wall Street are the conditions under which Mr. Obama took the reins of government. He has performed admirably in spite of overwhelming odds stacked against this country and his presidency.
In spite of mile-high roadblocks thrown by Republicans at every turn, he has stuck up for common-sense needs of the American public and taken his hits from the Right and Left while doing it. He has maintained a disciplined approach and dogmatic determination to see the people’s business done. We can’t make progress with a Republican-dominated house and a Senate that can kill majority bills by filibuster.
Overall, we give the President an A-. We also believe that his patience and focus to stay the course are the strengths which we sought from then candidate Obama in 2008. Point-by-point, here is how Mr. Obama makes that grade:
The majority of the focus will be on domestic issues, but the President has excelled in his foreign policy and handling of the military.
The Bush Administration left behind a State Department and a foreign policy that were, aside from W’s African AIDS initiatives, a resounding disaster. Our standing in the world was low. Involvement in two wars made us the Satans of the Middle. East Our enemies had flaunted our failures at both locating them, and stopping them.
Mr. Obama has had a string of foreign policy successes, including four major events over the last six months.
The most recent has been the backstopping of NATO in Libya, rather than putting the United States in the more costly role of the lead protector of the Libyan people in their anti-Ghadhaffi resistence. We did for an estimated $2B what Iraq and Afghanistan cost us trillions.
Obama pledged to end the war in Iraq in a responsible way. That pledge has been kept, as his administration has upheld the timetable for withdrawal set up in the waning days of the Bush Administration.
They have conducted operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan exceedingly well. Drones have been used to take out most of the Al Qaeda hierarchy, saving the lives of hundreds if not thousands of special forces who used to have to perform those highly dangerous operations.
His biggest achievement, the killing of the seemingly invincible Osama Bin Laden on May 1, demonstrated once and for all the leadership skills which Republicans had been claiming that the president did not have.
The Obama Administration has been scaling down costly operations, making sensible, albeit not sexy trade deals, and savvy calls on the use of force as an instrument of foreign policy. They have sought to bring the angry boil against American foreign adventures in the Middle East to a low boil.
They lose a grade point fraction for their handling of Israeli and Palistinean relations, which, while on-point has been far from artful, and for their Iran policy of engagement/restriction, which has likewise been ineffectual.
Some people minimize such success as unimportant to the larger issues of jobs and the economy. To one sense, this is true, but, to the measure of what the man and his Administration are capable, it is not.
Foreign policy is the one area where a President has near complete authority to exercise policy without much interference from the Congress. If anything, it demonstrates what the Obama Administration could be capable of without the five-ton dead weight of the heel-dragging Republicans in the Congress.
Given the gale-force political headwinds which Mr. Obama faces on the economy, he has done an admirable job pushing for what is right and necessary.
Bush tax cuts reduced revenues by $1.8T between 2002 and 2009, all the while ramping up two of the most costly wars in U.S. history.
The Obama Administration time and again has taken the high road on budget, debt ceiling, and tax issues. They have put trillions of dollars in meaningful cuts, balanced against restoring the revenues of 3% increases in the taxes of the wealthiest Americans. Mr. Obama’s plan would raise $866B over the next decade by increasing taxes on the top two tiers, reinstating the estate tax, and cutting out loopholes in the tax code that give the ultra-wealthy unfair advantage in the tax system.
“Americans need to take a close look at what Mr. Obama is calling for: a broad tax reform that raises $1.5 trillion over a decade but allows for lower rates on businesses and individuals by cutting tax breaks and loopholes for special interests, and that restores some fairness to a system in which millionaires and billionaires pay lower tax rates than middle-class families.”
Under Ronald Reagan, the richest Americans paid 1/3 of their annual income. There was an estate tax. Bruce Bartlett, a senior economist in the Reagan and H.W Bush Administrations, told DailyFinance:
“If this group were still paying 33.1 percent, federal revenue would have been more than $166 billion higher in 2008 alone. That would be enough to reduce the budget deficit by about 10 percent this year. If the top 1 percent of taxpayers had continued to pay the same effective tax rate they paid in 1986 every year from 1987 to 2008, the federal debt today would be $1.7 trillion lower.”
President Obama is in step with both the majority of the American public and all but a handful of whack-job conservative economists like Arthur Laffer, whose Keynesian supply-side theories have been the inspiration for much of the damage to our economy.
Mr. Obama’s take on the debt ceiling crisis, and his ability to reach out in ways that even sent the alarm bells in his own party ringing, was masterful. He pointed out that Republicans were so averse to doing any deal, that they would willingly turn down legislation that they themselves have sponsored in the past. It did not solve the gridlock in D.C., but it set the stage for his re-election bid by showing, again, that the GOP is out of step with the American people.
The program which Mr. Obama put forth in his special session before Congress is a sound one that has elements which have enjoyed wide bipartisan support in the past. It also has the backing of conservative economists as the not-so-radical rag Bloomberg News reports:
“President Barack Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan would help avoid a return to recession by maintaining growth and pushing down the unemployment rate next year, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.”
More important, it would serve as the trigger that many American businesses are looking for to re-engage their own workforces and increase production and thereby hiring. The bill called for offsets that would pay for itself, largely by removing deductions for the 1.5% of Americans who, again, have paid far less than their fair share for nearly a decade. Thus it was met by Republicans, who are trying to keep the misery index of most Americans high for political gain, and a few of the remaining Blue Dog Democrats beholding to big money as well, with more of the same roadblocks.
The outcome is still being wrangled. The President does not have enough votes, political capital, to do much more than present proposals and try to get the American people on board with them. He has campaigned tirelessly for action on jobs, though, and come up with concrete proposals and an open door. This earns him our A-.
Mr. Obama pushed through legislation that met with a landslide of resistence and billions of dollars in market manipulation by the insurance industry to prevent meaningful change. Even with that, the bill barely passed.
The result is that millions of young Americans who normally drop off of the insurance roles when they lose their parents’ coverage are now covered, and pre-existing conditions are no longer a barrier to insure children. More of the law will roll out over the next few years and continue, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates to provide increased savings to both the system and consumers alike.
The Obama Administration uses Ted Kennedy’s tome about getting the political football further down field, then making another stand. The problem is that the health insurance industry owns more than 85% of Congress (See: Congress on Sale! – Huffington Post).
The weakened state of the insurance industry and the Republican Party left them both far more vulnerable in 2009. The Obama Administration’s need for consensus was too great, and the Health Care Reform Act did not go far enough. That it insures millions is a good thing. That it is letting the same for-profit companies run hundreds of shell-games that doctors and hospitals have to adniminster, and that the insurance companies are minimally accountable to their insureds still make us stick with our B+ rating on health care.
On the White House execution of their social agenda, Mr. Obama has delivered. From ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) to backstopping women’s rights in the workplace and in personal health, the Administration has demonstrated patience and fortitude in its execution of social justice issues.
Unfortunately, Republicans aren’t on a jobs agenda. They are largely on a social re-engineering agenda. If there was a change in the White House, there is almost certain to be a backlash by the far Right that is even more pronounced than the regressive legislation being railroaded through state houses across the nation.
Again, this is an area where executive order has more bearing than legislation. The President has used the bully pulpit and the powers of his office well to effect change and set the tone for debates at the state level on issues like LGBT marriage.
The Obama Administration has one of the most leak-free White House operations of any president in modern history. In many ways, they move effectively on a wide variety of issues and public relations questions. Their day-to-day with Capitol Hill though has been something of an abject failure. It is painfully clear that Republicans want Mr. Obama to fail, and will go to excessive lengths to make that happen. There are dozens of bits of important legislation stopped in the gridlock. The Obama Administration just started issuing executive orders to stop-gap some of these pressing needs. We applaud that, but feel that it is two or three years late. To keep that middle ground, they have given up too much power, and the Republicans have no problem walking all over the White House as a result.
The Obama White House uses its First Lady and the Vice President well, though. They are deployed to great effect, and both have meaningful roles in the Administration that shine brightly on the President.
A subject where the GOP loves to take shots, but in truth, the President has done more than any other politician to keep a bad situation from becoming a catastrophy. He has brought hope, and to the degree that the heel-locked Republicans will allow, change.
Had Republicans had their way, we would have bread lines today, and a monumental Depression world-wide. All of our car manufacturers would be out of business. So would their suppliers. Millions more who rely on subsidiary work to the auto industry would be unemployed.
Wall Street was bailed out, which started with Mr. Bush before Mr. Obama took office, but Obama required that the money be paid back with interest prior to executives drawing out fat bonsuses, speeding up the repayment table dramatically.
Most important though, that those who voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 should remember: You got the guy that you wanted in that office.
Mr. Obama has been Swiss-precision steady in his centrism. We wanted an adult in the room? We got it. The children are still in Congress kicking their feet and screaming, but at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, we have someone who does not lose sight of the American people, or our most pressing needs.
One man, not even a President of the United States, cannot move the government. A President does set the tone, and commands a broad bully pulpit. To that end, Mr. Obama has been relentless and tireless.
You got the man that you wanted. Now you just need a sane government to go along with him. Particularly for Liberals and Progressives, if you want change, then you have to go out and replace every last member of the Tea Party in Congress with a progressive voice.
Only with some balance in the Congress can Mr. Obama achieve any real forward motion and end the gridlock by the Party of No.
My shiny two.