A year at the helm:
Does Obama make the grade?
By Ted McLaughlin / The Rag Blog / December 27, 2009
President Obama has been in office for nearly a year now. I had not thought about grading him on his performance in that first year until I heard on the news the other day that he had graded himself. It seems that he thinks he deserves a B+. That got me thinking — what grade do I think he’s earned?
Frankly, I don’t see that much has been accomplished. When I voted for him last November, I had swallowed the campaign promise of real “change.” I had visions of a Democratic presidency along the lines of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman or Lyndon Johnson — presidents who showed political courage and forever changed our country for the better.
Franklin Roosevelt took on the depression and created opportunities for common folks to work with organizations like the WPA and the CCC. He also passed social security to protect the elderly and keep them from living in abject poverty. Harry Truman was capable of making the hard decisions like whether to drop the A-bomb, and he also desegregated the Armed Forces by executive order.
Lyndon Johnson had a list of nation-changing accomplishments, including two major civil rights laws, the War on Poverty, creation of Head Start, and the creation of Medicare. There is still time left in his presidency for President Obama to join this pantheon of great Democrats, but his first year puts him only in the class of such mediocre to poor Democratic presidents as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
Let’s look first at what President Obama has failed to accomplish in his first year:
- He has not overturned the Patriot Act. The American government is still trashing the Constitution by spying on its own citizens. There is no reason for this to be happening (and never was). And don’t tell me it’s needed to prevent attacks like 9/11. The Bush Administration knew of those impending attacks (without the Patriot Act), but just chose not to do anything about it. The FBI can do their job without the unconstitutional Patriot Act, and the CIA shouldn’t be messing with American citizens at all.
- He has not overturned “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He says he wants to do this, but so far has done nothing. Harry Truman knew Congress wouldn’t desegregate the Armed Forces, so he stepped up and did it on his own. Barack Obama could do away with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” the same way, but he doesn’t have the political courage that Truman had. President Obama wants Congress to cover his butt and take some of the heat.
- After speaking against the two wars during his campaign, even to the point of castigating Clinton for voting “yes” on the Iraqi invasion, he has done absolutely nothing to stop the wars and withdraw American troops. In fact, he is in the process of escalating one of the two wars. It actually looks like he has decided to continue the Bush Doctrine in Iraq and Afghanistan (and that was not what he was elected to do).
- He has not passed any regulations to rein in the abuses of Wall Street, the financial giants and other corporate entities (which nearly destroyed the American economy). New regulations are badly needed, because it has become obvious that greed prevents these entities from policing themselves, and the “free market” benefits only the rich. He has proposed a few changes which Congress will consider next year, but it is not nearly enough — just a little tinkering around the edges.
- Outside of extending unemployment, he has done little to put Americans back to work. His famous “stimulus plan” was not nearly big enough (probably because he’s still paying for two wars) and was spread out over too long a period of time. It has had little or no actual effect.
- He has done nothing to stop the off-shoring of American jobs. I wish I could say there was some pending legislation, or at least that some proposals were being discussed, but that’s just not true. The truth is that absolutely nothing has been done or proposed. President Obama has ignored the off-shoring of American jobs since becoming president.
- The biggest change Obama promised was the reform of our badly broken health care system. Providing real health care reform was to be the centerpiece of his first term. So what has he done? Really nothing, except for a lot of talk about bi-partisanship. He has stayed completely out of it, and let Congress do it on its own. The House passed a barely decent bill and the Senate simply put a band-aid on the current system, and now Obama wants to jump in and push the Senate mess through. He still calls it real reform, but it is actually an abandonment of real reform and a sell-out to the insurance industry. Now it may be decades before anyone tries to pass real reform again.
- He has done nothing to help fight poverty or racism.
- He has done nothing to bring George Bush and Dick Cheney to trial for their many abuses of office.
That list of inaction and failures is pretty impressive, but hasn’t he accomplished anything? Yes, he has done the following:
- He did sign the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which will make it easier for women to sue when they are denied equal pay for performing the same job as a man. This was a good bill and needed to become law, but I think the Democratic Congress gets most of the credit for the law.
- While little has been done to help the unemployed find work, Obama did bail out General Motors (which prevented thousands more from joining the ranks of the unemployed).
- He has increased respect for America around the world and changed the way America deals with other countries. Of course, most of that was accomplished by just not being George Bush. It did get him a Nobel Peace Prize though.
- He claims to have stopped the torturing of prisoners. I hope this is true, but there are accusations that two teens were recently tortured in Afghanistan by Special Forces troops.
- He has successfully negotiated a new nuclear arms treaty with the Russians. This is a good thing and I don’t want to downplay its importance. He also killed the placing of missles (supposedly defensive) in Poland and the Czech Republic — another good thing.
- He has stopped the persecution and prosecution of sick people who use medical marijuana according to their own state’s laws.
Considering all of the above, I cannot agree with the self-assessed B+. The grade I would give President Obama on his first year is a C-. I guess that’s better than the string of F’s earned by George Bush, but it’s not really anything to be proud of. He has not really shown any political courage, and seems to be happy with being a “caretaker” president who will make some small changes.
That’s very disappointing. I had much higher hopes. What do you think his grade should be?
[Rag Blog contributor Ted McLaughlin also posts at jobsanger.]