Grading Obama, one year in

Allison Lazarus

By Cody Pomeranz, ’11, Sports Section Editor; Brian Cofer, ’10, Contributor; and Sebastian Koochaki, ’10, Contributor

OVERALL:

CODY: Coming into office with two wars, the worst economic downturn since the late 1920s, a broken healthcare system, and a country zapped of confidence, it would have been hard for President Obama to make things worse.  And the good news is that he hasn’t.  However, his lack of progress on key issues, like healthcare and climate change, as well as his hesitance on Afghanistan and social issues, has clouded Obama’s “hope and change” agenda.  Nevertheless, he has taken indisputably necessary measures to stabilize the economy and Afghanistan.  Grade: B

BRIAN: One year into President Obama’s term in office, he has done a very good job of following through on promises he made during his campaign as far as his policy agenda.  He was able to implement his strategies for economic recovery, establish his stance on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, begin to discuss his intentions for the “climate crisis,” and he introduced his healthcare plans.  However, many of the subtleties of the way the President carries himself with foreign leaders and some of the questionable people he has surrounded himself with in his cabinet (some with tax issues, others with ethical questions, and many with ties in the nasty Chicago political machine) have left many to question his true political stance and question how “presidential” the President really is.  As a result, Obama has backpedaled on his promises of a new age of transparency in Washington.  Additionally, the President’s policies themselves have met overwhelming criticism, with critics citing doubts that they might not be beneficial for the U.S. in the long run; this can be seen in his rapidly decreasing approval ratings.  I hope that the Congressional and gubernatorial elections later this year will bring real change in Washington and that the U.S. can right its ship and the country can continue to move in a more positive direction.  Grade: C

SEBASTIAN: One year in, President Obama has failed to bring change to Washington and has at best maintained the status quo.  He has been unable to bring bipartisan consensus, and he has delivered on next to none of his promises. That said, the American economy has been stabilized, and many of his efforts appear to be promising.  Grade: C-

ECONOMY:

CODY: Despite ludicrous calls that Obama is a “socialist” who is destroying America, the President has actually enacted, along with the Fed, several economic policies that have been invaluable in stabilizing the economy, stimulating the recovery, and averting a global economic catastrophe.  Over the past year, Obama and his economic council have overseen an infusion of liquidity into the market through a purchase of over a trillion dollars in mortgage-backed securities by the Federal Reserve Bank. The Fed has lowered interest rates to zero to induce credit growth, made currency swaps with foreign banks to further liquidity, and attempted to spur lending by buying toxic assets. Obama, despite strong criticism from the American public, necessarily bailed out banks through TARP that were “too big to fail.”  While the bank assistance did not provide as much lending as the government had hoped, it was a required step in stabilizing the vital banking system, a system in great need of stricter government oversight. Government efforts have loosened money supply and devalued American currency. While many see the devaluing of the U.S. dollar as deleterious, in a bleeding economy, this step promotes consumer spending in the U.S. rather than other nations.  However, the government will have to perform a balancing act between low rates and high inflation.  While critics have deemed the stimulus bill a failure, only a fraction has been spent, which makes the bill’s success impossible to determine now. Money for projects like infrastructure cannot be spent overnight. But funds for jumpstart projects like Cash for Clunkers gave a vital boost to the ailing auto industry. Stimulus success is reliant on a “multiplier” effect that is virtually impossible to measure. In short, Obama has commendably stabilized the economy, with GDP growth in the third quarter and a decrease in pace of unemployment as two promising signs.  His economic success, in spite of an ineffective housing plan, earns him his highest mark.  Grade: A-

BRIAN: In regards to Obama’s dealings with the economic crisis and recovery, I would give him a C.  He has succeeded in adequately regulating the embattled banks that were bailed out by the government through the TARP program, thereby insuring that taxpayer money is being allocated appropriately. However, the administration has made it very difficult for banks that did not want to accept TARP money to repay the government. Additionally, the stimulus package has been largely unsuccessful in that it has failed to meet expected job creation numbers. Moreover, the bill’s trip through Congress was riddled with high partisan tension and debate over so-called “pork” projects. Grade: C

SEBASTIAN: Over the past year, Obama has been able to stabilize the American economy and return confidence to the American investor. However, the ways in which he has done so have only set up the American economy for another collapse. Obama and his economic staff have done a good job of flooding the financial markets with credit to stop the retraction of the economy.  This, however, is only a temporary “sugar high.” The money lent to banks under programs like TARP must be returned, and now it is all about timing—finding the right moment to remove the excess credit from the market and repay some of the national debt without hurting an American economy dependent upon its government. While GDP has continued to increase in the past few months, unemployment continues to rise, and many of the stimulus programs that were supposed to provide employment have not gone far enough. These programs have only added to the national debt. By increasing national debt and weakening the American dollar, Obama has only increased the burden on the American economy in the long run.  Grade: C

HEALTHCARE:

CODY: What many see as Obama’s Waterloo has been at the forefront of the President’s domestic agenda.  While I applaud Obama’s effort, his success in the area has been unsatisfactory.  Though there are disparities in the house and senate bill, the final bill will most likely omit the public option.  The U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn’t have a universal health care system.  But that’s not only what this reform is about. The U.S. spends over 15% of GDP on healthcare that will be unsustainable in the coming decades.  Nevertheless, even this unprecedented spending has left millions uninsured. The trillion dollar bill does have perks. It will lower the deficit by $100 billion over 10 years and mandate coverage, as it should.  However, the purportedly “bipartisan” President still has shown reluctance to include tort reform due to the trial lawyer lobby in the Democratic Party. This reform, which will get doctors on board, efficiently cuts health care costs.  What the bill will do is constrain doctors’ abilities to charge the government excessive amounts for Medicare patients. Bipartisanship is a two-way street, but Obama is only going one direction. Nevertheless, reform is vital to maintaining a healthy economy. When insurance rates rise faster than wages, consumers have less and less income to put into the economy. More than 60% of bankruptcies filed are due to health costs. This is a major, complex problem that needs fixing. I’m just not sure a co-op bill will accomplish what’s needed. Grade: C

BRIAN: The matter of healthcare could potentially come to define Obama’s presidency on the domestic front; this issue was a staple of his Presidential campaign. On this matter, I would give the President an F. Even more so than his economic policies, “ObamaCare” has become a partisan circus. Some elements of some shady politics have come into play in this process thanks to Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democratic Congressional leadership holding private meetings for crafting the bill to their liking. On a more concrete note, Obama is almost certain to break his promise of not signing a bill that is either over $900 billion or that will not raise taxes; this bill will increase the already massive deficit (which has increased by 24% since the President took office) and increase taxes for everyone in some form and the issues of funding for abortions and immigrants are an inappropriate use of taxpayer money. Furthermore, the allocation of funding for Medicare and other programs amongst the states could devastate state budgets which, as a whole, are on the verge of disaster, anyway. All of this said, some question still remains as to whether or not it is constitutional to force people to buy healthcare from the government and this issue will almost certainly be tested in the coming months.  Grade: F

SEBASTIAN: With the passage of a House and Senate healthcare bill at the end of the year, many Americans saw Obama’s healthcare push as a success. However, the rapidity and haste with which the bill was created and the usual Washington politics of wheeling and dealing have undermined the true purpose of the bill: to reduce the burden of healthcare costs on the American people and government. The recent healthcare legislation only increases the burden of healthcare on the American economy by unnecessarily increasing national debt.  While the bill may provide healthcare to millions of Americans, certain versions of the bill mandate universal health insurance and introduce regulations that will damage the health insurance market. This legislation may even fundamentally change America’s healthcare system for the worse by limiting freedom of doctors. The healthcare debate has also largely overshadowed many other important problems including social and climate change issues. While Obama may have shown his power to get things done in Congress, his efforts ultimately prove futile in solving the real problems of the American healthcare system.   Grade: D (A+ for effort)

FOREIGN POLICY:

a. Afghanistan/Pakistan/Yemen:

Cody: Because I wrote a lengthy and detailed article on this topic a couple weeks ago (Counterpoint: Pomeranz advocates staying the course), I’ll be brief.  The Afghanistan War is a war that needs to be waged. This fact is indisputable, and Obama took much needed measures to escalate the fight by adding 30,000 troops to the effort. However, setting a timeline for beginning withdrawal, while needing to encourage NATO assistance, will backfire on Obama.  This war requires a long-term commitment, which appears to be politically untenable for Obama.  In Obama’s West Point address, he failed to present a new opium strategy and glossed over the all-important subject of Pakistan, which has broached a new dynamic in the War on Terror. Though Obama has stepped up Predator strikes, the Pakistan issue will come to a head if al-Qaeda and the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban are able to get hold of the unstable nation’s nuclear arsenal. The Afghanistan mission now is to stabilize the region and construct a working government. But if Obama wishes for a successful long-term plan, he needs an efficient opium policy and sufficient manpower. The comparison of the U.S. effort to the Soviet effort is ridiculous and unsupported. The Soviet effort had ambitions of expanding the empire and conquering the Afghan people, an undeniably major difference. In reference to Yemen, Obama has announced that the U.S. has no immediate plans to send troops to the nation. However, the situation in the al-Qaeda safe haven that opened its doors to the mujahideen veterans following the Soviet-Afghan War may soon exacerbate, and the U.S. could be forced to fight a three-front war. As for Iraq, Obama has kept on his promise to deescalate the effort. Grade: B

Brian: Obama has handled the war on terrorism in Afghanistan quite well. Because of this, I would give the president a B. As he acknowledged in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, the U.S. is engaged in a war of necessity and as such it will continue to remain firm on the terrorism issue. Obama’s decision to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan was one of the high points of his presidency even though his announcement came much later than many would have preferred. I do feel, however, that the U.S. should increase its pursuit of counter-terrorist measures in Pakistan and Yemen to eliminate the two countries as terrorist safe havens.
Grade: B

Sebastian: One of my greatest hopes for the Obama presidency was the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the waging of a smart War on Terror. While America’s involvement in Iraq is decreasing, the war in Afghanistan is only escalating. If Obama could have learned anything in his years at Columbia and Harvard, he should have learned about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 70s and 80s. More troops will not help. While the Afghan people still support terrorist groups including the Taliban, America will not be able to win the war. Also, Obama continues to support a Pakistani regime that has and will continue to harbor and fund terrorists. The cost in lives and money only continues to rise. Furthermore, recent threats to American security including Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempted bombing of an American plane have revealed that American security in the years since 9/11 has not fundamentally changed.  Grade: C

b. Diplomacy:

Cody: Obama has indisputably helped repair America’s international image and opened up diplomatic discussion with a myriad of unfriendly nations. He has fundamentally changed America’s foreign policy from Bush’s unilateral policy to an engaging, diplomatic, smart-power strategy. Obama’s efforts were not apologetic like so many critics claim, but intelligent and calculated. However, Obama has failed in efforts to contain Iranian nuclear progress and supervise a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. While he has only been in office for a year, the Iranian issue has become an urgent matter, not so much to U.S. security but to Israel’s. Not only have diplomacy efforts on Israel and Palestine been slow, but they have also failed in some areas. As for Obama’s meetings with foreign leaders, conservative criticism has been puerile and outlandish. When Obama respects other cultures, like bowing to the Japanese emperor, pundits have a field day. Nevertheless, Obama’s accomplishment of reconstructing America’s image abroad has been paramount, and earns him a solid B-. Grade: B-

Brian: Unlike his foreign policy, Obama has done a lot of talking as far as diplomacy is concerned. I would give Obama a D on diplomacy.  His tone has been very defensive and apologetic in his efforts to distance himself from the Bush administration, a tactic that is a sign of weakness for the country as a whole. Additionally, simple gestures such as bowing to the Saudi Arabian, Japanese, and Chinese leaders, as well as his debacle with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez have left the president vulnerable to criticism and reinforced his overly apologetic tone. One of the most frustrating of the President’s diplomatic gestures has been his administration’s decision to try enemy combatants such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the underwear bomber in civilian court, which has demonstrated weakness in his stance in regard to the War on Terror. The President is unafraid to bomb al-Qaeda members with drones but insists on giving the captured combatants the same rights that an American citizen would receive. However, Obama remained firm in his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize in reinforcing U.S. intentions and motivations in the war in Afghanistan.  Grade: D

Sebastian: Obama and his cabinet have been able to recharge American diplomacy by ending Bush-era isolationism and unilateralism. He has opened up debate with many countries and has made it a point of his presidency to travel around the world and talk to other world leaders. While his new diplomacy has improved America’s image abroad, his efforts for open negotiations with Iran have largely failed.  Iran has only become more isolated, and the Islamic republic continues to build a nuclear arsenal without sanctions.  Grade: B+ (F on Iran)

SOCIAL ISSUES:

Cody: Social issues have largely been ignored by the administration. Despite accomplishments in ordering the closure of Guantanamo Bay, ending the practice of torture, legalizing stem cell research, and signing into law hate-crime prevention legislation, Obama has failed to deliver on one of his primary promises: ending the ludicrous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy prohibiting gays in the U.S. military. While he reiterated his promise in an impassioned speech to the HRC, there is no explanation for taking this long to repeal the law. Enlistment in the military should be based solely on one’s capability and willingness to serve his country, not on one’s sexual orientation.  Grade: C

Brian: Social issues have not played a very significant role in Obama’s policy decisions in the first year of his presidency. Some talk of reviewing gay rights and abortion legislation came about during his campaign but we have yet to see the direction in which Obama will go as far as social policy matters are concerned.  Grade: Incomplete

Sebastian: One of the key tenets of Obama’s campaign was a commitment to solving social problems including poverty, welfare, abortion, gay marriage, education, and many others. While tackling major issues such as healthcare and the economy, Obama has largely ignored these smaller albeit very important issues in American society. Even though the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act sought to bolster education and continue many welfare programs, the act did not provide a long-term solution to problems in education, and the welfare programs, while relieving some people of the hardships of poverty, do not fundamentally solve the problems of poverty, instead increasing national debt. Furthermore, while I do not believe that he should have supported a constitutional amendment to support gay marriage (there would be no support for one anyway), Obama should have delivered on promises to end discrimination against gays in the federal government including the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the nation’s military. One year into Obama’s presidency, social issues still remain ignored and unresolved.  Grade: F

CLIMATE CHANGE:

Cody: Not only has Obama failed to enact cap-and-trade legislation, but the Copenhagen conference was an absolute failure and made U.S. and foreign leaders look like hypocritical idiots. The conference emitted ridiculous amounts of CO2, employing thousands of limos to transport the diplomats. Climate change is an urgent matter that is indisputably affected by man-made actions. If we fail to take the necessary steps to combat this threat, we will most definitely be sorry in the future. Grade: D

Brian: The matter of climate change has been an issue that Obama has been quite unclear on. He receives a B on this topic. After initially wanting to push Cap and Trade legislation through Congress, the president seems to have backed off. The bill—mocked as “Cap and Tax” and deemed as a threat to free-market principals—was met with huge opposition and the matter of healthcare was moved to the forefront.  Additionally, the president made a very lackluster appearance at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, a summit marked by protests and hypocrisy (the conference emitted over 40,000 tons of CO2—as much as the country of Morocco emitted in the whole year of 2006…perhaps the attendees of the conference should practice what they’ve been preaching). Despite his inability to follow through on this aspect of his agenda, I am giving the president a good grade. My views on “global warming” are such that I do not believe that humans play any kind of significant role in the regular cyclical trends of the global climate. Therefore, by failing to prove to foreign leaders that the U.S. is committed to fighting climate change and by failing to pass Cap and Trade legislation, the president receives a good grade by default.  Grade: B

Sebastian: An answer to climate change needs to come now. Personally, I no longer believe that the issue is even a matter of whether climate change is occurring or not; it’s a divisive debate between self-proclaimed “scientists” that leaves true science out of the picture. What I know is that if the government does nothing, we will run the risk of major devastation to the entire world. Climate change is an issue of national security and is of the utmost importance. And what has Obama done? While “stabilizing” the economy and “winning” a healthcare battle, Obama has been unable to push through any climate legislation and almost all negotiations with other nations have failed.
Grade: F

BEST ACHIEVEMENT:

Cody: Escalating the Afghanistan War. While there were flaws in his plan, Obama took an unpopular but necessary measure, adding 30,000 troops to the effort.

Brian: Perhaps one of the only policies enacted that was widely agreed upon by the American public was Obama’s decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan. This next step in the war on terrorism has cemented the U.S. in its commitment to defusing the threat on America and its citizens.

Sebastian: The adoption of Bo, a Portuguese Water Dog.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT:

Cody: Lack of diplomatic success with Iran, Israel, and Palestine.

Brian: Obama’s biggest disappointment was his inability to convert the incredible good will he enjoyed at the time of his inauguration into tangible results that could unite the country and move it in a positive direction.

Sebastian: Iran and just about everything else.

BEST CABINET MEMBER:

Cody: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton has been vital in opening discussion with formerly dismissive nations. Second in this category would undoubtedly be Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who has been crucial in devising an efficient strategy for the War on Terror.

Brian: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a Bush appointee, has given vital insight to the Obama administration on how it should handle its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Keeping Gates was a very important strategic move as well as a bold bipartisan gesture in bridging the gap between the Bush and Obama administrations. Gates also recently announced that he will continue to hold his position for at least another year.

Sebastian: Secretary of State Clinton.

NEXT YEAR, I WANT TO SEE:

Cody: The repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Brian: I would like to see the president continue to allow the Democratic leadership in Congress to run its partisanship and keep ramming unpopular bills through the House and Senate. By continuing to allow the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to do whatever they please in Congress (largely in disagreement with their constituents as we saw in last fall’s town hall meetings as well as in their plummeting approval ratings), the American public will continue to see what is wrong in Congress. As further problems are exposed in the coming months, I would like to see both houses of Congress, as well as gubernatorial offices, revamped with fresh faces and fresh policy ideals.

Sebastian: The end of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy (or his resignation as president).

Photo courtesy of treehugger.com.