In the face of stunning bad behavior, political name calling, posturing and pandering that we have all been subjected to in recent primary races, I ran across an article by Andrew Sullivan recently that caused me to reflect on the first Obama years a bit differently, and I wanted to share some of it here.
Politifact noted that of 508 specific promises Obama made while campaigning for the presidency, a third had been fulfilled and only two have not had some action taken on them. To have done that while simultaneously battling an economic hurricane, wars and a constipated congress is stunning.
In Sullivan's observations, what matters to Obama is what he can get done, not what he can immediately take credit for, unlike most politicians we're are exposed to. Obama was not elected, despite liberal fantasies, to be a left-wing crusader, but rather to be a pragmatic, unifying reformist who could be the adult in the room. I believe he has done that rather well.
Again according to Sullivan, when Obama took office, the United States was losing around 750,000 jobs a month. The last quarter of 2008 saw an annualized drop in growth approaching 9 percent. This was the most serious downturn since the 1930s, there was a real chance of a systemic collapse of the entire global financial system, and unemployment and debt were about to soar even further. No fair person can blame Obama for the wreckage of the next 12 months.
Obama started to rebuild the economy when he continued the bank bailout begun by George W. Bush, then he initiated a bailout of the auto industry, and he then worked to pass a huge stimulus package. The job collapse bottomed out at the beginning of 2010, as the stimulus took effect. Since then, the U.S. has added 2.4 million jobs with 1.9 million private-sector jobs created in 2011, while a net 280,000 government jobs were lost. Overall government employment has declined 2.6 percent over the past 3 years, contrary to Republican rhetoric about Obama's big-government socialist ways.
Even healthcare reform is far more moderate than its critics have claimed. The Congressional Budget Office has projected it will reduce the deficit, not increase it, as Bush's unfunded Medicare Prescription Drug benefit did. Obama's healthcare reform sets standards, grants incentives, and then allows individual states to experiment. Making 44 million current free-riders (emergency room repeat users) pay into the system is not fiscally reckless; it is fiscally prudent.
Obama did not ignore Osama bin Laden, as Bush seemed to do. When the moment for critical decisions came, the president overruled both his secretary of state and vice president in ordering the riskiest and most ambitious option. As Sullivan points out, it was a triumph, not only in killing America's primary global enemy, but in getting a massive trove of intelligence to undermine al Qaeda even further.
So, on Obama's watch, a depression was averted, the bail-out of the auto industry was successful, the bank bailouts have been repaid to a great extent, the Iraq War has been ended on time, defense spending is being cut steadily, and gays now openly serve in the military, and the Defense of Marriage Act is dying in the courts. All this, in the face of Republican intransigence, from the 2009 declaration by Rush Limbaugh that he wants Obama "to fail" to the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's admission that his primary objective is denying Obama a second term.
I count these as successes by a man whom, I believe, history will recognize as one of our greatest presidents.