Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Case for President Obama (August 1, 2012)

We interrupt this allegedly non-partisan blog to bring you a wildly partisan message….

Last week I received a dispiriting email from a good friend, a reader and a Democrat, who bemoaned his own lack of firepower in mounting Obama defenses for thoughtful Republican ears.

“I found that I had nothing to say to defend Obama.  Romney is a wolf in wolf's clothing.  No mystique.  He's a technocrat.  Obama?  I'm aghast to say that I have nothing to say about what he's for.  I know what I thought he was for in 2008.  He's taken four years and delivered very little.  He's as unwilling to hammer Wall Street as he is unions (GM).  I find myself, in July, believing nothing Obama says and not believing he'd follow through.”

I thought back to a panel discussion Wendy and I saw last Fall, when we saw Joe Scarborough, “Morning Joe,” former Republican Congressman, avowed (and disgruntled) conservative in the old Reagan definition of the term.  Joe wondered out loud why Obama simply didn’t run on his own record, which Scarborough, of all people, thought was compelling.

So, I now offer a full-throated Case for Obama….

I believe Barack Obama deserves our vote in the coming presidential election not because “he deserves more time.”  Or because “he’s done the best he could given the hand he was dealt.”  Or because “the alternative is unpalatable.”

Barack Obama will get my vote because he has been an excellent president.  He has indeed delivered on “hope and change.”  He has given us hope where there was the despair of two wars and our American economy was on the brink of depression.  And he has changed the world’s perception of us, the way we conduct foreign policy, and delivered major positive social change through his health care, immigration and gay rights policies.

His one major failing, in my view, is his overly tentative defense of his own strengths and beliefs, and that is no small drawback for the leader with the bully pulpit.  But I am pleased to fill that void in the hope that this recitation catalyzes his supporters, convinces the fence-sitters, and gives pause to open-minded opponents.

The Economy

When Obama inherited the White House, we were rushing headlong into depression.  He endorsed President Bush’s TARP program and quickly passed his own stimulus program.  By the reckoning of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the stimulus created 3 million jobs.  Where would we be without that?  Far worse that simply adding three million to the current unemployment rolls.  The multiplier effect on the global economy would have been devastating, and in the US alone, 15%+ unemployment rates would not be out of the question.

One can critique Obama for his promise that if the stimulus were passed, unemployment would not reach 8%.  Bad call. It got far worse before it got better.  But the analogy here is handing an investment manager $1,000 when he promises a return of $10,000, and being very angry when he only comes back with $5,000.  Bad forecast, but still a very good outcome on the merits.

The economy is growing and unemployment is falling, albeit slowly on both fronts.  It took us a decade to come out of the Great Depression, and only then, due to government stimulus and the positive output effects of World War II production.  A recovery from a major operation takes time, and the Bush era damage to the economy was no ankle sprain.

There is no doubt that the recovery is being hampered by the turmoil in Europe.  If you want a blueprint for the Romney Plan, check out the UK policies or those of Europe at large.  Obsessed with deficits, they are starving their economies with austerity, and are now wondering why the revenue keeps shrinking.  They are in recession – that is, negative GDP – and we are not.  If Europe’s outlook was brighter, US GDP doubtless would be in the healthy 3%+ growth area.  How many times do we need to prove that Hooverism doesn’t work….and that Keynes knew a thing our two?  Run surpluses in good times, and be the economic stimulus of last resort during recessions.  And trickle down simply does not work.

In the meantime, Obama saved the US auto industry with, yes, a bailout.  Controversial, but he was bold and decisive and there is no doubt our economy is healthier for it, and unemployment would have been far worse if we’d ceded the industry to Japan and Germany.
He championed a true “Grand Bargain” that would have made significant, badly-needed but tolerable reductions in Medicare and Medicaid and defense spending, while demanding in return tax increases on the wealthiest Americans, who currently enjoy the lowest rates in 70 years. 

People simply do not understand that when Clinton balanced the Budget in 1999/2000, there was $2.5 trillion in both revenue and expenses.  The expense side grew to $3.8 trillion, driven by the wars, the unfunded prescription drug benefit and the growth in entitlements.  But revenues dropped to $2 trillion with the Bush tax cuts.  You do the math.  We need more revenue simply for the “must haves” and there is no responsible plan out there that gets us back to a balanced budget without a tax increase of some kind.

Foreign Policy

Obama killed Osama Bin Laden, and this was not a matter of good luck.  Upon assuming the White House, he reversed the Bush policy and dramatically increased efforts to track Bin Laden down and kill him.  And he succeeded, brilliantly.  The plot itself was rife with risk, but he made the call -- unflinchingly -- to take the shot while we had one.

Beyond that symbolic success, more substantively Obama has decimated Al Qaeda.  Bush should actually get more credit for wounding Al Qaeda than he does, but Obama has truly devastated them.

Obama ended the Iraq War and chaos has not (yet) emerged.  This is a major accomplishment and it took guts.  Unlike various Republican would be Commanders-in-Chief who vow to “listen to their generals on the ground” (like Westmoreland in Vietnam?), Obama put down attempts to lengthen the battle.  And our role is now de minimus.

Afghanistan offered no good choices for Obama, but he arguably made the best among a poor set of options.  He increased troops (not exactly endearing him to the liberal base) to gain some degree of control, and is now drawing the troops down on a path to total withdrawal.  We will shed no further blood in country building.

On a higher plane, Obama restored our proper role in the global arena, no longer the go-it-alone bullies of the Bush era, instead the leading player on a complex world stage where we act in accordance with our allies.  Our standing in the world has thus improved dramatically.

He demonstrated this approach in Libya, where he stepped in for largely moral reasons, leading an alliance with strong European support, and a brutal dictator, Qaddafi, is now gone.

He has also steered us to the right side of history with the Arab Spring, overruling his own State Department in giving Mubarak the diplomatic shove to the sidelines.  He has demonstrated strong restraint in not allowing us to get sucked into the World War III of Syria, and, like JFK in the Cuban Missile Crisis, has sought to exhaust all possible avenues in virtually all conflicts, relegating war to its rightful place as a truly last option.  But demonstrating, as in Libya, that it is an option he is willing to use.

Other Domestic Arenas

I am proud that Obama passed the Affordable Care Act.  It will be seen, fifty years from now, as an appropriate and successful coda and complement to Medicare and Medicaid.  You don’t see many Republicans running against them.  He succeeded where every Democratic president since Truman has tried and failed.  Coverage will be extended to most Americans, pre-existing conditions will no longer be used to deny one from coverage, and young people will be able to stay on their parents’ coverage longer.  There are mechanisms to control health care costs, which by the way, have only grown at 4% per year in the two years since ObamaCare was passed, in part due to the pressure he brought to bear on the issue.

We move forward as a tolerant country in numerous ways.  “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was finally repealed.  Obama has signaled his support for gay marriage.  He has recognized the travesty of deporting young immigrants who are in the United States via the illegal actions of their parents.  And he is the best hope for preserving women’s reproductive rights, of course.

He passed comprehensive financial reform legislation.  Dodd-Frank may not be all we want it to be, but derivative regulation, a consumer protection agency, the Oversight Council and Say on Pay are all good things.  The amount of screaming about them is a decent indicator of the potential impact, if they use the teeth they’ve sharpened.

Obama has recognized the many shortfalls in No Child Left Behind and thus has issued waivers in many states.  He has championed more affordable student loans, and in general has been a voice for badly-needed education reform.

Obama has had the opportunity to appoint two Supreme Court justices and the “liberal” wing of the court has been strengthened for another 25+ years accordingly.  Justice Ginsberg is 79 and Justices Scalia and Kennedy are 76.  Don’t count on Chief Justice Roberts turning into Earl Warren on the springboard of his ObamaCare ruling.  What kind of court do you want?  You might as well ask what kind of country do you want.

And yes…

He has accomplished all this with a Republican leadership intent on doing everything it can to get him out, by overt design.  They in turn are beholden to 75 under-informed nut cases (the Tea Party) that ended up in our House of Representatives.  Republicans vote out people like Richard Lugar, and barely decide to keep Orrin Hatch….and these are guys that used to wear the “hard right” emblem!

Ask yourself if Mitt Romney really has articulated any fresh thinking into our current morass?  Has he demonstrated anything but fealty for the Tea Party?  Has he used his vaunted Olympic training for anything other than synchronized flip-flopping, mimicking Rick Santorum from the partner diving board?  In this time of outcry against the “1%,” do we really want to elect the utter embodiment of the privileged, super wealthy, money-hiding, tax-dodging out-of-touch elite?  A guy who’s only principled line-in-the-sand stand has been his refusal to release more than one prior year of tax returns?

And then ask yourself what you can do to stop Romney and re-elect President Obama.  Maybe you can make a few phone calls.  Maybe even canvass in a swing state.  Or even just pass along this rant to any “disappointed” Obama supporter.  He’s done a lot.  Our country needs him for four more years.


  1. I do not see any metric in your algorithm for number of "purple" states. The greater the number of moderates in Congress, the greater the chances of Obama succeeding.

    1. This is an excellent comment, which I will address in future Senate updates. The moderates tend to be exiting en masse, whether by choice (Olympia Snowe) or with the hook (Richard Lugar). The quick assessment is that at least in ideology, the next Senate will be even more polarized than this one. See: Ted Cruz, Texas, in my newest (Week in Review, August 3) post.

  2. Just check out Ted Cruz all-American bio before you label him a "nut case"


    1. Ha, several corrections. I did indeed cite Ted Cruz's bio -- at least his Princeton education. And, I did NOT label him a "nut case." (That is, not YET.)

      For the record, Representative Nan Heyworth (R, NY 18th) is also Princeton educated. And she IS a nut case.


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