Obama’s First Year: A Grade of B and Getting Better

I know many are frustrated with the performance of the guy
you worked so hard for during the last election season, but I have to tell you;
most of those frustrations are borne out of a warped concept of reality.  A year almost to the day after we finally got rid of the worst president to ever occupy
(literally) the White House, liberals are so disheartened they let Ted Kennedy’s
seat slip into the hands of a former nude model. And they seem almost giddy
about it. One of the most-used and least-useful phrases in a liberal’s arsenal
is “it sends a message.” Letting a wingnut win an election doesn’t “send a
message.” It gives the wingnuts hope, it makes them giddy, and it gives them credibility.

Liberals’ frustration with Barack Obama is just wrongheaded,
and our tendency to do things like take Ted Kennedy’s seat for granted and/or use it to “send
a message”  is why the neocons have held
court for so long. Why do you think people with no ideas who are against
everything keep on winning elections? It’s because we hand them to them on a
silver platter. And we do so because too many liberals have the same “all or
nothing” penchant that infects the right, and a warped view of how politics

Yes, I said warped. Liberals, by and large, have a wonderful
view of humanity, and what they’d like to do for it. We have a wonderful spirit
and we have lots of compassion. But for some reason, we don’t understand the
process, or we think we don’t have to bother with it. For some reason, a
far-too-large number of self-described progressives see what they want to see,
and not what’s actually there. They saw the word “change” bandied about by a
politician throughout 2008, and apparently they imagined the entire world would
be covered in sunshine and flowers, the rainforests would all grow back
immediately, the climate would change back, everyone would be given an electric
car and free health care for life.

Welcome to the real world, folks. Nothing happens in a year.
It never has, and it never will. To those of you who saw Barack Obama as a flaming
progressive, and feel somewhat betrayed by his actions during his first year,
wake the hell up and smell the coffee. It took 40 years to get this messed up, and
it took the disaster of the last eight years to wake voters up to the fact that
it was messed up. Changing things overnight is simply not in the cards.

Join reality, won’t you? President Barack Obama just had one
of the best first years of any president in the post-war era. If you can’t see
it, you’re missing something special. You might want to stop focusing on the
negatives, and start looking at that half-full glass for a change; I’m just

You can start by dropping the silly comparisons to Franklin
Roosevelt in 1933. Yes, I know, FDR passed 15 major pieces of legislation
within his first 100 days, but the reality is the meltdown we’re experiencing
now has no comparison to the Great Depression. By the time FDR took the oath of
office, the Depression was almost four years old, while ours was a year old. Unemployment
was 24.9%, not 10%. The stock market had been decimated for more than three
years, while ours experienced a downturn, but never actually crashed. And FDR’s
Democrats had a margin of 313-117 in the House and 60 seats in the Senate, to
the Republicans’ 35. The economy has only been really bad for a year, we’re
“only” looking at 10% unemployment (not even a post-war record), and
Republicans still hold a solid 40-vote bloc in the Senate and don’t give a
rat’s ass about this country.

Besides, folks; MOST of the measures FDR took in those first
100 days were struck down by the Supreme Court. It took years to implement most
of the measures that finally pulled us out of the Depression, and we really
didn’t pull out of it fully until after World War II. FDR was president for 13
years, and never actually saw us rise from the Depression. Yet, we’re writing
off Obama after one?  

President Obama came into office after eight of the most
disastrous years in the post-war era, in which the government had been run by
some of the worst bureaucrats ever appointed. You’ll also recall that, during
his last few months in office, Bush used the power of his office to place loyalists
in many government agencies for many years hence.

But despite the minefield the Republicans left him,
including two wars and the Great Recession,  President Obama’s accomplishments are stellar.
The man is not a messiah, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t walk on water; at least
he hasn’t done so publicly. But he is a throwback to the days when presidents
actually led the country rather than dictate to it.  He needs patience. Keep pressure on him, and
make demands, but don’t expect miracles.

On the anniversary of this remarkable man’s ascent to the
highest office in the land, I figured it was time to look back. Instead of
listing all of the things he hasn’t done yet, I decided to list his actual
accomplishments and a few failures. If you don’t agree that it’s an impressive
list, you’re not being fair.

The Economy and
Domestic Policy

He stabilized the
banks and stopped a depression.

President Obama has taken a lot of heat for his support of
bank bailouts, to be sure, and to even expand the concept somewhat. Even before
he was sworn in, he jammed through the second half of the $700 bailout plan
through Congress. But you can’t deny the fact that it’s working. The banks are
finally stable enough to begin the reform process and, if you would bother to
listen to what he’s saying, you’re already seeing signs that he’s doing just
that. Now, I know a lot of folks (myself included) would like to see all of
those ”too big to fail” banks broken up and the entire financial system returned
to its original function, but that just can’t happen until the monetary system
stops dropping into the abyss.  Like it
or not, the economy is now global in scope, and too many other countries depend
on the stability of the United States for their economic fortunes.

Our system had been based on a casino style of capitalism for
the last 28 years (“lottery capitalism,” remember?), and there is no way to
instantly change that with a wave of a wand and an “abracadabra.” But you can’t
even begin a transition to something better until the system stops hemorrhaging
wealth and is strong enough to withstand the wholesale changes that have to be

Obama understood this, so he held his nose and bailed the
banks out.  But there has been a significant
difference. Instead of the Bush approach, which was to throw money at the banks
and let them use their expertise to get themselves out of trouble, Obama put
conditions on the money, including a payback of taxpayer money that will now be
used as an additional stimulus for job creation. 

The comparisons to Bush are wrong-headed, to say the least. If
Bush had continued at president during 2009 using the same approach he’d used
the previous year, we would be looking at more bailouts and no stimulus, except
perhaps another tax cut for the rich. We would have seen a greater number of business
failures, even more foreclosures and a significantly higher unemployment rate.
Just as importantly, the rest of the world might have written off the United
States economically, which we can’t afford. Like it or not, we have to borrow
money for a few more years to get ourselves out of this hole.

He passed an economic
stimulus plan that creates a net positive for the middle class.

Even though he had zero Republican votes, Obama was able to
push through a massive $786 billion economic stimulus plan. Though naysayers
question its effect, the fact of the matter is, the GDP was in negative growth
when he took office and by the third quarter of 2009, the growth rate was
already up to 3.5%. In other words, it stabilized the economy and prevented it
from getting worse. It wasn’t large enough, to be sure, but to pass such a
large spending bill during a deep recession took a lot of courage and used up a
lot of political capital.

The stimulus not only helped create greater economic
stability in the private sector; it also had a stabilizing effect on state
coffers and averted the layoffs of tens of thousands of state employees,
including teachers. In addition, the $288 billion worth of middle class tax
cuts and the extension of unemployment benefits helped to avert complete disaster
for millions of families, and the COBRA subsidies kept millions of families
from becoming uninsured.

And for those naysayers who scoff at the notion that the
economic stimulus averted a much worse economic dip, consider the following
quote, courtesy of the New York Times:

“The stimulus is doing what it was
supposed to do – it is contributing to ending the recession. In my view,
without the stimulus, the GDP would still be negative and unemployment would be
firmly over 11 percent.”

That quote was from Mark Zandi, an economic adviser for the
McCain campaign.

He also forced GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy, where they
should have been months before, and then unveiled the “Cash for Clunkers”
program, which almost single-handedly revived the auto industry, to the point
that Ford reported a billion-dollar profit last week. 

He created impetus to
foster global finance reform.

The Obama Administration has made great strides in reforming
the global finance system, including a serious commitment to global finance reform,
including bringing an end to neocon favorites , such as offshore tax havens and
financial structures that allow criminals to hide their assets. Obama also got
G-20 members to commit $1 trillion to keep the world’s weakest economies from
going completely belly-up. This is a major change from the Bushies, who seemed
to think the United States was the only economy in the world, and everyone else
was an afterthought.  


Foreign Policy

He transformed the
State Department

You can’t downplay the stroke of genius Obama showed in
choosing Hillary Clinton Secretary of State. Our reputation was in tatters
after eight years of Bush and four years of the most incompetent Secretary of
State in history, Condoleezza Rice. The choice itself sent a message that
United States foreign policy has transformed, and that the new president
brought a new attitude to the job. Leaders around the globe saw the negativity
of the 2008 presidential campaign; the fact that he would put all of that aside
to choose her demonstrated to others that he was a man who knew how to make
peace. Not only that, but she’s qualified; she definitely has the ability to
bring diplomacy back to US foreign policy. She cemented that concept in one of
her first official acts, when she committed $900 million to
“foster conditions in which a Palestinian state can be fully realized, a state
that is a responsible partner, is at peace with Israel and its Arab neighbors and
is accountable to its people” at a conference in Gaza.

restored torture to its proper place, outside
the American mainstream.

First, he appointed Eric Holder as Attorney
General.  During Holder’s confirmation
hearings, he became quite possibly the first government official in eight years
to state unequivocally that waterboarding was torture and that torture was
illegal. When the chief legal official in the US government certified such a
thing, it sent a strong signal to the rest of the world and instantly started
us on our way to healing our reputation and caused the rest of the world to heave
a sigh of relief that the government of the world’s greatest superpower might
once again be in the hands of adults.

Then, almost immediately after taking office, he
ordered the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. As noted, there are still
quite a few Bushies embedded in the bureaucracy, and Republicans in Congress
and elsewhere have put up a significant number of roadblocks, so the closing
has been delayed somewhat, but within a 
short period of time, the prison will close.

He also immediately signed an Executive Order
banning all torture, and as commander in chief, he directed all military
personnel to make sure every interrogation conforms to both the Army Field
Manual and the Geneva Conventions. He signed another ordering all CIA secret
prisons closed. He also ordered a review of all US policies regarding
interrogation and detention and made the Bush torture memos public.  This is from that Executive Order:

(e) Mission. The
mission of the Special Task Force shall be: (i) to study and evaluate whether
the interrogation practices and techniques in Army Field Manual 2 22.3, when
employed by departments or agencies outside the military, provide an
appropriate means of acquiring the intelligence necessary to protect the
Nation, and, if warranted, to recommend any additional or different guidance
for other departments or agencies; and (ii) to study and evaluate the practices
of transferring individuals to other nations in order to ensure that such
practices comply with the domestic laws, international obligations, and
policies of the United States and do not result in the transfer of individuals
to other nations to face torture or otherwise for the purpose, or with the
effect, of undermining or circumventing the commitments or obligations of the
United States to ensure the humane treatment of individuals in its custody or
control. (f) Administration. The Special Task Force shall be established for
administrative purposes within the Department of Justice and the Department of
Justice shall, to the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability
of appropriations, provide administrative support and funding for the Special
Task Force. (g) Recommendations. The Special Task Force shall provide a report
to the President, through the Assistant to the President for National Security
Affairs and the Counsel to the President, on the matters set forth in
subsection (d) within 180 days of the date of this order, unless the Chair
determines that an extension is necessary. (h) Termination. The Chair shall
terminate the Special Task Force upon the completion of its duties.

It has been a struggle to actually change all of
this, but the changes are well on their way to happening. There have been some
disturbing instances of rendition, and some have suggested Obama is continuing
some of Bush’s rendition policies, but that’s unfair. The mission has been
transformed and, while some in the bureaucracy (again, many of whom were placed
there by Bush) seem resistant to the changes, the intent is there, and the
attitude at the top has completely changed.  And even a delay of several weeks or months in
closing Guantanamo will be worth it if it sets the legal framework in a way
that no future president  or Congress can
simply choose to ignore.

Obama has completely changed the tone of our
relations with the Muslim world. During his inauguration speech, he called for
better relations and more open diplomacy with Muslims, characterized by “mutual
interest and respect.” He then gave his first interview as president to Arab
network Al Arabiya. Weeks later, in a
speech in Turkey, Obama asserted that “America is not at war with Islam,” and
that the relationship between the United States and the Arab world
"cannot, and will not just be based upon opposition to terrorism.” He
followed that up with
speech in Egypt
that Muslims around the world gushed over for
weeks. Put simply, fewer people around the world hate us, which is good for

Many of Obama’s subtler foreign policy measures seem
to either go unnoticed or are dismissed by many progressives as signs that
Obama has “sold out,” or something equally insipid.

For example, he kept Bush’s Secretary of Defense,
Robert Gates, placed flaming centrist Leon Panetta as head of the CIA and
appointed the reprehensible Stanley McChrystal as head of military forces in
Afghanistan. Now, the purpose for these moves was so subtle, even a lot of
normally politically savvy people haven’t been able to see it. By putting
personnel like these in place, Obama actually sent a message to the rest of the
world that the United States had
changed, and that HE was in charge. Listen to the changes in Gates’ rhetoric
since January, and you’d almost swear a new person was in there. (I still think
McChrystal should have to answer for his part in the Tillman mess, but still…)
When Obama put people in charge who seem to be opposed to him politically, he
sent the message that policy was now more important than personal politics,
which was quite the change from the Bush era.



has worked to address climate change.

Obama has very actively backed significant changes
in policy direction with regard to climate change and for the first time in
eight years, the United States is being taken somewhat seriously on the subject.
Three days after he was sworn in, Obama moved to allow California and other
states to regulate greenhouse gases, something the Bushies had blocked for six
years, and signaled his intention to develop a national carbon standard for vehicles
similar to those already in effect in Europe and Japan.

insurance Reform

Though he’s been criticized for his relatively
“hands-free” approach with regard to health insurance reform, the fact of the
matter is, we are a month or less away from getting real, major health
insurance reform than we’ve been for a generation.  (And no, Scott Brown’s election does NOT
jeopardize that.) Almost overnight, we will go from 50 million uninsured to
about 15 million uninsured, and insurance companies will have to change forever
the way they do business.

I know he’s been criticized for his seeming
inaction on health insurance reform, but he handled it exactly right, from a
political perspective. I know it seems counterintuitive, but once a president
states to Congress exactly what he wants in a bill, he dooms that bill to
failure. That was Clinton’s mistake in 1994; he gave Congress one road to go
down, and when they couldn’t figure out a way to get there, the bill died.
Obama simply told them where they needed to go, and that he didn’t care how
they got there, and he’s probably going to get us about 75-80% of the way to
real reform.

In addition to the above accomplishments, here are
a few more things President Obama can look to with pride:

Nominated the first Hispanic woman to the Supreme

Signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

Restored funding to overseas family planning

Removed Bush-Imposed restrictions on stem-cell

Announced an end to the Iraq Occupation and is
actually ahead of schedule with regard to troop withdrawals.

Ended the ban on news coverage of dead soldiers
from the Bush wars.


There have also been a couple of glaring failures,
thus far. Like I said; he’s not the messiah. For example, his plan to stem the
tide of foreclosures has been a huge mess. Of course, anything he would have
tried during the last year would have failed. This is a complicated issue, but
there is really only one solution, and that is to force banks to rewrite
mortgages at current market value and let them write off the “loss,” and to
allow those who can’t even afford that mortgage to be let out of the mortgage
without penalty. There is so much blame to go around on this issue; the people
signing mortgages they couldn’t afford; the banks who were handing out
mortgages like candy because they knew some idiot would buy them; the people
who were putting their money into “retirement accounts” and demanding a 24%
return. Any policies to stem the tide of foreclosures must actually spread the
consequences evenly across all aspects of this. Obama has failed to do that
thus far.

The other failure thus far has been the continued
assault on the rights of gays in this country.  While I do agree that any change on this front
must be permanent, and not just a quick fix, he could be pushing a hell of a
lot harder. There’s a bill in Congress to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” and
it’s been sitting there for months, with little or no action. This doesn’t even
need hearings, folks; it’s the most ridiculous policy the United States has
ever undertaken; if someone in the military thinks you might be homosexual, or
you do something “homosexual” in nature, they can ruin your life by discharging
you or refuse to allow yu to serve your country based on that. How insane is it
to have people who are willing to put their life on the line for their country,
and someone tells them they can’t because they’re attracted to others of the
same sex? Not having sex with other guys in the barracks, mind you, but just
because they might like someone they see there.

And when it comes to marriage, Obama needs to be
more up front with his opposition to gay marriage bans. Put simply, it doesn’t
matter how a person feels about homosexuality, personally. If you don’t like
it, don’t do it. But a ban on same-sex marriage is essentially a ban on equal
rights, and the president needs to take a strong moral stand on the issue; it’s
part of his job; the “bully pulpit” you know.

But those few failings do not negate a pretty
significant record for a first year in a job that was held by an incompetent
despot for eight years.  Does he have a
long way to go? Hell, yes. And if we don’t see progress the next three years, I’ll
be jumping off this bandwagon onto a new one. But he’s done a great job so far,
and I look forward to even more in the future.

Thank you, Mr. President; you are restoring my
faith in government. And that’s no easy task…


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