Friday, November 2, 2012

Four More Years: The Case for Barack Obama

It’s funny how four years can come and go so quickly. Four years ago, a brash, young senator from Illinois won a landslide election over John McCain. Change was in the air. Things would be different in Washington. You could feel it in your bones.

The night Barack Obama was elected as the nation’s 44th president my eyes were misty. It was a historic moment for the country. The first African American president. Centuries of prejudice now seemed reconciled overnight. Maybe we had managed to finally come to terms with our past after all.

But appearances were deceiving. The moment – historic though it might’ve been – was fleeting. Within days of being sworn in, President Obama was faced with the grim realities of governing a country that was deeply divided and headed toward a fiscal cliff.

All throughout the closing months of 2008, the outgoing administration grappled with preventing an economic meltdown of epic proportions. TARP, begun under George Bush, stabilized a badly shaken banking industry, but, nevertheless, the first couple of months of 2009 saw an economy that was in free fall and losing 800,000 jobs per month.

To his credit, Obama took the steps that prevented another Great Depression. His stimulus, though not nearly sufficient to actually stimulate the economy – as Paul Krugman correctly predicted – did allow for some badly needed relief at the state and local levels. Millions of jobs were saved through it. He required the banks to undergo stress tests to determine whether they were financially sound as a condition of the second part of TARP. His bailout of General Motors and Chrysler prevented both from going into receivership, thus saving over a million jobs. His healthcare law, far from the socialist takeover of the insurance industry it has been portrayed as by its opponents on the Right, is actually nothing more than a carbon copy of the same law that Mitt Romney passed in Massachusetts. If anything it is a boon for that industry.

Among the President’s glowing accomplishments was finally putting an end to George Bush’s illegal war in Iraq. Though his surge in Afghanistan was ill-timed and ill-fated, one can hardly paint him as a dove on foreign policy. If anything, his actions, from the killing of Osama bin Laden to the drone attacks, reveal a president that is, if anything, far more to the right of any past Democrat who occupied the Oval office since Lyndon Johnson. His refusal to abandon the domestic surveillance program and his inability to shut Gitmo has stuck in the craw of progressives ever since he was sworn in. That any Republican can find fault with this president in this arena is comical.

You’d think with such a list of accomplishments that Obama’s reelection would be a cinch. Sadly it isn’t. And that’s because, for all his grand accomplishments and his seeming intelligence, the one glaring fault this president has had from day one has been an inability to draw out a clear and concise narrative that the public can follow. In short, the man can’t connect on a visceral level worth a damn. That weakness, more than any policy, has been his greatest adversary. It has allowed his critics to define who he is and what he stands for. To say they’ve had a field day over the last four years would be an understatement.

From day one they have been relentless with their assaults and rants. The White House, whether by design or accident, decided to ignore the shouts and slings until it was too late. The midterm losses suffered by House Democrats could’ve been mitigated had Obama been out front and lead, rather than assuming the voters would be able to parse the issues by themselves. Naïve would be a word in a half.

The one thing Bill Clinton had in common with Ronald Reagan was an innate ability to galvanize the electorate to their advantage. It gave them the political capital they both needed to win the battles with their opponents. Once Obama lost the House, he was basically on the run. Playing defense in politics is a recipe for disaster, and for the better part of the last two years, Obama has been running from an iceberg with his name on it.  His caving on extending the Bush tax cuts came about because he allowed himself to be boxed in by House Republicans who called his bluff.

And yet, even with an intransigent Congress, the United States is one of a handful of countries not mired in a double-dip recession. Indeed, over the last 32 months, the country has netted over 5 million new jobs. Unemployment has shrunk from a high of 10 percent to just under 8 percent. What that proves is that this president’s policies have worked. By forgoing the path of austerity that Europe embarked on, Obama ensured positive, if admittedly anemic, growth. A close look at Europe and, more importantly, England, which is not tied to the Euro, is all you need to know that the President was right and his critics were wrong. On that basis alone he should be reelected.

His opponent, Mitt Romney, has been running a very interesting, if contradictory, campaign. All throughout the Republican primaries, Romney ran as far to the right as he could, farther even than Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. And then, with a stalled campaign and little hope of winning, he switched gears in his first debate with Obama. Moderate Mitt was reborn and suddenly the GOP had hope they could win the White House.

But a closer look at Romney reveals a man who, throughout his political life, has pretty much said and done anything he had to to get elected. He has been little more than a chameleon. Few in his own party believe he is a die-hard conservative. I’ve referred to him as the used-car salesman from hell. What he really is is a con artist extraordinaire. He has no moral compass or real stances that he can defend. The idea that, if elected, he can somehow subdue the more extreme elements within his party is laughable. More than likely, a President Romney will be little more than a rubber stamp for that group. I know there is a real thirst in the country for a moderate candidate that can unite the country. I share it. Mitt Romney will not satisfy that thirst; if anything he will exacerbate the current toxicity in Washington further.

Ironically, the one lone moderate and reasonable voice within the Republican Party - Jon Huntsman - was soundly defeated during the primaries.  Of all the candidates in the field, he was the one who offered the best hope of a workable framework that might've brought conservatives and liberals together, not Romney.  So much for center/right politics in the Tea Party-led GOP.

Sadly, unlike 2008, this will not be election based on grand principles and/or visions. To be honest, neither candidate seems to have much of a way of punching himself out of the bag that is currently enveloping the country. But one candidate at least has a track record and, based on that alone, he has earned the chance to finish the job he started. The recovery may have been weaker than most of us would’ve liked, but it is at least a recovery. And that is more than they can say in Europe or the rest of the world for that matter. Paul Krugman may have summed it up best:

It’s disappointing, to be sure. But a slow job is better than a snow job. Mr. Obama may not be as bold as we’d like, but he isn’t actively misleading voters the way Mr. Romney is.


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