For the next several weeks, political “journalism” will be filled with reports on President Obama’s first year performance. Principal in many of these treatments will be the poll numbers on his administration’s handling of various topics. Polls are especially poor methods to track job performance (imagine the “general public” evaluating your performance at work in a poll), and in this climate, they are worse than ever at capturing the facts. For this reason, I will ignore polling for both this post and that one that will come next (containing my grade for the Republican opposition).
The criteria for evaluation include five categories:
- Constitutional alignment
- Alignment with campaign promises
- Structural improvements versus cosmetic change
- Ethical foundation
- Execution of plan
These standards are applied to ten categories that affect all Americans. Please remember that in this space, we are not interested in branding or the quality of spin by the party being evaluated or the opposition. Unfortunately, most of the public discussion this year has had shockingly little to do with what was actually on the table. Imagine sitting down to watch Rambo with a friend, only to have him tell you that he doesn’t like the movie because he is not a fan of romantic comedies. Here is to raising the level of discourse!
It is hard to find fault with the President’s performance unless you think he spent too much. He brought the wars onto the budget (Pres. Bush never included them in the document), and increased the appropriations by 4% (and is poised to do so again). Voices in the establishment are starting to speak of an Administration that listens to and delivers on the wisdom of senior officers. The budget has also been realigned to spend less on large strategic programs, and more on personnel and equipment suited for fast tactical actions. The grade would have been A+ had the President’s response to General McChrystal been quicker.
A solid focus on Constitutional values combined with continuity in much of the personnel in place under the previous administration is the hallmark of year one. The cosmetic focus on Guantanamo and the same inability to close the fence that plagued the Bush Administration leads to a markdown. This is a grade that could move either way in a hurry.
The President secured support from the world for the recession, and a solid commitment from NATO in Afghanistan. A year ago, 25% of Afghanistan believed it was justified for jihadists to blow up Americans, now that number is 8%. The situation in Iran is volatile, but the strategy is allowing the forces of freedom inside that country to work.
Health Care Reform…C-
This issue started with engagement and went down hill in a hurry. The President is responsible for the Democrats essentially having to negotiate against themselves, and his actions took pharmaceutical reform off the table. The tactical plan during the August recess, and the debacle with Max Baucus and his gang of six were abject failures. If Martha Coakley survives the special election in Massachusetts next week and health care reform is finalized, the President will have earned credit for going where none have gone in forty years. The bill is not the spawn of Satan that opponents suggest, but neither is it as good as it can and should have been.
Financial Reform and Structure…F
Now the President gets mad. The time to execute real structural change that would support healthy and sustainable markets, was last May. The public was not in the mood to buy the garbage that big banks will sell them as they fight legislation this year. Democrats use to be able to point to Republicans as the party in bed with big banking, but both parties are now knee deep in the mess.
It has taken all year, but the EPA is finally returning to normal after being gutted by the previous administration. President Obama has demonstrated both executive and legislative commitment to environmental protection, and has done so with the involvement of major business leaders. Environmental meetings attended by advocacy groups and CEOs have become SOP at the Obama White house. This is a category where the “no drama Obama” moniker has an advantage.
General Fiscal Policy…B-
It should not be understated how critical it was that the President made natural disasters and war line item projections in the budget. The deficit doubled under President Bush, in no small part due to his practise of not projecting war spending and FEMA relief in the document. This is an area where the media is nowhere close to reality in their portrayal of Obama; the nation, at this moment, has an excellent hold on its financial position. The principal reason for the downgrade is the handling of the stimulus; $787 billion was and is a solid number. The problem was the inclusion of both unemployment benefits and tax cuts in the package. Neither category returns to the economy anywhere close to the amount of revenue on the dollar that infrastructure spending does. Tax cuts and unemployment benefits are nice today, and gone tomorrow.
The Working Class…C
The Ledbetter Law that addresses the issues of equal pay (women in the greatest nation on Earth still get paid about $0.70 on the dollar versus men), is an example of “Why did it take this long?” Where the President has fallen short is in his support of unions or union proxies. I am no fan of many unions, but they have played a roll in maintaining wages in this country. The President has essentially left them hanging for the whole year, despite their steadfast support of him in the campaign.
The Culture Wars…B
Barack Obama has tried…he has maintained the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives despite calls from advocates to close the facility. He has toed a middle line on abortion, refusing to step in and strong-arm House pro-life Democrats who held health reform hostage. This is another category where the President literally can’t do it well enough for some people.
The Washington Culture…B
President Barack Obama ended a decades long practice when he directed that lobbyists not be renewed to advisory commissions. Building on his work in the Senate (with John McCain), he has ensured a wealth of information is available for anyone with a computer and access to the internet. Keep in mind that all of the breathless reporting on the White House guest lists and stimulus contracts could not have happened prior to this administration; the information simple wasn’t available. However, the Goldman-Sachs pipeline to power must be severed for this or any administration to have credibility. I know the Tim Geithner is as smart as they come, but he has to go!
The Total Picture….C+
More specifically, a 2.7 average on a 4 point scale. The President has done much he can be proud of, but faces a crossroads. How will health care finish, and how well will his administration roll out the finished product? Will he achieve real financial reform; how about energy and the environment? Ronald Reagan saw unemployment climb throughout his first and second years, reaching a peak in the summer of 1982. The midterms were cruel to he and his party. Two years later, Mr. Reagan won the highest percentage of total American votes in history…..just topping the totals of a certain Barack Hussein Obama.
The rational middle hopes that this will stir some….conversation