Obama: The Good, the Bad, and Occasionally Ugly

I have disappointments about having voted for Obama, but no regrets. The choice was between him and McCain, and all things considered, I’m glad we didn’t elect McCain. However, I’m not an apologist for Obama; I feel no obligation to defend him or rationalize his decisions to justify my vote. I leave that to folks like Rachel Maddow, Keith Oberman, Al Sharpton, Paul Begala, and sundry others. I might vote for the Republican nominee this time. Haven’t decided this far out.

There are things I like that Obama has done, and things I dislike. I assembled, piecemeal, a list of each over the last few months. Let’s start with the dislikes.

  • Overall, Obama hasn’t shown strong leadership, with a few exceptions. His governing style goes along with what he wrote in “The Audacity of Hope,” letting Congress take the lead in legislating–and I really liked the vision he laid out in that book. But it hasn’t worked in reality, because the persons in charge in Congress–Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid–haven’t shared his approach. I realize now it was too much to hope for, too idealistic, in light of that dysfunctional institution. So we need to resort to strong leadership in the executive branch, and I’ve not seen it thus far. Disappointing.
  • Obama should have focused immediately on the economy in his first year. He did, to the extent that he averted a fullscale worldwide depression, he put some checks on Wall Street, and saved hundreds of thousands of jobs in the auto industry. But then his attention moved on to other things for several years. He should have kept a laser-like focus on the economy–not just for America’s sake, but for the world’s sake.
  • There are some good aspects to the healthcare bill, but overall I think it’s a mess; he shouldn’t have ceded the whole thing to Nancy Pelosi.
  • His abortion policies have been atrocious. Just terrible.
  • Way too many civilians are being killed in drone attacks (they have actually targeted funerals of terrorists, thereby killing numerous civilians while hoping to get a couple bad guys in the mix). I approve the increased use of drones. But in too many cases, it’s been indiscriminate, even to the extent of committing war crimes (way beyond the “collateral damage” excuse). Not so much different from Bush after all.
  • Why in the world did he squash the Keystone pipeline?
  • He’s made way too many speeches to the nation. Stop it.
  • He hasn’t done enough to cut spending (neither have Republicans). On the other hand, when Republicans nixed his very generous proposals (and which Boehner seemed to initially support), he should have gone after the Republicans tooth and nail. Stop playing nice, Mr. President.
  • Too many Wall Streeters on staff (again, just like Republicans do).
  • I’d like to see more religious diversity on the Supreme Court. Bush appointed two white male Catholics. Sonya Sotomayor is another Catholic. John Paul Stevens was the only Protestant. Elena Kagan, who replaced him, is a Jew. That makes 3 Jews and 6 Catholics. Nobody from the broad Protestant spectrum. Why?
  • The size of the Homeland Security department continues growing out of hand (read “Top Secret America”).
  • He hasn’t eliminated rendition.
  • He hasn’t pursued immigration reform.
  • Should not have ignored the Simpson-Bowles recommendations. This ticks me off. Their recommendations were tough, but proper considering our dire economic plight. If you appoint a top-notch group to do serious work, pay attention to them. Don’t just thank them for their work and then shelve their report. Obama did a disservice to the country, and a disservice to some quality people (though they were fully aware this could happen).
  • This controversy over the Catholic church and contraception was totally bungled. And he still hasn’t fixed it, in my view.
  • Obviously, the national debt has continued going up up up. It’s an insanely deep hole.
  • Obama has paid way too much attention to Planned Parenthood.
  • The whole guns for Mexican drug dealers was a fiasco.

Those are some of my complaints. On the positive side, I’ll cite the following. I recognize that with each one, naysayers can denigrate it by saying he doesn’t deserve the credit or it wasn’t a good thing after all, or otherwise write it off. But these are, indeed, things that have happened on Obama’s watch.

  • Got us out of Iraq (as promised, and according to the Bush timetable).
  • Returned our focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, and sent more troops to Afghanistan.
  • The world didn’t plunge into depression, which many economists said was a grave danger in 2009 (can’t prove a negative, of course).
  • Greatly amped up the use of drones, as opposed to boots on the ground. (Bush authorized 44 drone strikes in 8 years. Obama’s up to around 240.)
  • Ended Cowboy Diplomacy–“This is what America’s gonna do, and screw the rest of the world.”
  • Instituted policies to reign in Wall Street (though it’s politically bad for Obama).
  • Called attention (not enough) to climate change.
  • Boosted (but not enough) green technologies.
  • I like having an exemplary family in the White House.
  • We got Bin Laden, and Obama kept the whole operation quiet for 8 months while waiting for the right time (pretty amazing, in today’s climate).
  • The auto bailout was successful, at least short-term.
  • Passed legislation (over Republican objections) protecting women from pay discrimination.
  • Ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
  • Ended US-sponsored torture.
  • He has kept America safe. Many plots have been thwarted.
  • We’ve killed one al Qaeda leader after another, yet Obama doesn’t gloat and swagger like the Bushies did. I prefer this reserved, more dignified approach. More Reggie Wayne, less Terrell Owens.
  • Provided better body armor for troops.
  • Millions of children now have access to healthcare.
  • Hasn’t use signing statements (as Bush did promiscuously and, I believe, unconstitutionally).
  • Michelle’s been a great First Lady. Brought attention to health issues like exercise and wise eating habits.
  • Kept Republicans Bob Gates at Defense, Petraus at CIA, and Huntsman in China.
  • New restrictions on lobbyists.
  • His Cairo speech was excellent (read it).
  • Our dependence on foreign oil dropped below 50% for the first time in 13 years. (It peaked at 60% in 2005.)
  • There has not been a major scandal involving anyone in the administration. (Nor was there with Bush, if I recall correctly.)
  • We’ve been repaid a lot of the Wall Street bailout money.
  • Ended the stop-loss policy that kept soldiers overseas beyond their enlistment date.
  • I like the way we handled Libya–letting Europeans take the lead, and keeping US boots off the ground (we didn’t need to take the lead in yet another war).
  • Placed accountability standards on the scam of for-profit colleges (like the University of Phoenix) which exist almost completely on student loan money but do a terrible job of educating students (22% graduation rate).
  • Ghadaffi is dead.
  • Has greatly increased the use of special forces, and done it effectively (and quietly).
  • Instead of just giving companies bail-out money from We the People, We the People actually took a stake, a share, in companies. They can then buy us out, and have been doing so. But we’re not just giving out money with no strings (as Bush did).
  • The whole Arab Spring thing. Several dictators have been deposed.
  • Hillary’s been a superb secretary of state.
  • Strongly promoted women’s rights issues around the world.
  • The Somali pirate rescue.
  • Some progress on nuclear arms control.
  • Protected net neutrality against the wishes of Comcast and Verizon and other providers, who would have soaked users for more money.
  • Sensible rules are beginning to be applied in airport security (though at a snail’s pace).
  • Has done much to restore America’s reputation around the world.
  • Allocated more money to veterans’ health benefits.
  • Reasonable policies to open relations with Cuba.
  • Didn’t pursue war crimes against Bush administration people (over the objections of his base).
  • New SALT and START treaties.
  • Has extensively used JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) with incredible effectiveness.
  • Re-engaged the US with the rest of the world over climate change.
  • Al Qaeda is pretty much gone.
  • Paid for families to come to Dover AFB when fallen soldiers arrive.
  • Opened up the Freedom of Information Act.
  • FEMA has handled disasters (like tornadoes) well.
  • A nicely nuanced stand regarding the military coup in Honduras (I followed that one closely, having visited the country many times and written a book about Honduras).
  • Beefed up border security (but huge problems obviously remain).
  • Didn’t hesitate to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty to get bin Laden (Bush backed away from that twice). He said as much in the campaign and in his book.
  • Enabled fast-tracking of patent approvals for green energy projects.
  • Very clever cyber attack on Iran’s nuclear program.
  • Enabled Medicare to negotiate with drug companies on prices (overturned a Bush ban, saving hundreds of millions of dollars).
  • The economy IS getting better, incrementally. Considering how bad the US and world economies were three years ago, what are realistic expectations? Are we rebounding way too slow, or at a realistic rate? I don’t know. And if anyone claims to know, they’re lying. I do know that the people who think we should have returned to boom times already are just nuts. No objective person ever said prosperity would return quickly.
  • Removed restrictions on stem cell research.
  • Doubled federal spending on clean energy research.
  • Pushed alternative energy initiatives (hasn’t been in the pocket of oil companies).
  • Most diverse cabinet (including the most women) in history.
  • Stopped federal interference with states that legalize medical marijuana.
  • There are fewer anti-American demonstrations and tensions around the world.
  • More money for charter schools.
  • Appointed two more women to the Supreme Court, including a Latina (this isn’t an endorsement of their views, only of the diversity, as befits a diverse nation).
  • Ended the awarding of no-bid defense contracts.
  • Ended the Bush practice of letting White House aides rewrite scientific and environmental regulations and reports.
  • Cut tax benefits to corporations that outsource American jobs.
  • Ended some abusive practices of credit card companies.
  • Very good response to the earthquake in Haiti. We made a huge and critical difference.
  • Improved housing for military personnel.
  • Increased infrastructure spending (roads, bridges, etc.) after years of neglect.
  • Donated his entire $1.4 million Nobel Prize to nonprofits, and never acted like he deserved the award (which he didn’t).
  • Let his kids get a dog.
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