In the run-up to the Presidential election, one of the main arguments being put forward by the Democrats seems to be a version of ‘better the devil you know’. In other words, while President Obama has not succeeded in all the areas he promised to address when he was elected, his character and values make him a more appropriate candidate for office than Governor Romney. Supporters of the President often blame an intransigent Republican Party for his failure to make progress on various issues, despite the huge majority he enjoyed for the first two years of his term. So, if this is a question of character, how does Barack Obama measure up? Has he stood on principle? Has he shown political bravery? Below an analysis of four different areas.
1. The tax-code, manufacturing and energy
In his 2008 nomination speech in Denver, then-Senator Obama said that he would stop giving tax breaks to companies who ship jobs abroad, that he would cut taxes for the 95% of the population that he refers to as ‘middle class’, reinforce and rebuild American manufacturing and end US dependence on foreign oil within a decade. So what is the score?
There is little doubt that massive government bailouts of the auto industry helped keep manufacturing in general – and in Michigan in particular – alive and kicking. The President does deserve credit for supporting manufacturing in the Midwest and doing his best to support an industry that might otherwise have collapsed. It should be noted, however, that Obama received huge amounts of money from the union movement that his bailouts supported. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but nonetheless this policy represents a direct benefit to his strongest supporters.
What about making the US energy independent, and investing in a new era of clean technology? The reliance on Middle East oil has been reduced slightly, and overall reliance on foreign oil has also been reduced, though not very significantly. It is hard to judge how much of that is the direct responsibility of the policies of Obama, particularly when he has aggressively opposed offshore drilling and delayed (perhaps cancelled) the building of the Keystone Pipeline. In terms of investing in clean energy, no matter how many times the Romney campaign brings up Solyndra and other failures, the reality is the Obama Administration has done pathetically little in this area. The real energy source that Obama has supported aggressively? Shale gas. Hardly a rejection of fossil fuels from a supposedly environmentally minded President.
Finally on this area, the tax rhetoric. The truth is Barack Obama is still moaning about the issue of reducing middle class tax rates and ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, almost 4 years later. The President has had the time (and for two years the simple majority) to address this issue, and he has not. The reality is he never will because he is in the pocket of major corporations who are uninterested in closing those loopholes. Obama’s tax rhetoric is pathetic and childish.
There can be no doubt the President has made significant progress on healthcare in the United States. In the face of huge opposition, Obama has looked to fix one of the great injustices of American society. He has absolutely not addressed all the issues. The cowardice that meant no attempt at a single payer system, and rather a ridiculous semi-supported system of tax / penalty hoaxes did not really impress those who want major reform in the United States healthcare system, but was progress nonetheless. The covering of people with pre-existing conditions was a major step forward in particular.
3. Social Security
Obama said he would ‘fix social security for future generations’. He hasn’t done anything. At all. Pathetic.
4. Foreign Policy
Probably the area where Obama has been the biggest failure. His apparent successes seem to be ending a war that was already coming to an end (Iraq), hyping up a war that was in a stalemate (Afghanistan), and watching on a webcam as US Special Forces shot Osama bin Laden. A little reality check?
Obama has sacrificed US interests in Iraq, accepting fewer bases and less favourable terms to get out more quickly than might have been advisable. In Afghanistan he has failed miserably to change the real lie of the land, refusing to make the commitments needed to guarantee Coalition goals. By setting deadlines he has given the Taliban an end-date to aim for. As for Bin Laden, why is it than Obama gets credit for this? Simply ridiculous.
In the meantime, Obama has relegated human rights off the agenda, (for example Syria), kowtowed to China and the Russian Federation, and shied away from confronting Iran. There is no Latin America policy, an off-balance pivot to Asia and the abandoning of long-term allies.
All this while Obama increases extrajudicial killings abroad and bombings, which previously he condemned.
So has President Obama run his administration from a place of strong character, putting his values into practice and showing bravery against intransigent opposition?
Well, yes and no.
There is little doubt Obama took key steps to shore up American manufacturing, improve the situation regarding healthcare (though not fixing the problem), and has muddled along in economic matters. That said, he has shown a worrying disregard for principle or real American values when it comes to foreign policy. He has been feckless when it comes to social security, pathetic on environmental issues and whiny about the Republican opposition. Certainly, Republicans since 2010 have thrown everything bar the kitchen sink at the President, to throw him off course. But, the reality is for the first two years of his term, Obama had a majority in the Senate and in the House while holding the Presidency. He really did not use that to his advantage enough. It’ll be two years President Obama will never live down. It won’t ever come back, even if he is re-elected there will not be majorities in the legislature.
Looking at the Obama record, it would be reasonable to re-elect. It would be reasonable not to. It comes down to the individual and their judgement of the Obama record. It is perfectly possible to believe President Obama deserves reelection based on his achievements. What it is not possible to believe coherently, is that Obama has shown phenomenal character over the course of his Presidency. He has not. He is not a visionary leader, the one everyone thought he might be. What his supporters so desperately wanted him to be. Dare I say it, what America needed him to be?
Obama gets a C+ on character. No more, no less. The grade he gets for achievements, and whether the two combined are enough to get him re-elected, is for the American people to decide.