While others appear to find it nearly impossible to have any criticisms of a politician and still fervently support him, I hope in what follows it will be considered that I do support Obama and am intolerant of the political games played by the anti-Democratic-Party left to hurt him politically. Some of these criticisms reflect what I believe will benefit the President in the short term, politically, and others I think reflect policy mistakes.
Education Policy: C
So far, the only major action by Obama in education policy has been a plan to require additional accountability for teachers in exchange for certain federal funding. This has pissed off perennial Democratic allies in the teachers’ unions. As you will see, forcing the base constituencies to take a shot in the hopes of getting independent cred and possibly less Republican resistance is one of Obama’s M.O.s, but it isn’t working and it is depressing the base voters. At first, this could have conceivably been done to show good faith to the voters, but now it just appears to be his actualy
Everyone knows that the NCLB regime requires fixing in the next few years. I think everyone also knows that the basic idea of test-based standards is here to stay. Obama has made a push on this. Also, the most urgent problem in the schools is the almost total collapse of their financing. Yet, the Diet Stimulus (see below) isn’t providing enough help to address this.
True, this issue actually isn’t on the top of voters’ minds right now, but in this environment that may actually give you more freedom of action. Not good enough.
The Environment: C-
This issue has ceased to have any meaning other than global warming. While I believe that global warming is perhaps the most important issue in the world right now, other issues still need to be addressed. There is still no significant federal law on non-point-source water pollution. Actually within the arena of global warming, Obama is pursuing the Bush I-era “cap and trade” solution to carbon, and forced the House to take a tough vote on it long before it got taken up in the Senate. Nothing may get done, because, again, Obama’s opening play is the “third-way” solution already, yet it won no independent or GOP support.
And then there’s Copenhagen. While I admire that he put himself on the line, as we will see is another one of his M.O.s, he tends to overcommit on diplomatic solutions by engaging with people who have no good faith intention of negotiating. (This is essentially the trouble in the domestic realm as well.) Getting the EPA to regulate Co2 is not a bad start, but we really need comprehensive legislation to deal with this, and all of these promises of green jobs—where are they? Wasn’t much in the stimulus bill.
Foreign Policy (Europe): A
Europe loves Obama. Good for them. There hasn’t been much to ask of them lately except for support in Afghanistan, and they didn’t exactly love that part, which is why this isn’t an A+. Otherwise, our much improved relations with Europe are an underrated issue.
Foreign Policy (Latin America): D-
Before Haiti, this would have been an F. While Latin American relations are improved simply by virtue of the absence of Bush, not much else of note has gone on. Real leadership could bring Cuba back into the fold and settle an issue that has been left to fester for too long and some concessions in American policy could deflate the massive amount of blowback generated here. To me, it seems highly probable that the next generation of terrorists (not counting the cartels, I guess) will come from Latin America, which we’ve left to rot on the vine. A case in point is the coup in Honduras. Both sides seemed to have official support. What happened? Latin Americans probably exude a desire for U.S. nonintervention, but are jaded by the fact that we only seem not to intervene when they actually need it.
Foreign Policy (Afghanistan): B+
Lefties who think we should just pull out of here are living in a dream world. This is not Iraq where there is a history of government and its institutions to hand off and a pool of wealth sitting underneath the land. Afghanistan is part of the most dangerous region on earth, and we abdicate responsibility for it at our peril. This grade is an A if there had been more buy in from our allies.
Foreign Policy (Iraq): A
Iraq is still a scary place, but it is getting better. A responsible pullout will put a close to this most farcical chapter in a long book of farcical military adventures in U.S. history. This grade could change severely if there is no substantial pullout by the beginning of the 2012 election season.
Foreign Policy (Israel/Palenstine): D
It’s not Obama’s fault that so many Israelis think he is a muslim. Obama doesn’t get an F because he has managed to get some movement from Netanyahu on settlement freezes, but, again, here Obama overcommitted to a policy and got hung out to dry, by both sides. No one on the Palestinian side can negotiate a deal—their entire power base is predicated on their not being a final deal and the Israelis are no longer willing to give power to anyone who will make a deal because they know how many times they’ve offered up sweet deals only to have the other side reject it. Not good enough.
Foreign Policy: C-
Including all other areas. I think of Iran. Obama got caught up in the Democratic idea that because Bush made a mistake about Iraq that this made it somehow desirable or possible to negotiate with Iran. In fact, Iran is a totalitarian regime that is trying to build nuclear weapons. This became clear over the summer with the election fraud. Again, the M.O. Obama overcommits to negotiation and gets pwned and can’t make the idea that he’s just making a good faith effort and it’s the other guys fault stick. Maybe because no one—not Joe Liebermann, not Achmadinezhad—has paid the price for negotiating in bad faith with him.
Health Care: C+
I think the people that want to “kill the bill” are idiots and, may get their wish in one more day. The CW seems to be that Obama over-learned the lesson of the Clinton failure by giving Congress too much control. With 20/20 hindsight, it may be the summer of trying to get GOP support that ultimately cost too much time to keep Ted Kennedy alive more than getting pwned by Ben Nelson or Joe Liebermann did in the end. Still, the bill’s passage in each house is a major achievement even if it doesn’t ultimately get enacted and it actually does a number of pretty good things.
The Economy: D
Sorry. This is just how it is. I know Bush left a mess of great magnitude. All the more reason the stimulus bill should have been larger. Either it should have been smaller so that it wasn’t a deficit hawk issue or much larger. Nobody would give a shit about the national debt if their jobs and houses would have been saved. Yes, most of the Republicans refused to negotiate on this and there weren’t 60 democrats at the time. Obama should have made a spectacle of their refusal. Ultimately, a reconciliation-based vote of 50 senators could have passed a better package.
And much, much more should have been made of a jobs bill during the worst of the health care fracas. We needed something to touch. Maybe another check in the mail? If the Dems couldn’t have done that, then perhaps something to alleviate the fiscal crises in a number of the states, or at least in neighborhood schools?
Plus, this really is always the most important issue. Obama’s failures here—really nothing more complicated than giving the middle class some token—may ultimately cost him an opportunity to do much on the rest of these issues where… there is so much room for improvement.
Domestic Terrorism: A-
There hasn’t been much here. The crotch bomber was a non-event. The Ft. Hood shootings were probably not really an issue for the President except politically. Using the Bush administration’s own standard of “keeping us safe,” Obama is several thousand American lives ahead of President Bush at this point in his presidency.
Obama needs to stick the knife to a few people so that they know he means business. When people know you need a deal and they know they don’t need a deal, negotiations don’t always work well. There is a lot more room to do this in foreign affairs where he has much wider control. Maybe there should be talk of American troops securing some token place in Gaza. Maybe we should finally do something to stick it to the imperious Chinese besides say something. I think health care reform is too important to scuttle in a cock battle. But there are other issues where it might not be a bad idea to put one potential 60th vote in one room and another in the room next to them and offer them each a deal if they say yes first. You know, the prisoner’s dilemma. Something.