Obama Year 2, Quarter 1 Progress Report

Well, this is going to be a much different set of grades than I gave the President back in January. It could have been that Health Care Reform was not the decisive battle of Obama’s first term. the GOP could have decided to give a little, but they didn’t. I’m not sure I blame them. When in the last 40 years have the Dems shown such spine over policy? Yes, they went for blood during Watergate—but to what tangible policy end? Yes, Clinton beat the Republicans both during the government shutdown and during the Impeachment. But it hasn’t been since Medicare and the Civil Rights Act that such sweeping laws were enacted by Democrats that are here to stay. Therefore, I almost don’t blame the Republicans for betting on the Dems crumbling. After all, who was in the White House calling the shots? A bunch of Clinton veterans that never quite got over 1994. Well, they decided that not trying again was more likely to bring about a repeat of 1994.

Generic Congressional polls show a clear peak in GOP numbers at the end of January. They peaked too early. It is very likely they will pick up seats, but I doubt they will win either House. Not now. What happened this week is that the Republicans went all in and lost. This will embolden the Democrats on all fronts. And assuming they don’t vastly overreach, they will be on a roll. The GOP was so convinced people had given up on Obama in January that they arrogantly started goofing around with unemployment and told everyone HCR was dead so that the insurers went and raised rates. They barely appear to be chastened now, though the cooling off period isn’t over yet.

Current (Last)

Education Policy: B- (C)

Reforming the student loan system is a wonderful victory. Can anyone tell me why we were just handing money to banks to give government guaranteed loans out? The best retort they could come up with was that eliminating this program would cost jobs. That’s what the telemarketers said when the No Call List (the best thing the Bush administration ever did) went into effect. They also said that borrowers wouldn’t get the same level of service. Haha. That is ridiculous. The Direct Loans servicing is the same phone-tree and Internet-based “service” as the private lenders.

The recently proposed “reform” (it’s essentially repeal) of NCLB is a good move as well. However, the “Race to the Top” program is not universal. California, for example, got no money. Reforming standards is one thing, but it won’t be long before the feds can no longer ignore what’s going on in the states which is nothing less than a cataclysmic lack of funding. Oregon, God Bless ’em, figured out they could tax the rich and it would help.

The Environment: C (C-)

I haven’t heard anything from Obama on the environment since the Copenhagen debacle. Why the better marks, then? Again, because we know Obama is empowered. Only better things will come of this. Still, global warming is the issue of the century. HCR was the issue of last century—it just took this long to finally do. Nothing else left on the agenda even comes close to mattering this much, but other than the magical “green jobs” we don’t hear much.

Foreign Policy: B (various)

For the quarterly report, I’m not going to break this out, but I was very harsh last time. However, the secure home footing makes things better here on all fronts. Obama may actually break the far-right coalition government in Israel and get the parties back to the table. Iraq is having an election. World powers are making painfully slow progress, but progress nonetheless, on keeping nuclear weapons away from the theocratic Iranian state.

Health Care: A (C+)

Enough has been said about this already. Even if you are a public option fundamentalist, at this point, you have to realize that we have 4 years with two federal elections intervening before the exchanges go online to enact a public plan. My guess is that a robust public plan with triggers (in other words, it only goes into effect under certain cost scenarios either for the government or for individuals, or maybe even states) will go into effect if Obama is reelected. Otherwise, it will either (a) be enacted out of necessity sometime before 2020, or (b) the existing law will reduce costs enough and cover enough people to make it not necessary.

The Economy: C (D)

The Right keeps harping about jobs—something they really don’t give a shit about. “Jobs” in Republispeak means tax cuts. The left wants financial market reform. All of that’s great, but what we really need to get people back to work right now is to keep the Fed from tightening rates any time soon and some kind of relief for the states. Another stimulus wouldn’t be felt in time for the election and may not be necessary. The Stimulus cushioned an already bad recession and the HCR bill will create all kinds of employee mobility, but I’m not sure what to do in the short term for lower unemployment short of some kind of government backing of business loans.

Social Issues: (A) n/a

This is one where you just can’t win. But I have to say, a cautious slow repeal of DADT in the military and an otherwise clever willingness to stay out of other issues is smart. America is getting over gay, and Obama is leading on this issue without doing more than the most careful nudge. It’s as fast as you can go without getting gains zeroed out by blowback.

Domestic Terrorism: B(A-)

This is one area where I’m starting to change my fears. On the one hand, I’m not sure what another underpants bomber incident would do at all. But I’m way less worried about that than I am about some McVeigh teabagger doing something nutty. That’s not Obama’s fault and I doubt it would accrue to the political benefit of his enemies, but our country has been in shock for almost 10 years now. We are gently getting over our collective PTSD. The last thing we need is another shock on a different front. I don’t think the Feds have been dealing with the McVeigh teabaggers as publicly and as forcefully as they need to stop. It worries me.


HCR. Everything else is ancillary. However, Obama can only get back to an ‘A’ in my book by holding 235+/55+ seats in Congress this November. He’s made sure he’s remembered as a good President. Now, to become a great one, he needs to start leading us back to some new American consensus. Asking that of him is ridiculously unfair. It’s even harder than HCR, and no President has been able to make any kind of vision hold together for more than a fleeting moment for a very, very long time. Still, that’s the task at hand.