Obama Year 2, Quarter 2 Progress Report

It’s just not fair for Obama.

He inherited two wars and an economic collapse. But what we all saw coming was that what he really inherited was much broader: a decade of government telling the private sector that no one was minding the store and telling the rest of the world “fuck you.” What we were aware of when Obama took office—the financial collapse and the wars—was just the beginning.

As this is written the largest ecological disaster in US history is only getting worse, and we know it was caused by the permissiveness of the Bush era. Yet the media is attempting to spin this as “Obama’s Katrina.” Just before this occurred, there was a mining incident in West Virginia. Both resulted from industry knowing that it could more or less do what it wanted.

As this is written, the Israeli government continues to blunder its way further away from the rest of the world after its own little Bush, Binyamin Netanyahu, continues to thumb his nose at Obama, making Obama’s Sisyphean task of reconciling the situation in Palestine even harder.

Yet it is past time for Obama to start owning some of these things. He has passed historic health care reform, where it was apparent based on the makeup of Congress that serious compromises would be required. Some kind of symbolic Wall Street reform is on its way to his desk. Yet despite this, the thing that really needs change—American culture’s buy now pay later and ignore the consequences attitude—has barely taken a dent if it hasn’t gotten worse. Perhaps it is time that he loses a legislative battle to win the wider war. Perhaps some bold measure that doesn’t have generational meaning and emergency importance—as health care reform did—and where a compromise measure later down the road might be good enough should be tried with the express purpose of making the other side spend political capital to defeat it..

Honestly, one way to do that might have been to make a better nomination to the Supreme Court—another place where moderation and the fear of losing a legislative battle clearly affected the outcome. And has all of this moderation won any friends on the Republican side, or, really, even in approval polls? Hell, the GOP is already promising to impeach him if the get control of Congress!


Education Policy: B- (B-)

Obama isn’t afraid of the teachers unions, is he? As the education system continues to implode, the reform of teacher employment goes forward, but is still far from being implemented or tested. Tenure was originally designed as protection for controversial academics that might lose their jobs for political reasons. Even if most K-12 teachers required that kind of protection, it is easily built into a standard “for cause” dismissal standard, which is better than at least 75% of Americans have it. Tenure can go. Yet the idea of merit pay sounds less like bonuses for bankers and more like tips for underpaid busboys. If we can reform tenure and provide merit pay, we can increase teacher pay to attract better talent into the field in the first place.

The Environment: D (C)

No, it’s not Obama’s Katrina. It’s also not his fault; it’s BP’s. It’s all of ours for our unwillingness to pay the true costs of anything, including the consumption of oil. But holding press conferences isn’t enough. Why hasn’t he dared the Senate to reject the liability cap reform, or, even more boldly, taken BP into receivership to clean this up? If the public rejects these actions, we are already lost.

Foreign Policy: C (B)

It’s time  to explain why we’re still in Iraq in Afghanistan. It’s time to either cut some nuts on Israel and Palestine, or disengage. As in the case of the environment, we need bold action even if there is a risk that that boldness would be rejected by the public in the immediate present. Furthermore, there is simply no explanation for keeping people locked up in Guantanamo on the basis of no evidence other than fearing demagoguery from the right. As on the previous two issues, the lack of balls is starting to hurt.

Health Care: A (A)

This fight has been fought. Still, instead of only playing defense on this issue, why not argue for earlier implementation? Weren’t we promised a vote on the public option later this session?

The Economy: B- (C)

There are signs that the bottom has been hit, that the stimulus package Obama signed into law early in his term saved us from significant pain, and that things might be getting better. As I said in March, the government needs to act decisively to prevent the finger wagging of the very same bond market that destroyed our economy from talking us into a monetary policy shift towards tightening when things are still fragile and there isn’t even a whiff of inflation on the horizon.

Social Issues: A (A)

As I said in March, the slow measured reform of DADT in the military and staying out of the rest of it is the best that can be done in this time on traditional “social issues.” As much as I am demanding some bold action, I know this is not where to do it. Not now. Not with the emergencies going on.

Domestic Terrorism: B+ (B)

Maybe this just isn’t being reported as much, but it seems like things have cooled down a little bit. I’m hoping this has to do with positive action taken by the government.


Obama, you have won some amazing legislative battles. Get Kagan on the Court and then go fight to save Congress in this election. To do so, I suggest you start telling us that we need to start making changes at home, not just in Washington.