By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 2, 2011
When George W. Bush was inaugurated president of the United States on January 20, 2001, the unemployment rate stood at 2.4 percent. By the time Dubya completed his second term in office on January 19, 2009, the unemployment rate at risen to 7 percent. When Dubya took office in 2001, he was left with a budget surplus of $127.3 billion. When he completed his second term, he left a budget deficit of $1.4 trillion. The US national debt was $5.7 trillion on January 19, 2001. After eight years of Dubya, the debt was $10.6 trillion.
The US was at peace on January 20, 2001. After eight years of Dubya, the US was involved in two overseas wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that had cost US taxpayers nearly $1 trillion. The bigger of the two — Iraq — was launched based on mistaken, manipulated, or concocted information (or some combination of the three), and had resulted in the deaths of approximately 4,200 US military personnel and somewhere between 100,000 to 500,000 Iraqi civilians.
America’s image abroad took a serious plunge under Dubya, primarily because of Iraq. International surveys of tens of thousands of people taken by the Pew Research Center’s Pew Global Attitudes Project during those years consistently found extremely low opinions of Dubya and the US due to the war in Iraq, particularly among Muslims. The revelations of atrocities committed by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison and abuses by contracted security firms like Blackwater certainly didn’t help. Oh, and the little matter of holding prisoners at Guantanamo and… more torture.
Both wars were carried out in retaliation for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The attacks, which took place during Dubya’s first year, resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people and at least $10 billion in material damage.
A muscular foreign policy? Well, yeah… if you consider taking on third-rate powers like Iraq and Afghanistan “muscular.” Dubya couldn’t do much against Russia when it invaded Georgia in 2008, nor against Iran’s nuclear program. Also impotent to prevent the military rise of China. Some things just can’t be helped — not even if you’re a superpower.
The stock market? When Dubya took office in 2001, the Dow Jones stood at $10,587.59, the S&P 500 at $1,342.54, the NASDAQ at $2,770.38. Eight years later, the Dow was at $7,949.09, the S&P at $805.22, and the NASDAQ at $1,440.86. Those represented drops of 25 percent, 40 percent, and 48 percent, respectively.
The Great Recession in the US, which occurred during Dubya’s seventh and eighth years (2007-2008) in office, triggered a worldwide financial crisis — the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and resulted in the collapse of numerous large financial firms in the US and around the world. It threatened the very viability of the international financial system.
During Dubya’s seventh and eighth years, Americans lost a total of $16.4 trillion in household wealth. In 2008 alone — Dubya’s last year — more than 1 million Americans lost their homes, and the foreclosure process had begun on another 2 million Americans.
Health care costs? Under the Dubya years, health insurance premiums doubled. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average cost of employer-sponsored premiums for a family of four was $6,000 per year in January 2001. Eight years later, the average cost had risen to $12,680. It’s no wonder that the number of Americans with healthcare insurance dropped by 7.9 million under Dubya. Some 13.7 percent of Americans were uninsured in January 2001. Eight years later, the figure had risen to 15.4 percent.
Oh, Americans have such short memories — made only worse by how pathetically poor many choose to be informed. This is perhaps best reflected in the immensely entertaining poll recently taken by Quinnipiac University on June 24-30. The poll surveyed 1,446 people and asked them to rate US presidents since World War II. The result? Barack Obama was found to be the worst president since WWII. Right.
It brings to mind a gag quote I found online a couple of years ago. It was accompanied by a photo of Dubya. Went like this: “I screwed you all. But thanks for blaming it on the black guy.”
Bill Clinton perhaps put it best when he described the Republican Party’s position toward Obama: “We left him a total mess. He hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.”
By: Marco Caceres, The Huffington Post Blog, July 8, 2014
“President Obama Is No Bush”: Obama Has Accomplished Far Too Much In The Face Of Far Too Much Adversity
If anyone had said five years ago that President Obama’s popularity rating would nosedive to the dreadful level of George W. Bush’s ratings the last years of his presidency, they’d be fitted for a strait-jacket. Obama’s popularity ratings at that point had soared past 70 percent and there was the firm consensus that his numbers would stay comfortably high and that no matter how rocky things got during his tenure, they could never bottom out to Bush’s abysmal numbers.
The recent CNN/ORC International poll seems to show that the worst has happened and that Obama’s popularity rating now is virtually identical with Bush’s low rating. The added insult is that Bush seems to be getting more popular with his numbers on the uptick. There are two ways to look at this. One is that Bush had sunk so low in popularity ratings by the time he left office that he had nowhere to go but up and that it’s easy for the public to wax nostalgically about and to even find a few good things to say and think about an ex-president years removed from office than a president who sits in the office. This is made even easier by the constant barrage from the GOP’s inveterate Obama bashers playing up Bush’s alleged accomplishments while relentlessly pile driving Obama’s supposed failures.
That’s the other way to look at Obama’s drop. In the backwash of now defrocked former House Majority leader Eric Cantor’s ouster from Congress, it’s worth remembering Cantor was a prime ringleader of the now infamous dinner meeting the night of Obama’s first inauguration in January 2009. Their sole goal was to figure out everything they could do to dither, delay and flat out obstruct any and every initiative and piece of legislation, as well as key nominees, that Obama pushed, while savagely harassing and defaming his key appointees, most notably Attorney General Eric Holder and former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius.
This was the front door assault plan. The GOP’s backdoor strategy was to wink and nod at the dirty smear campaign from the coterie of right wing talk show hosts, bloggers and web sites that lambasted Obama with an avalanche of subtle and outright racist digs, barbs, taunts and harangues. The dual strategy had one aim and that was to make him a failed one term president, and failing that, a failed presidency. The added key to making that work was to play up to the hilt any and every real or perceived stumble. The NSA spy debacle, the lingering anger over Benghazi, the AP leaks, the worry over the Affordable Health Care Act website glitches, and the Bergdahl-Taliban prisoner swap, and now the militant Islamist insurgency in Iraq are prime examples.
The GOP gloat that Obama is now no better than Bush in the public’s eye still falls appalling flat. Bush’s miserable record on the two greatest issues that matter the most to Americans are glaring proof of that. They are the economy and war. Bush hit the skids the second go round because of public souring on a failed, flawed and financially and human-draining war, and a financial collapse that had much to do with his disastrous two tax cuts that gave away the company store to corporations and the rich and sent the budget deficit skyrocketing. In glaring contrast, Obama’s fiscal and budgetary record shows steady joblessness drops, a deficit drop, and an unprecedented surge in the markets that ironically has made more millions for many of the corporate rich that pile onto the assault against Obama.
His wind down of the Iraq and Afghan war has been a special sore point for GOP hawks who never tire of telling all who’ll listen that this supposedly puts Americans at horrible risk from terrorism and war. It’s bunk. Obama simply fulfilled commitments that were already in place to disengage the American military in both countries — commitments that are supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans.
Bush can lay claim to none of these achievements.
But laying aside for a moment the silly notion that Obama is as bad as Bush, the brutal political reality is that past presidents have certainly had their share of second term woes. This was the case with Eisenhower, Nixon, of course, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton. This shouldn’t surprise. They were in office for a relatively long time. They run a big sprawling government with thousands of appointees and personnel. It is simply beyond the pale of one person to control every facet and decision their appointees and personnel make. Just as time can work for a second term president, it can also work against him, too. The longer he’s in office, it’s almost assured that some issue, event or catastrophe will happen that can mar a president’s image, and that he may or may not have any real control over.
Obama has accomplished far too much in the face of far too much adversity. To spin his plunging popularity numbers as if he’s a complete failure is to horribly mangle the comparison with the president who clearly was a failure.
By: Earl Ofari Hutchinson, The Huffington Post Blog, June 14, 2014
“Obama’s Transformational Presidency”: He Should Be In The “All-Time-All-World Politics Hall Of Fame”
Is it safe to say that Barack Obama’s presidency will be remembered as the most consequential since Ronald Reagan’s — a presidency that “changed the trajectory of America” and “put us on a fundamentally different path”?
That was the audacious goal Obama set for himself during his 2008 campaign. Now is a useful time to assess his progress because the sixth year of any president’s tenure tends to be seen as a low point. Familiarity breeds impatience and frustration — among commentators, at least, whose narrow focus on which party is perceived as “winning” the day or the week misses the bigger picture.
In both the domestic and foreign spheres, Obama has had transformational impact. And there is more to come.
Reagan’s great achievement at home was to shift the political spectrum to the right. People tend to forget how radical his ideas once seemed. Tax cuts and massive deregulation were somehow going to produce more revenue? Wealth would inevitably trickle down and benefit the middle class and even the poor? It was not a Democrat but a fellow Republican, George H.W. Bush, who mocked the whole concept as “voodoo economics.”
That’s what I’d still call Reagan’s program, but he altered the political debate to such an extent that what once were fringe ideas came to be seen as centrist. By the time Obama took office, the combination of Reaganite policies — taken to extremes the Gipper might never have contemplated — and globalization had produced a nation where the rich were becoming obscenely rich and everyone else was struggling to tread water.
Obama’s impact has been to bring the words “fairness” and “equality” back into the political lexicon.
His biggest legislative accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, is a landmark because it establishes the principle that health care should be considered a right, not a privilege. Democrats such as Harry Truman — and Republicans such as Richard Nixon — sought for decades to move the nation toward universal care. The fact that Obama succeeded where others failed is, in itself, a huge achievement.
Perhaps as important, however, is the fact that while Republicans still claim they want to repeal Obamacare, the debate within the party centers on how best to expand health insurance coverage. Returning to the way things were before the ACA is not an option.
Health care is part of a larger suite of issues on which Obama has swung the pendulum back to the left. He made the case, for example, that more regulation of the financial sector was needed. Republicans were forced to give way. The president has been hammering away in speeches about the need for an increase in the minimum wage. Republicans haven’t caved on this yet, but in the end they almost surely will because of widespread public support for it.
Whether Democrats lose the Senate or not, Obama will have a tough time getting significant legislation passed in his final two years. Please don’t tell me he simply needs to be a better politician, like Bill Clinton. Obama ran rings around both Clintons in 2008. A black man with the middle name Hussein who gets elected president twice should be in the all-time-all-world Politics Hall of Fame.
But he can still have transformational impact. Working through the Environmental Protection Agency, Obama can take major steps to limit carbon emissions. I don’t know whether he’ll go as far as I believe he should, but whatever he does will be, by definition, a big deal.
In foreign policy, Reagan applied pressure to the weak points of the Soviet empire and helped break it apart. Obama has taken on an equally big and important task: redefining the U.S. role in a vastly changed world.
Obama is not the first president to endorse multilateralism, but he may be the first to mean it. He agreed to use force in Libya only after France and Britain nominally took the lead. He has kept the NATO allies together in cautiously dealing with the Ukraine crisis. He has refused to be drawn into Syria because he is unsure whether intervention would make the situation better or worse.
The president realizes that even the most powerful nation on earth cannot mediate every dispute, take sides in all wars, alleviate all suffering. He acknowledges our limitations and more narrowly defines our national interest. The public approves, even if some foreign policy sages are apoplectic.
Obama can be reserved and introspective. Usually, however, I find him energized, confident, determined — and fully aware that he is shifting the ground.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 8, 2014
Rick Perry should have backed off. Instead, he doubled down, and in a way that was doubly illuminating — about Perry himself and the degraded state of modern politics.
In an interview with Parade magazine, the Texas governor declared Obama’s place of birth a “distractive” issue even as he happily latched on to the opportunity to distract.
“Well, I don’t have a definitive answer [about whether Obama was born in the United States], because he’s never seen my birth certificate,” he said. It was classic Perry, combining logical incoherence and a smarmy cheap shot.
A smarter candidate would have stopped there. Perry, in an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood, kept going, despite Harwood’s repeated invitations to walk back his silliness.
“Look, I haven’t seen his,” Perry said. “I haven’t seen his grades. My grades ended up on the front page of the newspaper, so let’s, you know, if we’re going to show stuff, let’s show stuff. “
Is this a presidential campaign or a middle-school playground? I’ll show you mine if you show me yours? By the way, if I had Perry’s grades, I wouldn’t be mentioning them. Certainly not if I were running against a former president of the Harvard Law Review.
But then Perry, as is his style, let on what this was really about. “But look, that’s all a distraction. I mean, I get it. I’m really not worried about the president’s birth certificate. It’s fun to poke at him a little bit and say, ‘Hey, how about, let’s see your grades and your birth certificate.’ ”
The matter of the president’s birthplace, Perry added, is “a good issue to keep alive.”
You might think this was the candidate cannily trying to have it both ways: a nod to the birther crazies with a simultaneous wink at those who know this is a ridiculous distraction. Except that Perry managed to step on his real message of the day: his unaffordable and unfair proposal to “simplify” the tax code — by grafting a flat-tax alternative onto the existing system.
Perry’s acknowledgment of his interest in benefiting from birther mania was reminiscent of his artless dodge, during the last debate, about whether he thought the 14th Amendment should be changed to abolish birthright citizenship. “You get to ask the questions,” he told moderator Anderson Cooper. “I get to answer like I want to.”
Note to candidate: It’s better not to narrate your own stage directions. Just because your debate coaches tell you to answer the question you want to answer, not the one that’s been asked, doesn’t mean you should announce that’s what you’re up to.
Now we have Perry, who has a decent if fading shot at the Republican presidential nomination, openly practicing politics as poke-fest. The point isn’t to debate whose solutions are best for America — it’s to get under the other guy’s skin.
Thus Perry needling Mitt Romney on immigration: “You hired illegals in your home and you knew about it for a year. And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you’re strong on immigration is, on its face, the height of hypocrisy.”
As it happens, Perry is righter — that is, more correct — than Romney on immigration, at least when it comes to the question of the DREAM Act and the ability of the children of illegal immigrants to obtain in-state tuition rates.
But Perry’s jab at Romney was below the belt. The former Massachusetts governor employed a landscaping firm that, the Boston Globe discovered, had hired illegal immigrants. Romney told it to stop. When it turned out that the company hadn’t, he fired the firm.
The matter of Obama’s birth certificate should be a closed case. It is astonishing that a sitting governor, no less a serious candidate for president, would stoop to playing this game.
Then again, 2012 is shaping up to be an astonishing campaign. Witness Herman Cain’s bizarre, substance-less new ad in which the candidate is endorsed by, yes, the candidate’s campaign manager. Who is actually smoking (literally) during the ad.
“I really believe that Herman Cain will put United back in the United States of America,” says the aide, Mark Block.
The country is facing serious problems. This will be a fateful election. Voters deserve better than scare tactics and drivel.
By: Ruth Marcus, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 25, 2011
Why hasn’t there been a Tea Party on the left? And can President Obama and the American left develop a functional relationship?
That those two questions are not asked very often is a sign of how much of the nation’s political energy has been monopolized by the right from the beginning of Obama’s term. This has skewed media coverage of almost every issue, created the impression that the president is far more liberal than he is, and turned the nation’s agenda away from progressive reform.
A quiet left has also been very bad for political moderates. The entire political agenda has shifted far to the right because the Tea Party and extremely conservative ideas have earned so much attention. The political center doesn’t stand a chance unless there is a fair fight between the right and the left.
It’s not surprising that Obama’s election unleashed a conservative backlash. Ironically, disillusionment with George W. Bush’s presidency had pushed Republican politics right, not left. Given the public’s negative verdict on Bush, conservatives shrewdly argued that his failures were caused by his lack of fealty to conservative doctrine. He was cast as a big spender (even if a large chunk of the largess went to Iraq). He was called too liberal on immigration and a big-government guy for bailing out the banks, using federal power to reform the schools and championing a Medicare prescription drug benefit.
Conservative funders realized that pumping up the Tea Party movement was the most efficient way to build opposition to Obama’s initiatives. And the media became infatuated with the Tea Party in the summer of 2009, covering its disruptions of congressional town halls with an enthusiasm not visible this summer when many Republicans faced tough questions from their more progressive constituents.
Obama’s victory, in the meantime, partly demobilized the left. With Democrats in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, stepped-up organizing didn’t seem quite so urgent.
The administration was complicit in this, viewing the left’s primary role as supporting whatever the president believed needed to be done. Dissent was discouraged as counterproductive.
This was not entirely foolish. Facing ferocious resistance from the right, Obama needed all the friends he could get. He feared that left-wing criticism would meld in the public mind with right-wing criticism and weaken him overall.
But the absence of a strong, organized left made it easier for conservatives to label Obama as a left-winger. His health-care reform is remarkably conservative — yes, it did build on the ideas implemented in Massachusetts that Mitt Romney once bragged about. It was nothing close to the single-payer plan the left always preferred. His stimulus proposal was too small, not too large. His new Wall Street regulations were a long way from a complete overhaul of American capitalism. Yet Republicans swept the 2010 elections because they painted Obama and the Democrats as being far to the left of their actual achievements.
This week, progressives will highlight a new effort to pursue the road not taken at a conference convened by the Campaign for America’s Future that opens Monday. It is a cooperative venture with a large number of other organizations, notably the American Dream Movement led by Van Jones, a former Obama administration official who wants to show the country what a truly progressive agenda around jobs, health care and equality would look like. Jones freely acknowledges that “we can learn many important lessons from the recent achievements of the libertarian, populist right” and says of the progressive left: “This is our ‘Tea Party’ moment — in a positive sense.” The anti-Wall Street demonstators seem to have that sense, too.
What’s been missing in the Obama presidency is the productive interaction with outside groups that Franklin Roosevelt enjoyed with the labor movement and Lyndon B. Johnson with the civil rights movement. Both pushed FDR and LBJ in more progressive directions while also lending them support against their conservative adversaries.
The question for the left now, says Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future, is whether progressives can “establish independence and momentum” while also being able “to make a strategic voting choice.” The idea is not to pretend that Obama is as progressive as his core supporters want him to be, but to rally support for him nonetheless as the man standing between the country and the right wing.
A real left could usefully instruct Americans as to just how moderate the president they elected in 2008 is — and how far to the right conservatives have strayed.