By Jay Hansen
The circus that is the Republican Primaries will soon be winding down, meaning we won’t have the same clown acts to keep us distracted from the real decision in 2012 any more. The question will finally be about Obama vs. Romn… I mean, whoever wins the Republican Primary. So, I’ve started reflecting on the past few years and Obama’s accomplishments. I criticize him a lot, but he does deserve credit when credit is due. At the same time, he deserves scorn where it is due too. That is when I came up with this article: President Obama’s First Term – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Like I said, he did do many good things, but there are other situations and issues he handled poorly or he displayed questionable behavior during deliberation of the issue. To his credit, he still at least tried on most of these issues, unlike the ugly. The Ugly column refers to the ugly facts we’ve come to learn about Obama during his first term, including the issues on which he didn’t even try to fight.
Due to the limitations on size and organization for this graph, I have to skip a lot of the specific details for the longer accomplishments such as the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Many of its smaller details, or the more minor accomplishments of Obama’s first term, can be found on see this list.
Forgive me if my sources seem a little sloppy on this one. There was a TON of information hunting involved for an article created on such a simple idea.
|Nominated two liberal Supreme Court Justices – I ultimately decided to put Obama’s two liberal appointments to the Supreme Court on the good list because it’s by far the most important reason why I’ll be voting for him in 2012. Really though, complimenting him on this is like thanking someone for going to a grocery store and not stealing anything. Obama ran as a liberal. He’s supposed to appoint liberal justices. Nonetheless, it was a good, vitally important move to the health of our democracy. The Supreme Court is dangerously corporatist right now, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, possibly the most solid liberal on the court, is 79 years old. If a Republican wins in 2012, it’s possible she could be replaced with yet another corporatist, meaning we won’t see campaign finance reform or any degree of cleaning up our government for literally another lifetime, and I honestly don’t know if America can wait that long.||The War in Iraq – While it’s very good that Obama ended the war in Iraq, he can hardly be credited for that. He was only following the Status of Arms Agreement as laid out by President Bush. The reason this is in the “bad” category, however, is because for a time Obama was showing signs of possibly re-considering following the Bush timetable of leaving Iraq and staying for longer. The simple fact that he showed signs of re-considering is extremely troubling. We still ended up withdrawing thankfully, so ultimately Obama made the right decision, but it was such an obvious one even minor reconsideration draws his thought process into question.||Expanded executive power and violations of civil liberties – Obama has changed little about the violations of civil liberties largely done by unjust expansion of executive power enacted by the Bush Administration, especially outside of torture. We still do warrantless wiretapping, searches, and seizures, shredding the 4th amendment. Plus, after becoming President, Obama suddenly began supporting the Patriot Act. Worse yet, in many ways, he’s greatly expanded violations against our civil liberties. Under Obama, the US Department of Homeland Security has begun testing FAST (Future Attribute Screening Technology), a program created to judge people’s intent for future crimes. It has also recently been revealed that the United States President and Military hold the authority to take military action against a cyber attack, opening the possibility of simple computer hackers being labeled as terrorists. With the passage of the most recent National Defense Authorization Act, we learned more about Obama than anything else. This Act enabled the military to operate within the United States, violating the Posse Comitatus Act which forbade the US military from policing the streets and instead left it up to local law enforcement over 130 years ago. It also shredded the 5th and 14th amendments and Habeas Corpus by allowing indefinite detentions of any “enemy combatants” without trial, and with the military determining who is and is not a military combatant with no outside jurisdiction, and they may do so to US citizens. In other words, Obama has signed into law a bill that allows the military to detain whomsoever they want, American citizens on American soil included, without the authority of the government or law enforcement for whatever reason they want without any evidence for however long they want without a trail. When Obama signed it into law, he defended it by saying “MY Administration will interpret section 1021 in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law.”
While Obama’s administration may not use the bill for this purpose, the bill establishes that power for the President, and Obama won’t be President forever. It’s not that we’re necessarily worried about President Obama; it’s future Presidents who will now have this authority.
Worst of all, Obama has normalized these things. Bush introduced them, but instead of saying “oh, he was all wrong,” Obama accepted them as normal and went on about his business. These violations of our privacy and liberties have been standardized into American life by President Obama now, after running his campaign on “change,” and will be extremely difficult to stop.
|Health Care Reform – Health care reform was such a mixed bag I put it in here and in “the bad.” There were dozens and dozens of small, beneficial aspects to the Affordable Care Act of 2010, but here are a few highlights:
In addition to the Affordable Care Act of 2010, Obama also expanded the SCHIP program by increasing eligibility for it, covering an additional 4 million children and pregnant women. Obama also expanded eligibility for Medicaid.
|The STAR Treaty – Like many things in this column, the STAR Treaty was a very good deal to help prevent loose nukes from spreading around Russia and the rest of the world. It was so good, as a matter of fact, that there was no reason to oppose it. Republicans only opposed it because they took every issue hostage that they could to see what they could get out of Obama as “compromise,” because they knew Obama would not fight them on it. Thankfully, Obama did not fail as hard on this issue as others, as he did not compromise despite Republican efforts to do so. It’s good that he got the treaty passed, but the passive way he got it passed earned him a spot in the “bad” list.||Extended the Bush Tax Cuts and passed more tax cuts of his own on top of them – One of Obama’s biggest campaign promises was to end the disastrous Bush Tax Cuts, yet he completely and utterly broke that promise and extended them for another two years, opposing the wishes of a majority of his own political party and American people as well. His stimulus bill contained massive tax cuts, he fought tooth-and-nail for the payroll tax cuts, and he has even shown support of cutting the corporate tax rate. Even his own jobs bill, before compromising with Republicans, was 56% tax cuts. He hasn’t fought once to stop tax cuts, let alone raising taxes on the rich, defying a key reason why so many voted for him in 2008 and more importantly what this nation desperately needs right now to save our economy and budget.|
|Student Loan Reform – The government now provides student loans instead of banks, cutting out the “middle man,” and saving the nation $61 billion a year. Also:
||Killed Awlaki – First of all, the principle of this issue alone is downright ugly. Obama ordered the execution of a US citizen without even charging him with a crime, let alone a trial. There’s little to no concrete evidence that he actually plotted terrorist attacks, or that he was involved. In fact, he had been cleared of charges regarding involvement with the 9/11 attacks. Since it wasn’t without its good reasoning, however, I counted it only as “bad,” as it was still a dangerous precedent to be setting for future Presidents by establishing that the President has the power to order the execution of US citizens abroad without a trial.||Supports the war in Afghanistan – Despite initially asking for an exit strategy, and massive public opposition to the war, President Obama will have twice the number of troops in Afghanistan by the end of his first term than the day he entered office. Initially the war had good intentions – capturing and stopping those responsible for the September 11th attacks. Now, Osama bin Laden, the orchestrator of the attacks, is dead (whom, by the way, after invading Afghanistan and Iraq, we caught in Pakistan), and there could be less than 50 members of Al-Qaeda left in Afghanistan today. Isn’t that mission accomplished? No, instead, now military leaders indicating we may be staying indefinitely. What are we still doing there?|
|Stimulated the economy – As in the Great Depression, Obama aimed to fight economic troubles by re-investing in the country. This stimulus plan focused on job creation and prevention of job losses, primarily by the federal government giving more money to law enforcement, education, transportation projects, energy projects, modernization of technology, and subsidies families and states designed to help struggling families under hard economic times. The stimulus included, but was not limited to:
||Financial Reform – Obama’s financial reform was an absolute joke. The bill; did nothing to regulate the derivatives market or risky financial practices that sank the economy in the first place, kept the policy of too big to fail intact, did nothing to fix the corruption of the rating, allowed the banks to continue gambling with client’s money, banks are still allowed to do mark to market, and let the federal reserve continue pumping money into toxic assets, letting financial institutions privatize their gains but socialize their losses onto taxpayers. The one really good part of the legislation was the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to which Obama took nearly a year and a half to make an appointment because of his inability or unwillingness to fight Republican opposition, and even then still had to be a recess appointment, and EVEN THEN didn’t pick the best person for the job. The bill was so watered down it was almost useless, especially when given how unwilling Obama was to really fight for the bureau. The economy is still in just as much danger now as it was before the legislation, and that’s the best way to measure its effectiveness.||Failed to pass or even attempt campaign finance reform – Despite both making claims that he would support campaign finance reform when running in 2008 and this issue by far being inarguably the most important issue to clean up our government and get it working for the American people again, President Obama has done absolutely nothing to promote campaign finance reform. Obama has actually raised record amounts of money from private donors because of the lack of campaign finance laws.|
|Overhauled the food safety system – Obama increased the power of regulators to inspect and recall unsafe foods. It emphasizes prevention by requiring food manufacturers to prepare detailed food safety plans and to tell the Food and Drug Administration what they are doing to keep the food safe at different stages of production.||Health Care Reform – Now that I’ve listed the good parts of the bill, there’s three major parts that are bad. First and foremost is the mandate without public option. I wouldn’t mind the mandate nearly as much if a public option, a non-profit insurance provider, had been in the legislation, but it wasn’t. As a matter of fact, it now turns out that Obama fought against the public option behind closed doors despite the massive public popularity for the program. So now people are forced to become customers of an industry famous for unethical behavior and cut-throat profit seeking. This, of course, is the worst problem with the bill; health care “reform” did nothing to reform the actual system. It implemented a few new rules, but our system is still entirely privatized and for-profit. It was a huge-ass band-aid, but band-aids don’t do much good when the problem is an underlying cancer slowly killing the American people. So long as profit is still the leading motivator in the health insurance game, compassion and care for clients will not be a prime directive for providers. Just like with financial reform, though, since Obama has raised the “mission accomplished” banner on his self-proclaimed “historic” health care reform, odds are we won’t becoming back to it any time soon, which is the third problem. Why should we reform health care again if Obama just did it? And if we’re not re-visiting it, what’s going to fix the massive problem we still have with a for-profit system? Sadly, right now, it looks like nothing.||MASSIVELY failed in the 2011 & 2012 budget debates – Obama’s absolute worst trait is his complete and utter lack of negotiating skills. He continually pre-compromises his own side of the argument before negotiations even begin in some vain hope of looking like the “good guy” and his adversaries will do the same, even though it completely defies how compromise, and thus, democracy, really works. In 2011, he failed so hard at negotiating over the budget that Republicans literally got over 100% of what they initially asked for in the negotiations, and cut more spending than any modern US President. Nearly all of it came out of the middle and lower classes; the defense budget and wealthy were virtually unscathed. Because of the debt ceiling, the entire 2012 budget debate was fake, and Obama played along with the Republicans holding the debt ceiling hostage, despite the fact that it’s been raised without question or debate 74 times since 1962, five times under George Bush by many of the same Republicans that opposed raising it in 2011, and 235 economists, 6 of whom were Nobel Peace Prize winners, were publicly and vehemently opposed to any notion of not raising the debt ceiling. On top of that, we got stuck with the Grand Bargain, of which Obama was a fervent supporter, that cuts entitlements and raises taxes on the middle and lower classes while cutting them for the upper class and corporations. This rightfully earned Obama significant scorn from his supporters – both fellow lawmakers and constituents. Obama is so terrible at negotiating, and gives Republicans so much of what they want and more in budget negotiations, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t want the Republican agenda on taxation, spending, and the budget, because I refuse to believe he’s that woefully incapable of negotiating. If all of that wasn’t enough to make you cynical of Obama and his ideology of the budget, consider the fact that he personally created the Simpson-Bowls Commission to address the 2012 budget when the debate first started, which tried to rob the middle class and tie Social Security into the general budget. Obama himself made each and every appointment to the commission, yet 14 out of the 18 commission members were fiscal conservatives. The co-chair to this commission was Alan Simpson, who said that all people on Social Security are leeches, that Social Security is insolvent, which is factually untrue, and said, I quote, “[Social Security is] a cow with 310 million tits.” On top of that he also wanted veterans to give up their disability benefits so he can afford more corporate tax cuts. Even now, Obama is preparing another budget proposal, and is going around to all of his supporters and constituents preparing them to be massively disappointed. I could go on, believe me I could go on, but for the sake of this chart I have to end it here. Long story short; Obama is either nightmarishly incompetent when it comes to the budget, or he’s secretly a conservative. There’s no other way to explain it.|
|Stopped torture – Obama stopped the practice of waterboarding, calling it torture and “contrary to America’s traditions.”||Women’s right to choose – While the Obama Administration does believe a woman has a right to have an abortion if she chooses, they sure as hell aren’t doing much to convince us of that. Obama even signed an executive order that would make abortions more difficult to obtain for some women. The real reason why Obama is failing so hard at defending a woman’s right to choose is because he does nothing and says nothing about the heinous assault against women’s reproductive rights at the state level by Republicans across the country. I highlight a lot of these attempts here. The worst of these cases involve women being imprisoned on charges of murder for miscarrying a child because, in accordance with South Carolina law, the baby is “alive,” and the woman’s body just killed it. Already over 300 women have been arrested in South Carolina because of this legislation, and other states are pushing for the same. While Obama has done little to nothing to damage a woman’s right to choose, he sure as hell hasn’t done a damn thing but stand on the sidelines and watch as the right to choose is literally banned in dozens of states across America, despite the unconstitutionality of such legislation.||Continually got advice and administration officials from the Washington establishment – Picking up where I left off, Obama continually picked questionable people for his cabinet and advisory positions, especially for a so-called “liberal,” which he really isn’t (see the next point). Alan Simpson from the last point was just the tip of the ice berg. Tim Geithner, Obama’s Treasury Secretary, basically is a Republican. He “left” the party, but never re-joined another, and is still a solid corporatist / conservative. The banks refer to him as “their man in Washington.” He has been involved with corruption case after corruption case. Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, has not prosecuted a single person responsible for the financial collapse, despite Obama promising to on the campaign trail, nor has he investigated any of the countless wrongdoings of the Bush administration. Larry Summers was originally Obama’s Chief Economic Advisor, and he was one of the biggest Democrats responsible for promoting the deregulatory practices that lead to the economic recession, and still continues to support today. Now, Obama is considering Summers to be the Chief of the World Bank. His first Chief of Staff was Rahm Emmanuel, who stated that liberals are, quote, “fucking retarded.” His second Chief of Staff William Daley may have been largely responsible for a lot of the Administration’s concessions to Republicans, causing a lot of Democratic leadership to turn on him. Let’s not forget Daley also had an awkwardly honest interview with Politico where he did nothing but focus on how horrible Obama’s first three years had been. Most of all though, Daley was the primary one responsible for telling the President he wasn’t friendly enough to businesses and the big banks despite massive public opposition to such a notion. Now his third official Chief of Staff is Jack Lew, who has received millions from CitiGroup and whom the Republicans absolutely love. These people are Obama’s appointments; he doesn’t have to compromise on them, and yet he keeps picking pro-establishment, pro-banker, conservatives. Why else would he do so, if he wasn’t secretly pro-establishment, pro-banker, or conservative himself?|
|Killed Osama bin Laden – Largely self-explanatory. I’d say I don’t want to hear conservatives criticizing Obama for being “weak on terror” ever again, but I know I will…||Guantanamo and off-shore detention – Obama tried to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, but failed. He did not fight passionately for his side of the argument, and when you don’t do that you lose. Yes, the Republicans were ruthless in their opposition to his plans, but it’s a yet another classic example of how Obama doesn’t know how to fight for his ideas. The simple truth is he didn’t carry out his promise, we didn’t get the outcome we wanted, and therefore, this falls under the category of “bad.”||Disdainful of his own constituents – On many occasions, Obama and members of his administration have expressed disdain or even disgust for liberals and left-wing ideology. Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel called liberals “fucking retarded.” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs sarcastically mocked liberals, calling them crazy, unrealistic, falsely accusing liberals of holding radical ideology of wanting to abolish the pentagon, and saying they all need to be drug tested (and all just before an election too, when Democrats actually need their liberal voters supporting them). Obama himself derisively told Senator Sanders (while pointing to a half-filled glass of water), “that’s the problem with YOU PROGRESSIVES; you see this as half-empty.”
Obama is not a liberal. Both his words and actions as President, particularly when it comes to administrative and advisory appointments, he just can’t be. In fact, he seems to have great disdain for liberals and progressives.
|Repealed DADT – By repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the military can no longer discriminate against enlistees based on sexual orientation.||Obama’s Pocket Change – As I listed in the “good” column, Obama did make tiny, incremental changes here and there to some programs. The problem was he ran his entire 2008 campaign on “change,” and not just petty “pocket change,” like I wrote about in my very first piece on this website. He campaigned on changing the very system on which America operates. He knew it was a broken system, and he knew people would get excited about fixing it, as they did. Turns out, Obama loves the core system as it is, which I address further in the “ugly” column. I know change is slow, but slow is one thing; not even trying is another entirely. Obama cannot bring the change he promised until he at least learns to fight for it properly, assuming, of course, that he ever intended on fighting for progressive principles in the first place.||Failed to pass Immigration Reform – Obama has done nothing to reform immigration. He attempted, but failed, to pass the DREAM Act, which would allow children brought here illegally (and non-consensually, given that they were children) to have a pathway to citizenship if they either went to college or joined the military. The Act failed because of opposition within the Democratic Party. Obama has actually drastically increased deportation of illegal immigrants since becoming President.|
|Stopped defending DOMA – Obama stopped the Justice Department from defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited states from being forced to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Obama will, however, still be “enforcing” the Act.||Failed to protect unions and worker’s rights – During the Wisconsin labor disputes, Obama and the White House would not support the workers protesting over their rights to collectively bargain being taken away almost entirely because of Republican criticism. Ultimately, the White House would not even send a single person to help, despite the protestors asking for it from the President, Vice President, and even the Secretary of Labor. This is despite the fact that Obama directly promised during the campaign to support protesters whose rights specifically to collectively bargain become jeopardized. It is because of this and similar actions (and inactions) on the part of the President that the unions, the largest supporters of the Democratic Party by far, are now turning on Democratic Party establishment entirely.|
|Expanded the definition of hate crimes – Under the new definition of a hate crime, those committed against someone due to gender identity or sexual orientation would also count as federal offenses.||Increased off-shore oil drilling – President Obama introduced a bill to increase off-shore oil drilling, one of the primary points on the Republican agenda and primary issues liberals oppose. He did so less than a month before one of the worst oil spills of all time.|
|Supported NATO in Libya – Many liberals questioned Obama going into Libya, especially after so vehemently opposing the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, but Libya was very different. First and foremost, it wasn’t our idea. Our allies in NATO asked for our help, meaning we weren’t going in alone, nor were we the ones leading or investing the most effort. The Libyan rebels also asked us to come, which the Afghani and Iraqi people did not do. Finally, we did not send in ground troops – we simply enforced the policies and rulings of the United Nations and NATO. For our actions in Libya, the world’s longest-ruling dictator was deposed, and our commitment to NATO and the international community was strengthened.|
|Bailed out the Auto Industry – While some may question the ethicality of bailouts on principle, the Auto Industry Bailout was the right way to do one if a bailout is to be done. The companies bailed out through this package supported unionized labor, meaning that workers’ rights would not be sacrificed, and more, Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid imposed strict “strings” attached to the bailout that required CEOs to suffer pay cuts, protect the taxpayer’s investment, and general means to prevent abuse of the emergency funds allocated to them. Given that, the Auto Industry Bailout is the only bailout that may have actually saved jobs and helped the average American worker. Ultimately, this bailout saved as many as 3 million jobs.|
|Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – Allowed lawsuits against employers over discriminatory pay to have the 180 day statue of limitations on filing the lawsuit applied to the date of the most recent discriminatory paycheck, instead of the first.|
|Opposed SOPA and other similar legislation – This is an extremely recent development as of the creation of this graph, but the White House has come out and denounced SOPA-like legislation such as PIPA and the PROTECT IP Act.|
|Blocked the Keystone XL Pipeline – Obama blocked the creation of the Keystone XL pipeline that would route tar sands petroleum from Canada to Texas, posing a huge environmental risk and running an oil pipeline through America’s largest fresh water aquifer. Some may question if this was right or not, but it did show a rare sign of strength on Obama’s part in just making a decision with such opposition towards blocking it.|
|Various other “Pocket Change” – Obama did a great number of other very minor changes throughout his first term. A good list of them can be seen here at PolitiFact.|
As usual though, I spend a week working on an awesome article like this only for Cenk Uygur to come in and beat me to the punch. On yesterday’s episode of The Young Turks, Cenk did a breakdown of nearly everything I discussed in this chart. Here’s the primary video, with two subsequent ones. Damn you Uygur and your awesome team at The Young Turks; damn your efficiency I say!