Lately, when I've criticized the Obama administration on specific issues where I've disagreed with policy (such as Afghanistan or the extension of the Patriot Act) there are those, especially on the left, who have asked why I still want to see him re-elected, whether it's because I duly admit to being a party hack or simply because he'd 'just be better than the Republicans.'
Although both of the above are true (I am an elected Democratic county party first vice chair, and have no doubt that any of the leading Republicans would continue all of the policies I dislike as well as do many other things I would't like) I am enthusiastically, and without reservation ready to work for the re-election of President Obama in 2012. He is the candidate most qualified to serve as President of the United States during the next four years.
Let me address three main topics as to why the President should be re-elected for another four years, and I will talk about the President here, not about why Republicans are bad.
1. The economy
2. Health care
3. The President's personal temperment and how it relates to the job.
Let's start with the biggest issue, the economy. The criticism from the right about President Obama is two-fold. They argue that he has failed to fix the problems that they acknowlege that he inherited from the Bush administration, and they also argue that he has made things worse by running up the deficit with massive increases in government spending.
In regard to not fixing the problem, it is true that when President Obama was inaugurated, the unemployment rate was 7.8% and it is today 8.6%. However, at the time he was inaugurated the U.S. was teetering on the brink of a Depression. We were hemorrhaging 700,000 jobs per month with no end in sight. The President took a Keynesian approach and negotiated the Stimulus bill with Republicans. These negotiations resulted in a bill that was 43% tax cuts (while major elements of spending, such as on school construction were removed from the bill in order to gain GOP support.) Despite these concessions, the GOP followed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's "top priority to make President Obama a one-term President". Therefore the bill, heavily loaded with GOP-sponsored tax cuts as it was, received zero GOP votes in the House and only three in the Senate. Republicans like to claim they were right, and that the stimlulus was a tremendous waste of money that did not work. They cite an erroneous projection made by a staffer (made even before President Obama was inaugurated) that if the Stimulus was passed then unemployment would top out at 8% vs. 8.8% without the Stimulus (which it arguably had exceeded even before the Stimulus took effect.) That the recession was far deeper than even some of the President's economic advisors had foreseen is not the same thing as claiming that the Stimulus didn't work. In fact,
the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has backed up the administration's claims regarding the impact of the Stimulus. So when Republicans claim it did not work, that is what it is-- a claim, not backed by data. It's difficult of course to prove something which did not happen would have, and it is true that the country got out in front of the situation more quickly (TARP) than in 1929, but it is certainly a reasonable conclusion that the Stimulus and other actions taken by the Federal government saved the nation from a Depression similar to the one in the 1930's. What the administration failed to do was take enough credit for the effects of the Stimulus. It was sent out to states with permission for the Governors to spend it as needed in their own states. Some Governors have given the Federal government the credit but others have claimed that there was some kind of economic miracle in their own state without crediting whatever portion of it was due to the stimulus (this means Rick Perry especially, though Jan Brewer here in Arizona is guilty of taking the money without saying thank you too.)
The recovery since then has been bumpy but it is on the upswing. The November 2011 jobs report marked the fifth consecutive month in which private sector job growth has exceeded 100,000. In fact, it would look even better if public sector jobs weren't being cut at a record pace (so if the recovery is slow, it's not a failure of Keynesian economics, but of anti-Keynesian economics of slashing government payrolls in the middle of a down economy.) The Stimulus then was a success, in that it helped the economy land as softly as possible at the bottom of a very deep hole, and we are now crawling out at a steady and gradually improving rate. I believe that as a steward of the economy, President Obama has indeed lived up to his ideals of 'hope.' Things are getting better slowly, but they are getting better and in most states unemployment has fallen substantially over the past year. President Obama does in fact deserve credit for turning the direction of the economy around, from 'declining' to 'growing.' He deserves a chance, having done so, to work on getting it all the way up to speed. The following graph of job gains/losses in the critical period before and after the Stimulus bill passed makes it very plain.
The other area where Republicans have been critical of the President's economic policy is in the area of spending and the deficit. It is true that the Stimulus bill cost $862 billion which was added to the national debt (though as described above, it was necessary because the Depression it was designed to prevent would have been far more deadly to the overall economy.) And the President has conceded that although the Stimulus (as well as TARP) was necessary spending, in the long run the deficit needs to be reduced. I believe that given his explanation for the initial round of spending (and his acknowlegement of why he did it) that's all the explanation that is needed. He spent when he felt it was necessary to spend, so there is no reason to believe he wouldn't cut when he felt it was necessary to cut.
FINALLY let's apply the metrics I used in this post from the day President Obama was inaugurated to see how his economic record is so far:
1. The stock market. The Dow closed at 8281.22 on its last close before Obama was inaugurated, and continued down on that day to close at 7479.09 (a sense of where things were headed.) Today it closed at 12,169.65. This is not only 50% higher than it was when the President took office, but even above the 10,587.60 it was at on January 20, 2001 when Bush was inaugurated. Anyone who says this is anything less than a success (albeit on the narrow metric of how the folks that invest in stocks are doing) clearly has an agenda of running down the President no matter what the numbers say. And sales of luxury items like yachts and luxury cars are doing extremely well this year, bearing this out. Of course, as we've seen though 30 years of 'trickle down' just because the 1% are doing well, does not mean that the 99% are. However it is also true that millions of ordinary Americans are seeing their retirement accounts, IRA's and pensions in much better shape than they were a couple of years ago because of the booming stock market.
2. The Euro exchange rate. When Bush was inaugurated the rate was that it cost $0.94 to buy one Euro. After the economy tanked with Bush in the White House that was $1.32 per Euro the day Obama was inaugurated. Today it is just under $1.31. I'm willing to concede that this is not good news. Essentially the dollar (which represents faith in the American economy) has made only a very small gain against the Euro, which of course we well know that the European economy is now in a severe crisis. The exchange rate had dipped as low as $1.16 per Euro when it looked like a Greek default could be imminent but it has recovered substantially.
3. Net job growth. During the eight years after Bush was inaugurated, we had a net total job growth of 3.8 million jobs. This works out to about 40,000 per month on average. It is true that more than 2 million jobs were lost during the first two years of the Bush administration, so if you take that away then you have a gain of about 6 million jobs in 72 months, or about 83,000 jobs per month after the initial recession (which Bush apologists like to blame Clinton for even though the only big piece of legislation that was passed during the first couple of months of the Bush administration were the tax cuts, which they claimed would spur growth but it did not.) HERE IS THE KEY: even though those who pump up Bush's number by blaming his first two years on Clinton like to fully credit the first year of job losses starting in 2009 to President Obama, as we can see from the chart above the rate of loss turned around almost immediately when the Stimulus was passed, and today, despite the GOP around the country forcing public-sector job CUTS the rate of net job growth (over 100,000 now for the past five months) is STILL substantially higher than the average for the Bush administration AFTER the first two years of recession (!) In fact, during the few occasions when the Bush economy WAS producing substantially more than 100,000 private sector jobs (remember it is still over 100,000 even with the public sector cuts subtracted out) Republicans were trumpeting the same kinds of numbers as a success! Now, I will grant that we need more job growth than this, but the President has gone from a loss of -700,000 jobs per month to +100,000 and going up, so clearly his record on the economy deserves a deeper look. Even in some of the highest unemployment regions, hiring has been picking up and the unemployment rate is lower than it was last year.
4. Price of crude oil. This is the one where Obama takes the biggest hit. It was $34.20 when he took office and a barrel of Brent crude closed at $107.89 today. I was critical of Bush when crude oil prices hit $140 per barrel during his term. While some issues are clearly outside of the ability of the administration to do anything about (Arab spring, increased demand from China and India) it does push energy issues to the forefront. The Obama administration has invested in light rail, higher energy efficiency standards for automobiles and green energy. Those are all long term solutions and perhaps the biggest threat from a GOP Presidency is the threat that all of those things will be reversed and we will be back to the fossil fuel-dependent status quo on energy. That said, conservatives DO have a point that we have to feed our need for oil now. It will be interesting to see what happens with the Keystone pipeline now that it has turned into a political football. Its projected route is in fact unacceptable because it crosses some of the most sensitive regions of the aquifer which supplies the state of Nebraska with everything from drinking water to water needed for wildlife. The question is whether the route can be made environmentally safer. There is an eastern route which crosses only a small, and less sensitive portion of the aquifer. The administration must look for how, given that they will now have only a sixty day window to make that decision, they can mandate that the pipeline misses the aquifer, entirely if at all possible. Similarly, drilling is now resuming in the Gulf of Mexico, but the question is whether the safeguards are in place to prevent another spill. Sadly, there is no evidence that they are. And as we know, there is no plan in place about what to do if such a spill occurs. Maybe they should invent something that will stop it before they go back to deep sea drilling.
5. National debt. It increased under Bush from $5.8 trillion when he took office to $11.8 when he left. Yes, it has continued to increase under President Obama. However, this is one area where he makes perfect sense. There was an immediate crisis when he took office (the loss of more than 2/3 of a million jobs per month.) He did what he had to to stanch the job loss. Yes, it increased the deficit. He's fully owned up to the fact that it did, and is now saying he wants to look for ways to bring it back down in the future. Good. His opponents also like to point to the health care law as 'big spending.' Only that is not supported by the facts: The non-partisan CBO found that the PPACA actually REDUCES the deficit by $143 billion over ten years compared to if it had not been passed. Further, when the new GOP House came in the same CBO found that their attempt to repeal the law in its entirety, if it happened at the beginning of this year, would ADD almost a quarter of a trillion dollars to the deficit! So when a Republican uses 'health care' interchangeably with 'deficit spending' they show they haven't a clue what they are talking about.
Nothing that has happened during Obama's first term is as controversial as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA.) It is true that the final bill does not include a public option (as the President himself had wanted) and that it does include an individual mandate to purchase private insurance (which candidate Obama clearly stated his opposition to during the campaign, and which contrasted him with Hillary Clinton who favored an individual mandate.) Conceded, readily. Given unified GOP opposition, the President needed the votes of all sixty Democrats. That included Blanche Lincoln who stated flatly that she would never vote for anything containing the public option, and Independent Joe Lieberman (who represents a state that is famously the home of several large insurance companies) who was looking for any excuse at all to vote against the bill, even signing onto an agreement that included a Medicare buy in at 55 that he was on record as supporting but then backing out and refusing to back the plan. As we know too, Democrat Ben Nelson (whose state is home to the Mutual of Omaha insurance company) refused to vote for the plan until it included special treatment for Nebraska (the so-called "Cornhusker kickback.") So the plan we got was the plan that was necessary in light of unified opposition from the right and the need to placate, therefore, every single one of fifty-eight Democratic and two Independent Senators. Yes, getting it passed was ugly, but also yes, it did get passed.
Given that there is room for improvement, let's consider what it does do. It sets up exchanges so those who can't afford insurance will receive a subsidy to help them buy it. Maybe we would have preferred a public option (or even single payer if we could get it) but achieving universal coverage (though granted universal coverage that excludes undocumented immigrants, but that's a topic for a different discussion) is a good and firm step in the right direction. When it was passed, there were 51 million Americans without health insurance. Because of changes that have already gone into effect such as an end to pre-existing exlusions and recissions and allowing parents to continue to cover their kids while they are in college, that number has already gone down by two million despite the slow recovery in the economy. When the bill is fully implemented, there will no longer be two classes of people in the emergency room: those who are insured or can pay cash, vs. those who are uninsured and poor and generally have to wait far longer until the people in the first category have all been seen. THIS IS A GOOD THING and those, particularly liberals, who suggest otherwise because of some esoteric argument that the health care bill isn't 'better' are wilfully blind and probably have never been uninsured themselves or know what that means if you are sick or injured but stacked on the back rack waiting for hours on end or sometimes even days to be seen.
Further, the first President to propose and push for a national health care system was Teddy Roosevelt. He left office more than a century ago. That's how long we've been trying, and that's how long conservatives have blocked any kind of insurance reform. THE FACT THAT THIS GOT PASSED AT ALL is, in the words of Vice President Biden, a "BFD." Certainly an achievement for the President.
THE PRESIDENT'S PERSONALITY IS SUITED TO THE JOB
Let's end with the President's basic temperment. He's both thoughtful and careful in thinking through his response to crises and but also willing to be bold and accept the consequences and see things through once he's made a decision. This was first put on display just a couple of months into his term when Somali pirates kidnapped and held for ransom the captain of an American freighter. President Obama gave negotiaters the chance to act but finally when the captain's life was in danger he gave the order to the SEALS to rescue him and use lethal force if that was what it took. Then a couple of months later, when bankruptcy loomed for Chrysler and General Motors, President Obama used TARP funds to aggressively intervene and preserved the core of the American automotive industry, and under American ownership. The success of the two companies since then has vindicated his decision but at the time it was not clear at all that it was the right decision. We've since seen other similar reponses to a crisis (Libya*) or when an opportunity presented itself (bin Laden.) This mixture of coolness when considering options followed by boldness and resolve once it's time to act is exactly what we need in a Commander in Chief. I believe President Obama passes this test while the leading Republicans do not. Mitt Romney is undeniably cool, but his past history to equivocate on issues and (as we saw in the 2008 campaign) adjust his strategy reactively instead of keeping a steady course does not inspire confidence in how he would respond to a crisis. Newt Gingrich has a history of impulsive, 'fly by the seat of his pants' decisons. While his ability to improvise is certainly bold, one has to be concerned about whether he would make the same decision he would make if he took time out to think through his position. His statements on Libya earlier this year highlight this concern. On March 3, Gingrich criticized Obama for not intervening in Libya unilaterally. After Obama, with the backing of the U.N. and the Arab League, participated in a joint intervention with France, Britain and other nations, Gingrich flip-flopped and criticized the intervention. It's perhaps understandable in that as a GOP candidate Gingrich felt the need to criticize the President no matter what he did, but the sudden, whiplash reversal makes one wonder for how long Gingrich really thinks anything through before responding.
President Obama has both characteristics: coolness when it is time to think things through and make a calculated decision, then boldness when it is time to follow through on that decision and see it through, including all consequences and fallout that may result.
So yes, for these reasons I believe, despite my sometimes copious disagreements with the President, that he deserves to be re-elected.
*--I myself questioned the Libya intervention once it took longer than he predicted, but I do give him credit for keeping his commitment to not send any American ground forces and getting completely out once it was done.