My assessment of Barck Obama’s performance to date must be seen in the light that not only did I vote for him this past fall, but also supported him through the primary process and monetarily contributed to his campaign. My grade for him must be seen through the lens of pre-grade inflation days in the United States, where a C+ is “above average” with several members of a “class” receiving D’s and F’s. In modern American schools, a C+ would often place someone in the “below average” category.
I invite others to grade Obama’s performance, but also to do so in the context both of a “C” being an average grade and whether or not you voted for Obama or might have done so had you been an American citizen.
It should be noted that school teachers in my pre-college days gave out grades using a number of methods. Some used a “curve” based on how performance was distributed in that particular class. Others measured against the expected performance of a larger group, be that students in the whole school and not just that individual class, or be that past performance of classes across the state or across the country. A grade assessment by someone who supported Obama’s election, then, almost certainly must be seen in a context different than of someone who supported John McCain or an independent or “third party” candidate in November 2008. Someone who steadfastly opposes, on principle or related to ideology, government intervention in the economy might give Obama an “F” regardless of intentions or expected result.
As well, it is mighty early to assess a president’s performance in office. That fact almost deterred me from writing this post. On the other hand, this post can be run again in a year or two to present a larger picture and allows me or others to give early warnings if policies seem to be starting out wrong.
The Economy: B-
As someone cautious about government intervention in the economy but who also sees these as extraordinary times, I support the principle of a stimulus bill. Deregulation with little oversight of finances and trading operations must cease.
My objections: (1) I do not favor government ownership of banks in whole or part over the long run; (2) there is too much in the stimulus bill included to appease inidividual senators or representatives (”pork”); (3) not enough oversight to deter waste and abuse; (4) far too little spending on infrastructure (roads, bridges, electrical systems, etc.); and (5) the failure to use the stimulus bill to force stimulus funds-receiving banks and lending institutions to abandon the charging of usurious interests rates on credit cards. I’ll even be generous in allowing for a compromise, and that is that for “risky” accounts nevertheless paid on time and not over the credit limit, that banks receiving federal assistance may charge up to 14% interest and that for delinquent accounts (payment deadline missed twice or more in a six month period) banks and lending institutions may charge up to 19% interest; if that isn’t enough, the banks should cancel the cards. Currently, there are charges as much as 24% interest on accounts that are not delinquent or over-the-limit and as much as 36% interest for delinquent accounts. These latter charges are abusive and not in keeping with the ideal of forming a “more perfect union.”
Compared to prior administrations, Obama appears less eager to use the military in “nation building” — something George Bush objected to when he ran for president in 2000, but later enthusiastically embraced as a cornerstone of his policies. Statements related to the closing of Gitmo, affording of legal process to detainees, and adherence to Geneva Convention standards have been encouraging.
My obections: (1) Not enough explanations to the citizenry and World of our objectives with respect to Iraq and how Obama intends to keep his promise of getting out of that country; how will these “advisors” function in a truly free Iraq?; (2) increasing troop strength in Afghanistan sends the wrong message about any realistic goals and risks repeating the ill-advised presence of the old USSR. Earlier, Richard had expressed positive policy shifts by finding realistic and non-corrupting uses for Afghanistan’s “poppy” crop. To date, it seems that we have mainly helped establish Hamid Karzai as the “president of Kabul.”
Foreign Policy: C+
Foreign policy of course overlaps with military policy, so I am here loosely restricting the category to situations where we are not actively at war.
I see positives in the shift away from President Bush’s arrogant treatment of the rest of the world. I see more opportunities for use of diplomacy to address world concerns and a much more respectful tone toward leaders of other countries. Statements regarding Iran have been more positive than those uttered in the Bush administration. As well, there have been positive statements regarding the need of Americans to see the Muslim community-at-large in a more positive light.
(1) Obama is not moving fast enough to lay groundwork for resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict; (2) By a careless statement of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding China and human rights, it has come to appear that such rights rights are not much of a priority if they conflict with economic goals; (3) the Obama administration has made confusing statements about NAFTA in the context of foreign policy; and (4) the backtracking on “extraordinary renditions” is not only confusing but a compromise of a principled ideals of a civilzed peoples.
Health Care, Social Security, Education: (no grade yet)
Even before the economic crisis, and not unlike candidates of either party, Obama made more promises than he can keep. He needs to abandon the fraudulent claims carried on by so many Democrats about a Social Security “lockbox” or Social Security “trust fund.” There are no such things except in misleading/untruthful rhetoric. All monies paid in for Social Security or Medicare, for instance, go in the same pot as any other federal revenue funds and are spent as they come in.
Obama cannot keep Social Security promises he made to older and younger generations, as the numbers will never add up without the start of onerous FICA tax rates.
Something needs to be done about health care and the burden not just for the uninsured but the insured of low incomes who face steep deductibles and co-pays. Further, at present, younger generations are paying for health care of older generations on a basis where the current system will not pay the younger generations similar benefits as they get older or retire. A failure to address this discrepancy could lead to a great generational divide that is unhealthy to a pluralistic society nevertheless comitted to overall unity.
I’m not clear about Obama’s plans for Education. What I do know is that “no child left behind” was seriously flawed and the whole system has made me dubious of federal involvement in education, except for a few select programs. Many of the federal mandates regarding education have been “one size fits all” or have encouraged “teaching to the test” instead of more broadly based education. The paper work created has been very wasteful, and the whole system has been subject to great manipulations and sometimes downright dishonesty by individual school districts. I’m more inclined toward “no (or many fewer) strings attached” federal assistance to impoverished school districts and letting the states othersie handle educations needs of their students.
Constitutional Powers of Office: C+
Obama seems much less willing than President Bush to push the envelope on presidential powers under the Constitution. He appears less willing to ignore or bend laws seen as interfering with presidential military or foreign actions.
As noted in Newsweek and numerous other places, once someone goes from being candidate to serving as president, they often are reluctant to give up presidential powers claimed or exerted by prior presidents, even if they objected to those powers while serving in Congress and/or running for president. I don’t see Obama as yet clearly providing that he will not exercise some of the extraordinary powers claimed by the most recent President Bush. In public, Obama has set a tone of greater “openness” and less abusive “secrecy”. However, it doesn’t appear that he has yet clearly denounced, as president, “signing statements” made by President Bush wherein he signed certain acts of legislation but announced he would ignore or not enforce certain provisions without going through a legal challenge to Constitutionality process. Obama has denounced torture and past abusive interrogations, but by not signing on to even fairly minimal investigations into past abuses, he is sending a mixed message that certain prior actions were wrong but that we should just move on. It is not realistic, or perhaps even advisable to expect trials geared toward harsh punishment for abusive and immoral interrogation techniques, but to fail to even investigate and establish some sort of “truth commision” such as proposed by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont seems to send the message that it is wrong to break the law, but we won’t hold anyone accountable for doing so. Now, when a country is meeting the challenges of having been attacked as on September 11, 2001 and the president then gives either direct or indirect orders to engage in certain types of torture, it doesn’t seem quite right to let the highest officials, whether a former president, former Justice department employees or others off “free” and then to just go after those following orders. However, the country needs both to know more of what went on with respect to unlawful interrogations, who authorized them and who participated so that we might never engage in such actions again and that those engaged in such activites, or those who might be called to do so in the future understand that they may be subject to public accountability.
Style you might ask? My answer is that a president’s demeanor, presentation, and way of carrying him or herself in the office makes a lot of difference to ethical and moral dreams and aspirations of the people of both the electing country and the world at large. President Bush came across to me and many others, here and in other countries, as something of a thoughtless bully and as someone with a rather closed mindset. Style in the absence of good policies or solid programs means little, but has a weight of its own for a president seeking genuine solutions and with a listening ear toward the loyal opposition.
My objections: mainly a word of caution that any politician can begin to mistake presidential style alone for performance in office.
This, of course, is not a comprehensive evaluation, and I might very well see things differently, for better or worse, six months to a year from now. These days, a C+ might not be much to brag about. However, I’d rate Obama’s predecessor in the presidency as “earning” a D-.
HT: I decided to add this “Hat Tip” to Rev. Donald Sensing regarding the so-called Social Security “lock box” or “trust.” This has been written about in numerous places and by a wide variety of writers, but since Rev. Sensing, of “Sense of Events” is the latest to remind me about it, I decided I should acknowledge his entry that includes writing on the topic.