Posted by: David Offutt | February 20, 2012

Presidents’ Day: Grading Obama on Bush’s Legacy

Presidents’ Day, February 20, honors all those who have served as our Chief Executive. Four years ago at this time, I wrote a piece in which I assessed the legacy of George W. Bush and listed 12 specific issues that he was leaving for the next President. I thought it might be fun to quote each of those issues and give a grade to President Barack Obama as to how he has met each challenge and/or how much he has differed from Mr. Bush, whom I rated as an F minus.

Mr. Bush entered office facing four major issues that he largely ignored or made worse because of disinterest. This is one of the reasons that the Bush-Cheney years are known as the “Lost Decade.”

“First, of course, is the urgency for the U.S. to become the leader in solving global warming.” At least Mr. Obama recognizes the problem; but he hasn’t been able to compete with the polluters’ lobbyists, pass the John McCain-Joe Lieberman Cap and Trade Bill, or achieve a concrete international treaty to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Score: D

“The second issue is that of achieving universal healthcare.” We needed Medicare for everyone or something based on the Clinton Era reforms of the veterans’ hospitals. We got essentially what Republicans asked for – and then opposed: an individual mandate to keep down costs with health insurance administered by for-profit insurance companies. It’s Romneycare from Massachusetts as recommended by the Heritage Foundation. Though far from ideal, Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act accomplished what both Roosevelts, Truman, Nixon, and Clinton knew we needed for a hundred years but failed to get. Score: A

“The third issue is the need to get Osama bin Laden.” Obama resurrected the hunt to find the al Qaida leader and gave the order to send in the Navy SEALs. The mass murderer is dead. Score: A

“The fourth essential goal was to use the Clinton surplus to continue paying off the Reagan-Bush debt, which had tripled the debt of all previous administrations combined. Now we have to pay off the Bush-Cheney debt…” When I wrote that in February 2008, most of us didn’t know that the Great Recession had begun in December 2007. In fact, I only made a passing reference to “the pending recession”! Then Lehman Brothers collapsed in March 2008, and the bottom fell out in September.

Fortunately, Barack Obama realized that saving jobs trumped the debt issue. Resolving the Bush-Cheney debt and the costs of ending the Great Recession will require ending the unnecessary and irresponsible Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest and the return to 5 % unemployment or less. Obama’s modest stimulus bill stopped the bleeding of jobs within a year and led to the current two years of gradual private sector job growth. Obama also saved the American auto industry and its corresponding jobs. It’s important to remember that he did this against great obstruction by the Fox-Republican-TEA Party.

The so-called bikini curve is the two years of the Great Recession. The two years of slow private sector growth have been accompanied by layoffs in the public sector (like teachers) on the state levels.

Unfortunately, Obama caved in to Republican threats to let the U.S. default on its debts and agreed to renew the counterproductive Bush tax cuts on the upper 2 % incomes. Those tax cuts were set to expire at the end of 2010, and until that’s done we can’t possibly achieve a full recovery and/or begin to pay off the Bush-Cheney debts! Score: B

I then listed eight more “new issues that the Bush-Cheney Regime…created.”(1) “Extricating our troops from the Iraq civil war”: The last U.S.troops pulled out of Iraq in December 2011 as negotiated by Bush-Cheney. Score: A

(2) “Preventing the Taliban from regaining control of Afghanistan”: We won’t know for years how this will come out, but our defense secretary Leon Panetta has announced plans to remove our troops in 2014. Score: B

(3) “Mending our tarnished reputation abroad – partly because of torture, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo”: Our international reputation has certainly improved. Mr. Obama may have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace just for not being George W. Bush! He’s prohibited torture during his tenure but has failed to prevent its use by future less-principled Presidents. He promised to close the notorious Guantanamo prison; but it’s still open, and we continue to have scores of prisoners who have never been charged with crimes! Score: C

Elizabeth Warren was the strongest voice in the creation of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. Consequently, the Republican minority threatened a filibuster if Obama were to nominate her to head the agency. She is currently running for Ted Kennedy’s former Senate seat against incumbent Scott Brown.

(4) “Helping those who are losing their homes due to foreclosures … Bush will leave us with the Subprime Mortgage Fiasco”: Foreclosures have continued. The Obama administration only this month negotiated a settlement for massive bank foreclosure frauds. It looks like the five mega-banks will get off easier than is fair to their victims, but the victims will get some compensation. The best news is the creation of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to prevent home buyers from being exploited in the future. Score: D

(5) “Appointing mainstream justices to our federal courts to counter Bush’s radical and reactionary appointees”: The U.S. Senate has confirmed 126 of Obama’s nominees to federal courts. The Republicans are currently filibustering 40 nominees. Most importantly, Mr. Obama appointed two moderates to the U.S. Supreme Court: Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Score: A

(6) “Regenerating morale at the Department of Justice and returning its mission to enforcing the laws in a non-partisan manner instead of helping Republicans get elected”: Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department has been trying so hard to appear non-partisan that it has failed to bring  justice to those involved in the torture policies of the Bush-Cheney administration and in the economic meltdown shenanigans of Wall Street. Score: C

The Senate Republicans tried to prevent the U.S. Consumer Protection Bureau from functioning by never approving the appointment of a director for the agency. Obama filled the position with Richard Cordray by way of a recess appointment.

(7) “Reestablishing competence in all other departments of the executive branch – FEMA’s ineptitude after Katrina was symptomatic of the overall scheme to use cronies and corporate apparatchiks to prevent our government agencies from doing the work that taxpayers expected”: To end a Republican filibuster, Obama had to make a recess appointment to get the first director of the new Consumer Finance Protection Bureau! Score: B

(8) “Reversing Bush’s anti-conservationist policies that have jeopardized our national parks, refuges, forests, and other public lands”: Science, facts, and studies are at least being considered again. Score: B

Liberals, moderates, and independents have understandably been disappointed that the President has not accomplished everything they expected him to do. He is certainly no Franklin Roosevelt!  Those who were content with the way things were going have tried very hard to prevent his doing anything. Overall, on the issues he inherited, I think Obama has earned a B minus.

by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published March 1, 2012, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.


  1. I KNEW you were going to post the “jobs created” data to try to make Obama look good.

    “Jobs created” is a meaningless statistic. 3 part time temporary low wage jobs are not equal to 1 full time steady union job. Yet, if we are to believe the O-bots and their “jobs created” charts, we must have jobs up the kazoo.

    The BLS’s unemployment data has been a joke ever since Clinton stopped counting discouraged workers. Every time new unemployment data is released, economists have a field day guessing what the “real” unemployment rate is, because no one actually believes the BLS number.

    For all those reasons, Paul Krugman and other economists prefer to look at the labor participation rate for prime-age workers. It’s at a 30 year low. Grade: F

    Debt: The national debt has not been a problem since our last liberal president, Richard Nixon, wisely took us off the gold standard (as Keynes had advocated). In fact, our budget deficit needs to be far larger. Keynes advised FDR to increase deficit spending, but FDR was a balanced budget conservative and tried to reduce the deficit once the worst of the depression had passed, resulting in the 1937 double dip recession. FDR learned his lesson and afterwards went full throttle on Keynesian deficit spending. Even Nixon embraced Keynesian economics.

    Obama rejects Keynes and instead embraces Milt Friedman style Neoliberalism — cutting the deficit, privatizing government services, and reducing regulations. Obama refused to listen to his own economic advisor, Christina Romer. Instead Obama takes economic advice from non-economist David Plouffe, who encourages him to “go big” on debt reduction, including slashing SS/Medicare. Grade: F

    Universal health care — O-care is not universal health care. If and when O-care actually goes online, millions of Americans will still be without health care. The % of Americans with insurance has actually dropped since Obama took office, because unemployed people don’t get insurance, nor do the people working at those temporary part time jobs that O-bots are so proud of. Many states have been forced to slash their Medicaid programs because of the recession. Meanwhile, Obama calls for even more cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. Grade: F

    Iraq: we still have troops in Iraq. More importantly, the CIA and its murderous drones are still in Iraq, along with special forces and mercenaries — and in god knows how many other countries. Obama’s war strategy has been to replace boots on the ground with drones in the air, and to replace regular troops with special forces and mercenaries. Conveniently, neither the CIA, the drones, the special forces, or the mercenaries are accountable to the American people. We are not told what they are doing. We are not told how much it costs. This is 100% incompatible with democracy. The drones, like all air warfare, kill many non-combatants and generate hatred toward America. Our wars have killed far more people than Al Qaeda. As MLK said, and it is still true, we are the biggest purveyor of violence in the world today. Grade: F

    Afghanistan: we are still building new bases in Afghanistan. Furthermore, we have expanded the war into Pakistan, destabilizing that nuclear power. Way to go, Obama ! When Panetta says he plans to draw down troops, what he means is that he will draw down “regular” troops and replace them with special forces, CIA, drones, and mercenaries. That is the Obama strategy all over the world. Wake up !

    Re: the Taliban. What business is it of ours who controls Afghanistan ? And remember who helped the Taliban come to power — WE DID ! ! ! We do not have a coherent foreign policy, then or now. Grade: F

    Meanwhile, we have allied with Al Qaeda fighters in Libya and Syria. Al Qaeda was our ally before 9/11, and they are our ally today. Repeat: we have no coherent foreign policy.

    OBL: if assassinating OBL has made us safer, then why can’t we eliminate the DHS and TSA and the CIA, end all the foreign wars, and close the foreign military bases ? Instead, the police state and the spy state continue to expand. Grade: F

    DOJ: Holder used to work for the banksters, so he has a conflict of interest. “Trying hard to appear non-partisan ?” Get real, David. Holder is a crook. The latest mortgage agreement is a back door bank bailout, using tax payer funds and teacher’s pension funds (that are invested in MBS’s) to bail out the banks. This is the Harding administration all over again. Grade: F

    Environment: you neglected to mention Obama’s “frack, baby, frack” energy policy. Or that his foreign policy, to the extent that it has a coherent purpose, seems designed to secure pipeline routes in Asia and Africa, so we can continue to have an oil-based economy. Or his mishandling of the BP oil spill. Grade: F

    The bottom line is, voters gave Obama a mandate to end the wars and to fix the economy. Instead, he squandered his political capital on an unpopular health care program to please the insurance companies that donated to his campaign. Instead of quickly ending Bush’s foolish wars, Obama gave us “surges.” He has started new wars, and he continues to build new foreign military bases, while he neglects the economy at home. Instead of pushing for Keynesian deficit spending, Obama pushes for deficit cuts that only a Herbert Hoover would love.

    On domestic issues, Obama is to the right of Richard Nixon. Nixon was a flaming liberal compared to Obama. If you are on going to give Obama a B minus, then Nixon deserves an A plus. Apparently, we are grading presidents on the curve these days ? ? ?

    Personally, I give Obama an F, only because there is no lower score. He is simply clueless. He might have made a passable “caretaker” president in good times, if all he had to do was make boring speeches and go golfing with his banker buddies, but our country is in a deep crisis. I agree with Paul Krugman that we are in a D-E-P-R-E-S-S-I-O-N. We are increasingly becoming a fascist state, with never ending police powers at home, never ending wars and imperialism abroad, and never ending corporate influence. We needed an FDR, but instead we got Bush’s 3rd term.

    Sorry for the long rant, but . . . I’m quite sure my 11th grade history teacher would have wanted me to take a strong stand on these issues. I don’t want to disappoint him.

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