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.
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
(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
(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.