Friday, January 8, 2016

Obama's Second Term, Success or Failure?

Days after President Obama was re-elected, my dismayed cousin, a vocal conservative, posted a request—I've copied much of it here—on his Facebook Timeline.
Just an open letter to all my friends and family who voted for president O'Bama. From here on out I am asking just a little favor. I would like to know how I am suppose to measure his successes.... You create the criteria and then stick by it. YOU tell me what success is in O'Bama's presidency so that I can measure it.... How will you have me measure it? Starting ...NOW. Oh... and by the way...not opinions... source each "success" with an article that supports your statement that he has succeeded in the categories that you have previously defined.
Earlier this week, I remembered that I'd responded to his appeal. I couldn't recall what I'd written, however; so, out of curiosity, I looked up my response, to see if, in fact, the president, whom I have come to regard as an extraordinary success, had met my criteria for success as I'd set it forth on that particular day. A year remains in his presidency, of course, and history makes clear that anything can happen, just about. Nevertheless, below I've pasted what I wrote, formatted here as an organized checklist, with my evaluation of his performance. I have provided links for the sources in support of my evaluation, as my cousin requested.

Measurement 1

By the end of Obama's second term, I would like Romney's effective tax rate to be at least as high as mine. I don't think that millionaires should be paying lower effective tax rates than the middle class, as they often do now. I would like to see a simpler, more progressive tax code. Under Eisenhower, a Republican, the maximum marginal tax rate was a staggering 91% (yet Obama is called a socialist). Under Nixon it was 70%. Under Reagan it was 50%. Under Clinton it was 39%. Obama wants to return us to Clinton. That seems, at a minimum, eminently reasonable.

Outcome: Taxes are still lower than they should be for the wealthiest Americans, but they have gone up, and Romney's effective tax rate is now, in all likelihood, at least as high as mine. Therefore, Success.


Measurement 2

I would like human-driven climate change, which is a scientific fact, to be addressed with the seriousness it deserves in our national political conversation. I would like to see a carbon tax in order to fund renewable energy technologies going forward. It's nonsensical to base the future of one's civilization on a nonrenewable, rapidly deleting resource. (I'm not confident this will happen, I confess. About half the country thinks of science the way I think of Zeus.)

Outcome: The Paris Accord is an historic step forward. No carbon tax, however. Therefore, Partial Success.

Measurement 3

I would like the private sector to continue to grow, as it did under Obama, and I would like the public sector to continue to shrink, as did under Obama—both trends representing a 180 degree change from trends under Bush. Obama-specific policies, after all, have increased the federal deficit less than any president's since Eisenhower—most of the spending under Obama first four years was driven by policies (like food stamps) put in place long before he arrived, in response to an economic crisis that he didn't create.

Outcome: Private sector jobs have grown dramatically under Obama, but public sector jobs have now begun to grow as well, very slightly. Therefore, Partial Success.

Measurement 4

I would like see my brother's right to marry the person of his choosing to be recognized as constitutional right.

Measurement 5

I would like to see national incarceration rates decline.

Measurement 6

At present 1% of the population owns 83% of all stocks. I would like to see that number go down. If it does, that would suggest that the middle class's economic power is expanding, which it hasn't done since Carter.

Outcome: The wealthiest Americans still own most stocks, but stock ownership has grown among middle-class Americans, slightly. Therefore, Partial Success.


Measurement 7

I would like to see access to healthcare continue to expand. In this regard I follow Churchill, the 20th century's greatest conservative: healthcare is a national security issue and should be treated as such. The government is responsible for national security. Restricting that role to external enemies while disregarding internal enemies—which kill many more of us than external enemies—makes no sense. Your neighbor living or dying shouldn't be an opportunity for personal profit—it should be seen as a communal, moral responsibility.

Measurement 8

I would like to see a fair, humane solution to immigration.

Outcome: Obama has used executive orders to mitigate the destructive effects of our inhumane immigration policies. But executive orders are not a long-term solution. Therefore, Partial Success.

Measurement 9

I would like to see us pull back from our role as global police force and continue to expand our commitment to diplomacy. I would like to see defense spending decline. I believe that Eisenhower's warning about the military-industrial complex representing a direct threat to the health of our democracy has, sadly, gone unheeded.

Outcome: Obama has favored diplomacy over occupation and global policing, he has declined to enter into a large-scale ground war in the Middle East, and he has cut defense spending. Therefore, Success.


Measurement 10

I would like to see us continue to cut our nuclear arsenal.

Outcome: Fewer warheads, but a commitment to modernize our nuclear arsenal rather than radically cut it. Therefore, Partial Success.


Measurement 11

I would like to see Obama include conservatives in his cabinet. I expect that one of them will be John Huntsman.

Outcome: Not the person I had in mind, and ultimately something of a failure, but Obama gave me what I asked for. Therefore, Success.


Measurement 12

I would like to see Obama continue to behave with dignity and decency in the face of hysterical and baseless claims about his politics, his personal history, and his love for this country. I suspect that some of this hysteria is the product of racism, frankly.

Outcome: Success.

Source: The last seven years.

Measurement 13

Which leads me to my last wish: that the views of Obama and his supporters be treated as the reasonable consequence of intelligent people who want to see this country prosper. We are not Fox News's idea of us. I'm pretty sure that Republicans aren't MSNBC's idea of them. So I hope Romney's supporters proceed from the premise that Obama and his supporters are people of goodwill, with an idea of America that is optimistic, patriotic, and pragmatic. It's true that many of us aren't taking orders from Romney's God. But we respect your right to do that, and we appreciate your point of view, insofar as it doesn't mischaracterize who we are and what we stand for.

Outcome: Despite all of the above, Abject Failure.

Source: My cousin's Facebook Timeline.

In summary: Obama has achieved either Success or Partial Success in all twelve measurements.

In other words, I have, like tens of millions of other Americans, gotten what I voted for. Well done, Mr. President.

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