Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Max, isn't there anything President Obama's done wrong?

Not really, no.

For a long time now, I have truly been unable to fathom the "disappointment" with President Obama. (At least from my fellow lefties.)

I think he's well on track towards having the best presidency since FDR's. (Yes, I think he's probably been a better president than the great Harry Truman.)

In terms of the positive side of the ledger:

1) The stimulus.

Sure, it should have been bigger... But whatever the critics now say, it did what it was supposed to do and saved us from a second Great Depression. (Don't believe me? Take a look at James Surowiecki's brilliant Financial Page essay in the New Yorker last month.)

2) TARP.

Yes, this was technically born in the Bush administration but President Obama took control of the program, and instituted it in much smarter ways than the previous administration. Half of the TARP funds were doled out under President Obama, and he used it to save (and restructure) the auto industry. Without his leadership on this, rust belt states would be suffering even more than they are now. (I also don't feel like it's necessary to give Bush any props on this -- it's a little like trying to give credit to the guy who lends you a hose after he burnt half your house down.)

3) The Financial Reform bill.

The largest overhaul of the financial industry since the Great Depression. This is a bill that will put hundreds of billions of dollars in waste back in the hands of consumers, not banks and credit card companies. A landmark piece of legislation.

4) Healthcare.

The biggest piece of domestic legislation since the Great Society... Something that will truly change America for the better. (Not to mention reduce the deficit by $100 billion over the next decade.) This was the Xmas wish that every liberal was waiting for... and we got it.

This is not even mentioning education, making college loans cheaper, and the hundreds of other problems that the administration has been dealing with (quite well, in my mind).

So why the hell all the glum faces?!

There are a few major pieces of unfinished business: Immigration, for example, has not been dealt with yet. (But I suspect that's an instance in which the President will pick off a couple of sensible Republicans after election fever dies down.) Moreover, the administration hasn't gotten to where I'd like to see it in Foreign Policy (however, that's an incredibly tough needle to thread... and he certainly hasn't been 1/100th as awful as George W. Bush.)

... but just because these things are unfinished does not mean that they are dead and buried. I suspect that all of these things will be dealt with either in the second half of this term, or early in his second term.

But, OK, if you're looking to take potshots, I'll give you one area of disappointment and substantive criticism of the President and the 111th Congress: I think they've dropped the ball on climate change.

Ryan Lizza has a terrific piece about this in last week's New Yorker. It's a little inside baseball, but it looks like there was a real opportunity to reduce our carbon emissions, and that opportunity went straight out the window. And this is not necessarily because of Republican obstructionism, either: Lindsey Graham and a few other moderates were willing to cut a deal. As were the monster right wing lobbying firms -- including the Chamber of Commerce. (I was sort of shocked to read that.)

This was a case of a political failure -- and President Obama deserves some of the blame. It's well worth the read. (The funniest part of the article is when Joe Lieberman tries to take credit for something Graham wanted in the bill: He calls the American Trucking Association to tell them that the bill includes $8 billion for a new highway fund. Instead of thanking him, they asked him for double the amount.)

I suppose you never know -- this might come back. But right now this doesn't look very good. And it's not a problem that can wait much longer.

That being said, President Obama's still a rock star.