By Bob Cesca: Paul Glastris from the Washington Monthly wrote a piece for the magazine's forthcoming issue that praises the Obama presidency. I hope he's prepared for the onslaught of screeching from various unhinged hipsters tarring him as an "Obamabot." Meanwhile, Kevin Drum from Mother Jones tamped down some of Glastris' enthusiasm but mostly concurred with the analysis.
At the risk of inviting the wrath of anti-Obama liberals, I wanted to add to the discussion as someone who firmly believes the first Obama term to be an historically successful one -- but approach it from a different angle.
First, I'd like to preface with a clear illustration of what I mean by "anti-Obama liberals." It's okay to criticize the president. You don't need my permission to do it, of course, because it's part of being a responsible American. The president, irrespective of who it might be, is worthy of criticism and accountability. Where liberals go wrong is when we seek out (and in some cases exaggerate or fabricate) gripes for the sake of being one of the too-hip-for-room cool kids. Look at me! I'm criticizing a Democrat because I'm independently minded! By way of a recent example, on his show last week Jon Stewart criticized President Obama for not closing the prison at Guantanamo -- even though the president issued the order, but Congress failed to pay for the closing. This was inexplicably crow-barred into a segment about the laughable new Breitbart video of the president during his years at Harvard Law. While I like Stewart, this incongruous attack came off as a self-conscious pander to anti-Obama liberals, and, ultimately, it was inaccurately presented. That was the sort of unfair liberal analysis I'm referencing.
But back to the Glastris piece and Drum's reaction. While Glastris wrote an extended list of accomplishments, Drum tried to condense the list down to 10 really important items, but found the exercise to be impossible so the list ended up being 13 items.
1. Passed Health Care Reform
2. Passed the Stimulus
3. Passed Wall Street Reform
4. Ended the War in Iraq
6. Eliminated Osama bin Laden
7. Turned Around US Auto Industry
9. Repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
12. Reversed Bush Torture Policies
14. Kicked Banks Out of Federal Student Loan Program
16. Boosted Fuel Efficiency Standards
18. Passed Mini Stimuli (July 22, 2010; December 17, 2010; December 23, 2011)
22. Created Conditions to Begin Closing Dirtiest Power Plants
27. Achieved New START Treaty
I'll take it one step further in terms of simplicity. There's a single major accomplishment that transcends list-making and it ought be the centerpiece of every discussion about the president's first term. And here it is. Nine words.
President Obama rescued the economy from another Great Depression.
And he did so despite considerable opposition and with the calm, cool leadership required in such precarious times.
That's huge. It's impossible to highlight it enough. The president prevented what might have been a global financial collapse. At the very least, his actions on, 1) the stimulus, 2) Wall Street reform (aka. "Dodd-Frank"), 3) the rescue of the auto industry and 4) healthcare reform, along with the "Mini Stimuli" in July, 2010, have all contributed to a significantly stronger American economy in the long run while mitigating and reversing a deepening economic disaster in 2009. We can see it illustrated on every economic chart available from the CBO.
If the president did nothing else with his time in office and was only able to, you know, rescue the economy from another Great Depression, I believe his presidency would be counted as a successful one given this one very serious accomplishment.
Not to compare apples to supremely incompetent oranges, but the meme about how we'd be living in shanty towns using a Mad Max barter system if McCain-Palin had won in 2008 isn't too far off the mark. Such an administration might have passed something similar to the Bush stimulus from early 2008, which only included tax rebates, tax incentives and, strangely, anti-immigrant language. Who knows what the hell brand of nonsense would have been produced from the McCain administration. Maybe another war? Maybe nothing at all.
In terms of the Obama agenda on the economic meltdown, it's ultimately academic whether a larger stimulus would have been better or if there should've been fewer middle class tax cuts in the stimulus. The fact remains that the stimulus reversed a very destructive path into economic oblivion. Had McCain-Palin won the day, it's quite likely that a world of destruction would have ensued. Likewise, who knows if Hillary Clinton or John Edwards would have been able to pass a larger stimulus given the McCarthyite screeching from the Republican Party and the stubborn votes of the conservadems. It's safe to say the outcome would have been about the same (and it's worth noting that Edwards would have also been dealing with a presidency-poisoning sex/cancer/baby scandal during his first several months in office -- smack in the middle of that economic ground zero).
Regardless of the finer points, and to repeat, President Obama's policies turned a steep economic decline into steady long-term growth which, by the way, isn't based around quick-fix bubble economics.
All of his other accomplishments, while vitally important, are gravy in comparison to the magnitude of this one thing.