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A Response to Common Accusations Against President Obama
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President Obama is the Worst President Ever. (Yeah, right.)
Some people choose a political party. For others, the political party chooses them. If you ask me, I am a political moderate. People on both extremes of the political spectrum frighten me. But depending on the historical era, I would find myself in a different political party. During the Civil War and Reconstruction eras, I would probably be a Republican. In the 1930’s, I would likely be a Democrat. Over the course of history, both parties have changed their positions on issues and shifted to different locations on the ideological continuum.
When I first registered to vote, largely through the influence of my father and the image of Ronald Reagan, I signed up as a Republican. A few years later, due to the influence of some of those stereotypical, liberal college professors, my views shifted a bit, and I became a Democrat. Through the 1990’s, like many Americans, I was relatively disengaged politically, not staunchly devoted to either party. But when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred, and I began teaching at the community college level, I decided it was time to be more informed about current events. Now, as I drive from school to school, NPR is playing in the background instead of the Rolling Stones and The Who. And through reading, teaching, and writing, in spite of how frustrated I get with many of the people I come across, I find myself thinking about politics more than ever.
As I reflect upon the last thirty years of history, one thing is fairly clear. The country, with the Republican Party leading the way, has shifted to the right. This has been particularly true in recent years, with the rise of the Tea Party indicating the strength of the libertarian wing of the party. And the social conservatives, who have been so crucial to Republican success over the past few decades, disturb me even more than the libertarians. So as I have heard several conservatives say in recent years, I have not drifted away from the Republican Party. Instead, the party has drifted away from me. Therefore, I might as well face it. I am a Democrat by default. So instead of trying to present an unbiased, balanced viewpoint as I have in past blog posts and in my book, I have decided that it is time to get a bit partisan. For while both sides of the political spectrum have been more than a bit extreme and exaggerated in their attacks on the other side, I seem to come across more extremist conservatives arguing that the Obama administration may be the worst in American History.
This post, therefore, is not an attempt to argue that Obama is a great president. Instead, it is a response to common attacks that, in my view, are rooted in extremist political rhetoric, caricatures, and exaggerations continually repeated by Fox News, conservative talk radio hosts, and the kings of conspiracy: right-wing bloggers. For anyone who believes that the Obama administration is the worst of all time has a pretty limited knowledge of history.
1) “Obama is engaged in class warfare.” Apparently, this is a reference to Obama’s plan to allow tax cuts to end on high-income earners and to raise long-term capital gains taxes. So if raising tax rates from 35% to 39.6% and capital gains from 15% to 20% constitutes class warfare, then you have to wonder about some of those socialists who ran past administrations. From the 1930’s until the 1970’s, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, income tax rates on top earners ranged from 63% to a high of 91%, and long-term capital gains taxes ranged from 25% to 40%. Apparently, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford were engaged in class warfare.
And even Ronald Reagan, who helped bring income tax rates on top earners down from 70% to 28%, supported raising capital gains taxes to 28%, arguing that income on investments should be taxed at the same rate as other income. So even he, apparently, had a little class warrior in him.
2) “Obama is a socialist.” If he is a socialist, he is a really crappy one. At the moment, we have reached levels of wealth inequality not seen since the 1920’s, the largest banks control a higher percentage of financial assets than ever before, and as Paul Ryan keeps reminding us, the poverty rate is the highest that it has been in a generation. If he were a real socialist, he would nationalize the banks and other major industries, put people to work with a fair wage, and start spreading that wealth around through government decree.
It's unfortunate that we don’t have a hard-core liberal like Richard Nixon around anymore. Here was a guy who signed into law the Environmental Protection Agency, OSHA, the Clean Air and Water Acts, and steady increases in welfare spending. And when gas prices got too high and inflation grew out of control, he implemented both wage and price controls to keep prices in check, eliminating what was left of the gold standard in the process. Now that’s what I call a liberal socialist. Too bad that he was carrying out “dirty tricks” and spewing a mountain of lies that make the Obama people look like saints.
3) “The Fast and the Furious is the worst scandal in recent memory.” I am no expert, but my understanding is that the justice department, in some ill-conceived attempt to go after Mexican drug cartels, managed to supply these cartels with a bunch of high-powered weapons. I guess that we can chalk this up to another moment of gross government incompetence. Of course, if you follow the logic of gun advocates, then members of drug cartels, like all criminals, are going to get guns regardless of any government regulations. This is supposedly why law-abiding citizens must be allowed to amass all of the firepower that they can. Somehow, I get the feeling that the “fast and the furious” had little impact on the ability of drug cartels to get guns.
Of course, for some people, the big scandal was Obama’s invocation of executive privilege to avoid handing over documents that would disclosi internal deliberations regarding this topic. Suddenly, the guy who criticized Bush for his love of executive privilege found himself resorting to the same arguments. Hard-core Republicans, however, like Democrats, are only outraged by the standard practice of withholding internal deliberations when the other party is doing it.
But is this one of the worst scandals in recent memory? This is only true if you have a short memory. The Iraq War, with its mass squandering of human lives and money, misplaced weapons, lack of post-war planning, and damage to our nation’s reputation, was a fiasco that makes the “fast and the furious” look like child’s play. I also seem to recall the heavily mythologized Reagan administration selling weapons to Iran to secure the release of hostages (while simultaneously bankrolling Saddam Hussein and the Mujahideen.) And I haven’t even mentioned all of the crap done under J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI or by the CIA during the Cold War. In the annals of American scandal and incompetence, the “fast and the furious” does not make the top fifty.
4) “Obama is eliminating the work requirements in the 1996 welfare reform act.” I will let “factcheck.org” dispel this exaggeration. They do this job full-time, and conservatives might be more willing to read their stuff than the ravings of a "crazed liberal" like me. So see the link below.
5) “What about Solyndra?” The government gave A $535 million loan to a solar energy company that went bankrupt. But the main reason that this became a big story was that the Obama people foolishly chose this company for a photo op touting his credentials on alternative energy. So when Solyndra went bankrupt, it became a photo op for Obama’s critics. But it is important to keep things in perspective. $535 million is chicken feed compared to some of the money that the federal government has blown over the years. (The budget is about $3.8 trillion, for God’s sake.) Plus, most of the Department of Energy loans given out in recent years have not gone belly up. In my view, the success of the loans given to American auto companies more than offsets a few poorly conceived investments in energy companies. And if the government stops subsidizing energy companies entirely, we will have some pissed off oil companies on our hands.
6) “Obama is anti-Israel.” If anyone who criticizes the policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu is anti-Israel, then there are a large number of Israelis and Jewish-Americans who are anti-Israel. In fact, if we follow this line of reasoning, then anyone who criticizes President Obama’s policies must be anti-American. For some Americans, Israel is apparently the only country on earth that deserves unconditional support from the United States. I doubt that an American leader would be classified as anti-British or anti-Canadian if he or she said anything critical about these nations. And if criticizing Israel makes you anti-Jewish, then pointing out flaws about Saudi Arabia makes you anti-Muslim.
I have more to say about the stimulus package, tax rates, budget cuts to states and cities, the national debt, and health care reform, but these are posts unto themselves (and will require me to review some more economic statistics.) If anyone cares about my views on health care, there is a link at the end of this hub.
Otherwise, I’ll have more coming soon, hopefully before Election Day. But if I don't get around to all of these topics, that is OK. I am supposed to be a history teacher, not an expert on current events. And I increasingly get the feeling that come next January, the Obama administration will be history. After all, if Republicans have been able to convince large numbers of people that Barrack Obama is the worst president of all time, it is clear that they do a better job of telling stories than Democrats.