Down the Home Stretch- President Obama at the 3/4 Pole
DOWN THE HOME STRETCH- PRESIDENT OBAMA AT THE 3/4 MARK
Barack Obama is in the 6th year of his presidency, 75% down, just 25% to go. How has he been doing so far? It is somewhat hard to tell, given the current political climate in the U.S. Conservatives and FOX News have been blasting away at Mr. Obama since he took office, constantly reminding the country he is the worst ( and they mean the absolute worst) occupant the White House has ever had. One only need watch the Daily Show with Jon Stewart to be given frequent video proof that FOX, in their ardor to belittle the president, lost all credibility long ago, if they ever had any. Not surprisingly, Mr. Obama’s supporters have rallied to his defense, proclaiming most of his actions as historic or monumental, and that he will be remembered as one of our greatest presidents. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, both sides tend to roll out only those facts and figures which support their case, not presenting the whole picture. Truth apparently is also in the eye of the beholder.
Concerning my own personal bias, having voted twice for Barack Obama, I tend to be more critical than if someone I did not cast a ballot for held the office. I helped hire Mr. Obama to lead our nation, and thus hope and expect him to do a good job, just as any employer would for a new employee. The 24 hours news cycle, obviously, makes it difficult to put things in proper perspective. 100 years from now, I doubt anyone will know or care that Mr. Obama once wore a tan suit to a ceremony when maybe a black or blue one might have been more appropriate, and that he held a cup of coffee in his hand while saluting the Marine Honor Guard. Posterity will note, however, what Obama’s major domestic and foreign initiatives were, and how they turned out.
Domestically, Mr. Obama’s three main undertakings were health care, reviving an economy deep in recession, and immigration reform. The primary goals of Obama Care were to give health insurance to those lacking it, and lowering the cost for the already insured. It has unquestionably provided benefits for everybody with a pre-existing condition, who could no longer be denied coverage, and young people under 26 who might remain on their parents’ plan. On the flip side, the roll-out and implementation of the law are hard to judge as anything but abysmal, with a $2 billion overrun in waste and constant website problems. Is the Affordable Care Act actually working? According to the White House, 16 million people have enrolled in the state health exchanges, while critics charge the actual number of newly insured is much lower due to those already with coverage moving to cheaper options, and millions being pushed out of the system by rising costs. If we accept the number at face value, this means around a 30% success rate- 16 million now covered out of an estimated 45 to 50 million uninsured in 2009. Is that good enough for the amount of time and money ( $2 trillion and rising) spent on this measure? The system is also set-up to keep the newly insured figure going up as the penalties for not buying coverage increase each subsequent year. Reasonable health care should not be based on a punishment incentive, but made readily available to all Americans, as it benefits the entire nation. The second objective of Obama Care has not even been touched yet, as the overall cost of insurance keeps rising, with an average 20% increase in premiums since last year.
Mr. Obama inherited an economy deep in the doldrums. What, if any, improvements have been made in the past 6 years? The administration touts 5 million new jobs created, and unemployment down to 5 or 6 percent from a high of 8 or 9 percent. It has also stated frequently how much is being done for the middle class. Here again, the numbers can be deceiving. How many of those 5 million jobs were part-time or low paying, not a livable wage? The unemployment rate does not include those whose benefits ran out, and thus are no longer counted. People who have given up looking for work also do not appear on the charts. The real unemployment rate is estimated at around 11%, still way too high. The biggest negative concerning the status of the economy comes in part from something the White House showcases as a major triumph- the stock market has more than doubled in value since 2009. The average American income, however, has fallen by about $2,000 in the same time frame. Taken together, this means the well-to-do have grown substantially richer, while the middle class and poor are faring significantly worse than 6 years ago. More troubling, some 45 to 50 million people are living in poverty, 1 out of 6 or 7 citizens, with the percentage even greater for children. It is tough to put a positive spin on figures like that. The president’s executive actions on immigration are difficult to evaluate because they only provide a temporary reprieve for 5 million illegals, while being challenged in the courts and Congress. A more comprehensive reform of immigration law needs to be undertaken.
In foreign affairs, Mr. Obama has re-opened relations with formerly off-limits countries such as Myanmar and Cuba. Though providing positive public relations, will the administration follow through to ensure these nations complete their part of the deals- becoming more democratic and improving human rights? Time will tell. The Middle East, of course, has been the center of the president’s attention. The White House seemed to hope the killing of Bin Laden in 2011 might dampen radical Islam, but that obviously has not happened. Things continue to spiral out of control in the Middle East, with no relief in sight. Mr. Obama inherited two wars in the region, and while pushing forward with trying to end them, he has found it a much more difficult task than originally supposed.
A recent disconcerting development is other nations taking advantage of the strained relationship between the president and Congress. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu accepted an invitation to speak before Congress, so he could denounce the nuclear weapons talks being conducted by the administration with Iran. Both Mr. Obama and certain Republican members of Congress also appealed directly to the Iranian people, sending very mixed signals on a subject of extreme importance. Our division may rebound to an Iran possessing atomic bombs, something most probably not to the world’s benefit. Lastly, Mr. Stewart correctly made the observation that our misguided policy in the Middle East over the last 60 years has perhaps reached the point we always wanted- fighting a proxy war there against ourselves. We are assisting the Shiite Iraqis, who are being directed by Iran, to fight ISIS, while, at the same time, supplying the Saudis to battle pro-Iranian rebels in Yemen. A situation so confused, it could make anyone dizzy, including President Obama. Attempting to solve seemingly insolvable problems, however, is part of a president’s job description.
If asked to give a letter grade for Mr. Obama’s first 6 years in office, I would have to regrettably say D, as in disappointing. I wish it were better, and maybe the last two years will be.