The Beloved Spouse will be happy to tell you I’m no Obama booster. What he says he wants to do is generally what I think needs to be done, but he too often leads from behind. When the Tea Party was savaging the Affordable Care Act for its “death panels” in town hall meetings, shouting down any reasonable discourse, he alone had the pulpit to speak to the nation to describe exactly what end of life counseling is, and how badly many people need it. He didn’t. He did much the same with the original stimulus plan, as well as Dodd-Frank. Their passages were far more due to the efforts of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid than to Obama, but, like the quarterback on a football team, he gets both too much credit and too much blame for the results.
His record on executive decisions is no better. Joe Biden had to (probably inadvertently) shame him into coming out for same sex marriage. He allowed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to go away when he could have ordered it as Commander-in-Chief. (Doing so summarily would have been a tough call, but he could have pushed for it more than he did. As it was, he accepted a fait accompli, hardly a sign of stellar leadership.) Guantanamo still holds prisoners.
On the other hand, he does have accomplishments. The Affordable Care Act is law, and will, over time, prove to be a major advancement in solving our health care problems. Dodd-Frank will help to avoid the kinds of cumulative disasters that led to the crash of 2008. The stimulus, while not big enough to pull us out of the Great Recession, kept things from being worse than they are. He has come around on some things, such as Gay Marriage, instead of digging in his heels.
The facts are, he did quite a bit, and quite possibly would have done more had he faced an opposition interested in governing as a loyal opposition, instead of treating the past four years as a campaign to rid themselves of Barack Obama. This is not a casual excuse on Obama’s behalf. Senate Minority Mitch McConnell publicly stated his prime objective would be to deny Obama a second term. Record numbers of filibusters have shown this to be no idle boast.
Republicans have criticized Obama for not working with them, of failing to reach across the aisle to compromise, yet it is they—especially in the House—who have consistently refused to negotiate in good faith. The prime example comes from the Grand Bargain negotiations between Obama and Speaker John Boehner to reach a deal on the deficit. The original plan was to make one dollar in spending cuts for each dollar of taxes raised. Boehner took that back to the House, and was told in no uncertain terms by the Tea Party wing of his own party—which makes up no more than 20% of the Republican caucus—that it was unacceptable. So Boehner went back and cut a deal for two dollars in cuts for each dollar of revenue. Obama agreed; the Tea party cut him off at the knees again. A three-to-one ratio was offered. Six-to-one.
After a while, the Republicans’ true position came out: no revenue increases at all. The deficit would have to be controlled exclusively through spending cuts, which would fall disproportionately on those who could least afford them. It can only be concluded this was what they had been shooting for all along. The negotiations were shams. Obama’s primary fault was in allowing himself to be jerked around for as long as he did.
This brings the argument full circle, to a lack of leadership. He didn’t spend his political capital when he had some, which was right after the 2008 election, when he had an enthusiastic base and ample majorities in both houses. Political capital does not gather interest if ignored; it withers like an unused muscle. When Democrats lost the House in 2010, Obama was more interested in conciliation than in leadership, only becoming vocal on the situation when the presidential campaign began in earnest. Say what you want about Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush had far better leadership skills. He may have led this country off a cliff, but he knew how rally the troops.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about Mitt Romney.