Obama: What have the Romans ever done for us?

by Charlie_East_West on May 31, 2013

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After a week’s half term holiday largely spent in the sunshine and also in the company of good friends, I have barely even glanced at the news, social media, emails or texts. It has been a liberating experience. I have however, been lured into a few deep political discussions with friends from all sides of political persuasion.

Once such discussion went as follows: Obama has been a failure. What has he achieved?

So, like red rag to a bull, as always, I argued back in defence of Barack Obama. But, I felt that I was not armed with enough off-the-cuff facts, as I was hunkered down in the deepest darkest Oxfordshire countryside. I even sneaked off to the loo and try and get some additional killer facts from Mr Google on my iphone, but there was no signal. So, I just spouted the usual key points over health care and Bin Laden, and his statesmanlike dignity, and the fact that he is doing a pretty impressive job considering a complex legislature and the road blocks issued by a Republican led Congress.

Now, the radio silence is over and I have a decent broadband connection, I come armed with information. The list of Obama’s achievements is plentiful:-

1. Ordered all federal agencies to undertake a study and make recommendations for ways to cut spending
2. Ordered a review of all federal operations to identify and cut wasteful spending and practices
3. Instituted enforcement for equal pay for women
4. Beginning the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq
5. Families of fallen soldiers have expenses covered to be on hand when the body arrives at Dover Air Force Base
6 Ended media blackout on war casualties; reporting full information
7. Ended media blackout on covering the return of fallen soldiers to Dover AFB; the media is now permitted to do so pending adherence to respectful rules and approval of fallen soldier’s family
8. The White House and federal government are now respecting the Freedom of Information Act
9. Instructed all federal agencies to promote openness and transparency as much as possible
10. Limits on lobbyist’s access to the White House
11. Limits on White House aides working for lobbyists after their tenure in the administration
12. Ended the previous stop-loss policy that kept soldiers in Iraq/Afghanistan longer than their enlistment date
13. Phasing out the expensive F-22 war plane and other outdated weapons systems, which weren’t even used or needed in Iraq/Afghanistan
14. Removed restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research
15. Federal support for stem-cell and new biomedical research
16. New federal funding for science and research labs
17. States are permitted to enact federal fuel efficiency standards above federal standards
18. Increased infrastructure spending (roads, bridges, power plants) after years of neglect
19. Funds for high-speed, broadband Internet access to K-12 schools
20. New funds for school construction
21 The prison at Guantanamo Bay is being phased out (albeit under a new strategy)
22. US Auto industry rescue plan
23. Housing rescue plan
24. $789 billion economic stimulus plan
25. The public can meet with federal housing insurers to refinance (the new plan can be completed in one day) a mortgage if they are having trouble paying
26. US financial and banking rescue plan
27. The secret detention facilities in Eastern Europe and elsewhere are being closed
28. US now has a no torture policy and is in compliance with the Geneva Convention standards
29. Better body armor is now being provided to US troops
30. The missile defense program has been cut
31. Restarted the nuclear nonproliferation talks and building back up the nuclear inspection infrastructure/protocols
32. Reengaged in the treaties/agreements to protect the Antarctic
33. Reengaged in the agreements/talks on global warming and greenhouse gas emissions
34. Visited more countries and met with more world leaders than any president in his first six months in office
35. Successful release of US captain held by Somali pirates; authorized the SEALS to do their job
36. US Navy increasing patrols off Somali coast
37. Attractive tax write-offs for those who buy hybrid automobiles
38. Cash for clunkers program offers vouchers to trade in fuel inefficient, polluting old cars for new cars; stimulated auto sales
39. Announced plans to purchase fuel efficient American-made fleet for the federal government
40. Expanded the SCHIP program to cover health care for 4 million more children
41. Signed national service legislation; expandednational youth service program
42. Instituted a new policy on Cuba, allowing Cuban families to return home to visit family members
43. Ended the previous policy of not regulating and labeling carbon dioxide emissions
44. Expanding vaccination programs
45. Immediate and efficient response to the floods in North Dakota and other natural disasters
46. Closed offshore tax safe havens
47. Negotiated deal with Swiss banks to permit US government to gain access to records of tax evaders and criminals
48. Ended the previous policy of offering tax benefits to corporations who outsource American jobs; the new policy is to promote in-sourcing to bring jobs back
49. Ended the previous practice of protecting credit card companies; in place of it are new consumer protections from credit card industry’s predatory practices
50. Energy producing plants must begin preparing to produce 15% of their energy from renewable sources
51. Lower drug costs for the elderly
52. Ended the previous practice of forbidding Medicare from negotiating with drug manufacturers for cheaper drugs; and therefore, hundreds of millions in savings
53. Increasing pay and benefits for military personnel
54. Improved housing for military personnel
55. Initiating a new policy to promote federal hiring of military spouses
56. Improved conditions at Walter Reed Military Hospital and other military hospitals
57 Increased student loans
58. Increasing opportunities in AmeriCorps program
59. Sent envoys to Middle East and other parts of the world that had been neglected for years; reengaging in multilateral and bilateral talks and diplomacy
60. Established a new cyber security office
61. Beginning the process of reforming and restructuring the military 20 years after the Cold War to a more modern fighting force; this includes new procurement policies, increasing size of military, new technology and cyber units and operations, etc.
62. Ended previous policy of awarding no-bid defense contracts
63. Ordered a review of hurricane and natural disaster preparedness
64. Established a National Performance Officer charged with saving the federal government money and making federal operations more efficient
65. Students struggling to make college loan payments can have their loans refinanced
66. Improving benefits for veterans
67. Many more press conferences and town halls and much more media access than previous administration
68. Instituted a new focus on mortgage fraud
69. The FDA is now regulating tobacco
70. Ended previous policy of cutting the FDA and circumventing FDA rules
71. Ended previous practice of having White House aides rewrite scientific and environmental rules, regulations, and reports
72. Authorised discussions with North Korea and private mission by Bill Clinton to secure the release of two Americans held in prisons
73. Authorised discussions with Myanmar and mission by Senator Jim Web to secure the release of an American held captive
74. Making more loans available to small businesses
75. Established independent commission to make recommendations on slowing the costs of Medicare
76. Appointment of first Latina to the Supreme Court
77. Authorised construction/opening of additional health centers to care for veterans
78. Limited salaries of senior White House aides; cut to $100,000
79. Renewed loan guarantees for Israel
80. Changed the failing/status quo military command in Afghanistan
81. Deployed additional troops to Afghanistan
82. New Afghan War policy that limits aerial bombing and prioritizes aid, development of infrastructure, diplomacy, and good government practices by Afghans
83. Announced the long-term development of a national energy grid with renewable sources and cleaner, efficient energy production
84. Returned money authorised for refurbishment of White House offices and private living quarters
85. Paid for redecoration of White House living quarters out of his own pocket
86. Held first Seder in White House
87. Attempting to reform the nation’s healthcare system which is the most expensive in the world yet leaves almost 50 million without health insurance and millions more under insured
88. Has initiatiated policy towards comprehensive immigration reform
89. Has announced his intention to push for energy reform
90. Has announced his intention to push for education reform

Oh yes, did I mention he passed health care reform?

So, Obama therefore reminds me of the old Monty Python question – “What have the Romans ever done for us?”

Also, I suspect that Obama has one significant last throw of the dice towards immortality – the last two years of his incumbency. He is in effect, already fighting a campaign to ensure that the Republicans lose the 2014 mid term elections and therefore create a path towards unblocked legislation in his last two years of office. Obama’s current approval ratings hover around 51% and there is a 75% disapproval rating with Congress. Only this week Obama stated that, “We’ve got a great chance to take back the House. We’ve got a politics that is stuck right now. And the reason it’s stuck is because people spend more time thinking about the next election than they do thinking about the next generation,”

The 2014 midterms are perhaps the most important election of Obama’s presidency, offering the final opportunity to circumvent a brutal GOP selfishly committed to his failure. The stakes are high. The Democrats will try and maintain the Senate while attempting to take back the House, with the added caveat of gerrymandered Republican districts. To achieve this, the Democrats will need to ensure that African-American, Hispanic and youth voters get out and vote.

His legacy depends on it. I would argue that the midterms in 2014 will be even more important to Obama than any previous election. The 2014 elections will be tight, but Obama is betting the house on change within the house.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

George_East May 31, 2013 at 4:14 pm

I think the chances of the Democrats retaking the House in 14 are very remote indeed, certainly less than 10%.

His biggest domestic successes are Healthcare Reform and, bizarrely given its a negative, not falling for austerity economics (though the stimulus was too small) when it was all the rage. Healthcare reform (now it has passed the Supreme Court challenge) is his historic legacy.

His biggest failure is the continued disgrace that is Guantanamo Bay. After pledging to close it within a year, there it still sits and in truth, there is no strategy to close it.

In historic terms and since Roosevelt constructed the modern presidency: on domestic policy (and entirely because of Healthcare), and in terms of the Democratic Presidents he is probably ahead of Clinton, Carter, Truman and maybe Kennedy. He is way behind FDR and LBJ.

On foreign policy, I’d say he is way behind FDR, Clinton and Truman. Obviously ahead of LBJ and probably ahead of (however well meaning he was) Carter and Kennedy.

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Charlie_East_West May 31, 2013 at 4:31 pm

George – all valid points. On Guantanamo – his biggest fault was a Lib Dem-esque fault – initially promising something he could not really deliver upon.

But, he has consistently tried to do the right thing, has conducted himself impeccably…all within gridlock and an extreme form of bully tactics and roadblocks from the GOP.

Also – he has enabled (through stimulus, infrastructure programmes and auto industry bail out) a turn around in the US economy – which, many thought was beyond his administration.

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George_East May 31, 2013 at 4:43 pm

The auto-industry bail out was impressive and absolutely right. Stimulus was ultimately disappointing – though compared to what has happened both in the UK and Europe over the last few years it looks good. He was advised by his own economics team that it should be in the order of $1.2 Tn; in the end it was more like $715Bn. The result was a netting off, where cuts in state and local spending meant that there wasn’t much stimulus at all.
That is why I phrased my praise on his economic policy in the negative – his achievement is very largely about not being suckered into austerity economics (the godawful bipartisan Bowles-Simpson plan for example) than indulging in the stimulus that was needed. US unemployment is still well over 7% and the loss of productive capacity over the last few years has been enormous.

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Charlie_East_West May 31, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Unemployment is slowly coming down. He had to deal with the dark days of Bush-era fall out of +9% unemployment.

GDP has moved from -4.5% in 2009 to a solid +2% in 2012/13.

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George_East May 31, 2013 at 5:25 pm

I don’t disagree that the US economy is doing better than under Bush, but the overall picture is mixed and that is partly because Obama failed to follow his own advisers in the initial stimulus package. The US is doing well compared to the UK and Europe, but still very poorly by its own historic standards. Indeed there is a real risk now that there is a long term permanent capacity loss.

As Brad Delong notes on his Blog today: “By any economic measure, we are living in disappointing times. In the United States, 7.2% of the normal productive labor currently stands idle”.

I will do a proper blog post on this over the weekend.

Charlie_East_West May 31, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Interesting viewpoint, George – there is a lot in that – but, I do not know what more Obama could have done on stimulus – it was hard enough for him to get the $789 billion through Capitol Hill.

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Ray_ North May 31, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Welcome back Charlie.
A very good post.

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George_East May 31, 2013 at 9:29 pm

He would have got any stimulus package through Congress at the beginning of his presidency. He negotiated against himself , as he did with Healthcare (hence no public option). It is one of his biggest flaws. He’ll end up being a good President who had the potential to be a great President. Not many make it in to the latter category, so there is no disgrace in that.

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