Rolling Stone has a great article about Barack Obama in its October 18th edition called "The Case for Obama". In it, author Tim Dickinson points out eight key areas that the president has succeeded and succeeded beyond any president in the past five decades.
[W]hen the history of this administration is written, Obama's opening act is likely to be judged as more impressive than any president's — Democrat or Republican — since the mid-1960s. "If you're looking at the first-two-year legislative record," says [conservative American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman] Ornstein, "you really don't have any rivals since Lyndon Johnson — and that includes Ronald Reagan."
He also says that, while some had thought Obama was a "beautiful loser", he has, in fact, been an "ugly winner" because, despite his historic successes, he has failed to communicate them well to Americans.
Here are the eight points Dickinson points to as major successes of the Obama administration in its first two years.
1. Averting a Depression
Dickinson maintains that, despite a higher-than-expected unemployment rate throughout 2010, the Recovery Act averted a catastrophic depression. He also points out that, despite criticisms by liberals that it should have been, bigger, if you consider the additional legislation that has been passed in conjunction with it, Obama's efforts to stimulate the economy has actually been at or even above the trillion dollar level many said it should be.
"The stimulus did what it was supposed to do," says Mark Zandi, the chief economist for Moody's and a former adviser to John McCain. "It ended the Great Recession and it jump-started a recovery."
Republican critics have blasted the Recovery Act as a failure because it did not hold unemployment below eight percent, as the president's economic advisers had promised. And liberal economists accused Obama of failing to fight hard enough to enact a bigger stimulus that would have saved more jobs. But...should Obama secure passage of two new programs he has proposed — $50 billion in infrastructure spending and $200 billion in tax breaks for investments in new equipment — he will have surpassed the $1 trillion stimulus that many liberal economists believed from the beginning was necessary.
2. Sparking Recovery
Here Dickinson contends that the Recovery Act was more than just a "stimulus", it was an investment in a new path forward for the USA.
[T]he stimulus was far more than macroeconomic medicine. As conceived by the White House, the Recovery Act was not only intended to address the economic catastrophe at hand, it was simultaneously designed to make investments critical to reviving the middle class and improving America's long-term competitiveness.
"This wasn't a stimulus bill," says Van Jones, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who served as Obama's green-jobs czar. "A stimulus is what you do when you think you've got a short, V-shaped problem in the economy and you want to deliver a jolt to reset to business as usual. A recovery program is what you need when business as usual is no longer possible." […]
"If you passed each of those as separate pieces of legislation," says Ornstein, of the American Enterprise Institute, "that in and of itself would make for a very significant record of accomplishment." Seen through this prism, the stimulus alone represents a strikingly progressive presidential legacy — rivaling the biggest reforms of the Clinton presidency. And it passed on Obama's 24th day in office.
3. Saving Detroit
Dickinson waxes nearly poetical in describing how effective the Obama Administration's rescue of the auto industry was.
[T] he president…made a $60 billion bet on the future of the U.S. auto industry — and hit the jackpot…After pushing his team to lay out a plan that would not simply bail out the auto industry with condition-free cash, as Bush had done, but to use the government's leverage over automakers to set them on a more competitive course, Obama literally went for broke. […]
"The bailout of the auto industry protected against absolute devastation in the economies of the Midwest," says Ornstein. "And it is now turning out to be a huge financial boon for taxpayers."
4. Reforming Health Care
Despite its critics, Dickinson says that Obama's ability to reform health care was historic, achieving something many presidents before him failed to do. In fact, they failed to even come close to what he did. The failure to please liberals who wanted far more doesn't detract from this accomplishment, according to Dickinson.
With his victory on health care, Obama defeated the anti-government Republicans who sought to destroy him politically and created a program that will benefit Americans for decades to come. But the victory cost him dearly among some progressives — most prominently Jane Hamsher, the activist ringleader of Firedoglake — who continue to spit on the law for its lack of a government-administered alternative to private insurance. "Liberals and conservatives hate the health care bill for the same reason," Hamsher tweeted. "It sucks."
The administration remains unapologetic. "We couldn't have gotten there with the public option," says Axelrod. "The choice was between letting the thing fail or taking a huge leap forward for everyone who will benefit from this now and for generations to come. It wasn't a hard choice to make."
5. Cutting Corporate Welfare
Dickinson highlights how the health insurance reform bill took two major steps at eliminating corporate welfare: it put limits on health insurance companies through the Patients' Bill of Rights and eliminated the middleman bankers who skimmed off money from the student loan process.
The health care bill is paid for, in part, by cutting $136 billion paid out under Medicare Advantage — a Bush-era boondoggle under which private insurers were larded with subsidies for the dubious service of inserting themselves as middlemen between patients and government-run Medicare.
At the same time, Obama also used the health care bill to end corporate welfare in an entirely different arena: student lending. For decades, megabanks like Sallie Mae have reaped billions by doing the paperwork on loans to college students — even though Uncle Sam sets the rates and assumes virtually all the risk. The president's Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which piggybacked to victory as an add-on to health care, kicked private banks out of the federal lending game.
6. Restoring America's Reputation
It almost doesn't need to be said but, with Obama in office, America is now seen globally in a much more favorable light.
"President Obama has already repaired much of the damage wrought during the eight years of the Bush administration," former secretary of state Madeleine Albright observed in September. "He has restored America's reputation on the world stage."
7. Protecting Consumers
Dickinson likes him some Wall Street reform, too.
[T]he most significant facet of the legislation is the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. For the first time, a single regulatory authority will have the power to protect consumers from bad loans and credit deals, the same way the FDA protects patients from dangerous drugs. Armed with an annual budget of $500 million — exempt from congressional cost- cutting — the agency will police everything from payday loans to jumbo mortgages.
For a taste of the kind of regulations the consumer bureau is likely to deliver, look no further than your credit-card bill. Another measure pushed by Obama — the Credit CARD Act — has already forced Visa, MasterCard and American Express to include a box on your statement spelling out how long it will take to pay off your debt making only the minimum payment. It also bans credit-card companies from jacking up your rate without warning, and places stiff restrictions on luring college kids into mountains of debt with easy credit.
8. Launching a Clean-Energy MoonShot
Finally, Dickinson looks to Obama's investment in the clean energy sector as the eighth major accomplishment of the first half of his administration.
With the Recovery Act, the president effectively launched what greens have long agitated for: an Apollo-like moonshot on clean energy[…]
"Everybody calls Obama the first black president," says Jones, the former green-jobs czar. "But if you were from Mars, and couldn't see race, you'd call him the first green president. That's what distinguishes him on a policy level from every preceding president: this incredible commitment he's made to repowering America in a clean way."
But Dickinson isn't without his criticism of Obama. He cites Obama's inability to get credit for the good things he has done, a conundrum considering his persuasive skills.
But as effective as Obama has been at implementing progressive policy, he has been lousy at capitalizing on those victories politically. Much of his activist base can't seem to get over the compromises he made to win such historic reforms, and average Americans are largely clueless about the key achievements of his presidency.
He goes on to quote Doris Kearns Goodwin:
"It's somewhat inexplicable why his record hasn't been communicated better, particularly the health care bill," says Goodwin. "That's the responsibility of the president — and we thought of him as such a good communicator."
I highly recommend this article, particularly to those liberals who feel the president has failed us. When you consider what has been accomplished in two short years as layed out by Dickinson, particularly compared to other presidential administration, you can't help but be impressed.
At the end of the day, there's a reason that the list of things that Obama hasn't accomplished is so very long: It's because his predecessors left him with so many things to repair and undo. But taken as a whole, there's no reason for an enthusiasm gap. In fact, if we send more Democrats to Congress and prevent the Republicans from assuming more power, the potential for even more progressive change is impressive.
That said: GOTV!!!
I'm just sayin'…