Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Let's Re-Elect President Obama

Finally, here we are! Remember, remember the 6th of Nov...wait, what? No more soaring rhetoric? Fine, fine, let's get to the point.

President Obama today deserves re-election. His nearly four years in office have largely echoed an overarching theme of his adult life - we'll get to that shortly. The argument that his legislative accomplishments have been few or ineffective is tired and wholly inaccurate. If there is an area he has been shockingly poor in, it has been successfully communicating his laws and ideas - quite stunning for an otherwise effective orator. We'll remember the 2012 elections not just for Romney's deceptive campaigning, but also for Bill Clinton's brilliant presentation of President Obama's accomplishments, distilling all of the specious arguments to give us the essence of what has largely been good policy.

For liberals like myself, gripped by the passion of 2008, it is easy to find disappointment in President Obama's record. He never proposed a single-payer option during the fight for health care reform - to be fair, he never supported this - and came to the negotiating table with a plan largely consisting of Republican ideas, which was the essence of the ACA he passed in 2010. His administration largely embraced Wall Street - from Tim Geithner to Robert Rubin to Lawrence Summers - and effectively diluted the Dodd-Frank reform bills and the Volcker Rule. For this effort, Wall Street has turned its back on him (Obama might have bear-hugged Wall St, but Mitt Romney is Wall Street). His expansive use of drone attacks and continued use of Guantanomo Bay has placed him nearly to the right of Dick Cheney. I highly recommend the Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi and the Nation's Jeremy Scahill for anyone interested in good research on these topics.

Yet President Obama's signature accomplishments have echoed the overarching theme of his adult life. In the mid-1980s, Obama left a lucrative career as an analyst for Business International to become a community organizer on the south side of Chicago. His initial efforts were frustrated by failure, yet he stuck to his guns, driven by the simple idea that everyone should play by the same rules, and that the poor of Chicago didn't have the same opportunities as others. In the Me-First 1980s of Ronald Reagan, those of his ilk stood out in stark contrast to many of that generation. Those ideas have inspired his political career, and though it may not be readily apparent, his proposals have mostly echoed this theme, that everyone deserves a fair shot and everyone should play by the same rules - whether it his expansion of Pell Grants and Medicaid, support for Head Start, and taking student loans out of the hands of big banks. He has ended "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and proposed marriage equality for all Though he initially took the teeth out of Wall Street reform, he has more recently come out in favor of tighter regulations. I highly recommend Rachel Maddow's brilliant outlay of all of President Obama's legislative accomplishments.

There is much to be optimistic about for Obama's second term. The economy is poised for a major recovery and his signature legislative accomplishment - the ACA - goes into full effect. The so-called "fiscal cliff" will, I think, prove to be a stroke of genius, providing Obama with an effective bargaining tool. It will give him the opportunity to propose and enact his new tax plan, as well as implement of variety of domestic initiatives (in particular, I look forward to his promise of increasing NSF and NIH budgets). I think we will see a renewed push for the DREAM Act, continued progress towards immigration reform (there is legislation that is sitting in Congress to give work permits automatically for those completing advanced degrees in American universities), follow-through on equality for marriage, and finally some serious talk about climate change.

I don't think there could be a starker contrast between two candidates. President Obama is a serious, thoughtful, introspective, self-critical, and deliberate leader, and deserves our votes. The world over is hoping we re-elect President Obama. I've done my part; I hope you do, too.

Update: I've often thought about Obama's contention that Reagan transformed America in ways Bill Clinton did not. This has been widely interpreted as praise of Reagan and a slight on Clinton, and perhaps the latter is true. Increasingly though, I doubt the former analysis. I think Obama is being critical of this transformation, that Reagan's policy and rhetoric produced this irrational mistrust of government, that somehow government jobs are not "real", and that taxation is merely to impose financial restrictions on job "creators". Obama has a practical view on what the government can provide - his record is proof of this - and I think it troubles him how Americans today largely doubt its capability to do so - thanks in no small part to Reagan.