Is Obama already a failure come too soon?
The following is an email I sent in response to one of my oldest and closest friends with whom I disagree strongly about Obama and his achievements. As a staunch leftist progressive, my friend argued that he is beginning to believe Obama’s best accomlishment may have been simply to get elected. I take strong exception to that, even though I also consider myself a progressive, though probably more liberal than leftist.
Anyway, as I re-read it before sending it off, I felt it pretty accurately represented my views overall about where Obama is right now in his presidency and the unfairness – in my opinion -of being overly critical of the man. I also realized there is a lot more to be said on this issue (for example I didn’t even get into health care), but I’ll save that for another day.
So here it is…
Sorry to take so long in my response back to you.
Although I do agree with you about the effects capitalism has visited upon much of the rest of the world, which (if we’re going with guilt by association here) would by necessity implicate Obama to a degree since he is now the elected leader of the world’s largest and most powerful capitalist nation, I still nevertheless take strong issue with your argument that Obama’a greatest achievement thus far has only been to get elected. I think such a harshly critical view greatly minimizes – or overlooks – what I believe to be quantifiable achievements that do matter.
To begin with, I remember you mentioned in an earlier email that you felt it may have been a better choice for Obama to have let the Big 3 auto industries slide off the face of the earth, largely because they have been horribly mismanaged (true) and were way too late in responding to the need for more fuel efficient and reasonably sized cars (also true). In other words, why should such a horribly screwed up oversized global corporation be rescued from its misery? Because to let it die would have been significantly worse.
I believe one of the most difficult things Obama faces in making a case for his accomplishments is that things are still so bad nobody stops to think how much worse they might be if he hadn’t taken some of the actions that he has. And as one down here on the ground in Detroit, I don’t think you could have found too many people who would have said it would be better to lose all those jobs even though there were no other jobs available to absorb all those thousands of displaced workers. As you are a Detroit native, I know I don’t have to tell you how integral the automobile is to this region. It’s too damned integral, which is a problem. But shooting the baby in the crib is not the best way to wean the baby from the bottle. There are better – and more effective – measures. And if The Big 3 had been allowed to fail – regardless of all their past and present sins – they would have taken Detroit and this entire region over the cliff and who knows when – or if – we would have ever recovered.
So rescuing the auto industries was one critical accomplishment. The cash for clunkers program – a minor related story – was also quite a success which also kept some dealerships afloat and kept some folks working who might otherwise have been cut adrift.
And then there is Wall Street. Yes, another demonic beast, without a doubt. And yes, there is a special place in hell for many of those CEOs. They should never have been allowed to grow Too Big To Fail – but they did. And not on Obama’s watch, either. Is it wrong – evil even – for them to be so massive? Absolutely. But Obama didn’t exactly have time to think about what should or should not have been allowed to happen when he stepped into office. From Day One, he was faced with the very real probability that Wall Street was in meltdown and we could have been headed for another Great Depression. And yes, I do believe it was true. And if those massive banks, etc., had been allowed to go under, they would have just about crashed our financial system. No, it wasn’t about rescuing the rich (although they benefited to be sure) it was also about rescuing pension plans that are inextricably woven into the fabric of these warped institutions. And that’s just one example of how a Wall Street crash would have been felt on “Main Street” for starters. You pull the thread and the whole garment comes undone.
On the need for us to pull the hell out of Afghanistan? I couldn’t agree with you more.
But to say that Obama has so far missed his chance at greatness, I believe, is somewhat unfair. Because first of all, none of us can possibly see that far into the future as to how he will be measured at the conclusion of his presidency, especially if it stretches two terms. Many presidents took longer than this to get their ‘sea legs’ and didn’t have one-quarter the amount of crises on their plates. I also believe that many progressives tend not to factor in the fact that there is only so ‘progressive’ Obama can be. We all surely had to know that going in. Malcolm X was never meant for the presidency, nor was King. One might argue that perhaps they were meant for better things. But the truth remains that their status outside the gate allowed them a certain freedom of rage and expression that simply cannot take place once inside the gate. So we have to decide whether we’re happy to remain forever agitators, or whether we can accept what happens when we actually get to the table we say we’ve been demanding a seat at for so long. The phrase “Be careful what you ask for” does come to mind.
OK, that’s my 4 cents.
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