OBAMA: A LOOK BACK

I have little doubt that in the not too distant future there will be a sigh of nostalgia collectively exhaled by all but the most rabid opponents of President Barack Hussein Obama. While his administration has blundered in some ways that made many of us slap our foreheads hard enough to detach a retina, there is ample evidence that for a good number of Americans the past 8 years have been pretty darn good. And if Congress had any other directives than to stonewall every attempt by Obama to improve the lives of their constituents it is my humble opinion that we would be even better off.

Over the past few weeks I’ve examined a variety of reviews of the outgoing administration from the right, left and in between.  While I speak as one who admires Mr. Obama I do so with clear, critical eyes.

To start, one is hard pressed to think of a more challenging national situation to inherit. This president came to power on the heels of one of the worst administrations in modern history. George W. Bush got us into 2 abysmal wars that he put on the nation’s credit card. He ignored the warnings of the Clinton intel team that predicted the attack that turned out to be 9/11. Some of his closest advisors were Fundamentalist Christians who turned to the Bible to form foreign policy in the Middle East. Seriously, I could very easily take up the rest of this column on the Bush legacy. But to properly estimate the accomplishments and shortcomings of Obama we must look at a snapshot of 20 January, 2009.

It wasn’t pretty.

Besides the wars abroad the economy was on a respirator.  Unregulated free market forces on Wall Street imploded and pushed millions either further into poverty or on its brink. Home foreclosures, bankruptcies (brought on in large part by medical expenses) and an estimated 10,000 suicides are attributed to this debacle.

Welcome to the White House, Mr. President.

Obama continued with the bailout started by Bush. Unfortunately, little of that money went to help those whose savings were wiped out; but instead went into the pockets of banks who were too big to fail. But an economic strategy was put in place. What we have now is an unemployment figure that is lower than the historical median. We still have over 700,000 people who have yet to bring these numbers to parity with life before the recession. But some more facts and figures:

Corporate profits are up 166% and wages are up over 3%. Income disparity is still a real issue that needs to be addressed, but we are looking forward. And Democrats, as you know, are bad for Wall Street. Not sure how to explain the S&P Index’s improvement of 139% over these last few years. Also, alternative energy now makes up 5% of our fuel. Our imports of oil are down 162%.

All this data can be researched at www.factcheck.org  anytime.

But not all is well, of course. Obama’s signature legislation is thought to be the Affordable Care Act. The Republicans started calling it “Obamacare” in a disparaging way. The Dems brilliantly started using it as well so that it has now taken on a more neutral connotation. But there is much that is wrong with the ACA. Some of it is the fault of the law itself, but much criticism has to be laid at the feet of the recalcitrant Congress that has done everything it can to sabotage its implementation. Keep in mind that the basics of the ACA are made up of ideas coming from the conservative Heritage Foundation back in the 1990s. Yes, there are issues with the ACA, including the fact that it disappointed a great many people who expected Obama to keep his pledge to create a national public option. This idea was sacrificed to appease insurance companies. But for the ACA to work at full steam all the states would have to agree to create insurance exchanges and expand Medicaid with federal funds on the table. Of course, Republican controlled states refused on principal to accept this money, hoping to see the ACA founder. Yet, we still see that Americans have embraced the most important elements of the act and few are arguing with the fact that there are now over 15,000,000 Americans who were previously uninsured but now are; and that those with previous conditions can now be covered.

Now to foreign policy.  Yes, this is a toughie. It’s much more challenging to defend some the administration’s policies abroad. It’s nonsense to say that Obama is the reason for ISIS. But one is hard pressed to believe that if he knew for a fact that ISIS was brewing he’d have taken a different course in Iraq. But let’s not forget that Bush’s invasion there and the subsequent dismemberment of their army was the true genesis. Regardless, looking at Syria, Afghanistan, Russia, Libya and Yemen it’s challenging to say that all the right decisions were made. Clearly, they were not.  But it is true that despite these and other missteps, America’s street cred went through the roof.  In most other countries we are admired and respected. And we can’t forget Cuba. That, in this writer’s opinion, was a well timed and brilliant move.

Another serious shortcoming of Mr. Obama was his inability to control the conversation, or even be a part of it. Less than a month after his inauguration the rumblings of the Tea Party began; fed on mostly false news created by the hard right. Remember “Death Panels”? Low information voters carried signs saying, “Keep the government out of my Medicare!” The President simply seemed to roll his eyes at this, thinking it would just go away.  He allowed the various conservative media to define him and his agenda. This movement reached its apotheosis in the midterm elections. In 2010 several Democratic Congress members turned chicken and ran as far away from Obama as possible. One woman seeking reelection even refused to admit she voted for Obama. She deserved to lose. There is an old saying: Given the choice between a Republican and a Republican, a Republican will vote for the Republican. If you’re not familiar with this, it means that Democrats who swing to the right to appease Republican constituents are on a fool’s errand. One of the most significant turns in this recent election was when, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, progressives began to embrace their identity as strongly as conservatives do.

So what has Obama meant to India, Indian-Americans and Hindus? In a nutshell, he has recognized India for the world powerhouse it is poised to be. His pro immigrant stance and commitment to diversity has made Indians and Bhutanese refugees feel quite welcome. And he is the 1st President to host Diwali in the White House.

So many of us will miss the style and grace that he has brought to our country’s highest office. His sense of humor, his remarkable wife, his sense honor; all of this has contributed to a great sense of pride that many Americans share. 

Godspeed, Mr. President.

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