You Call This “Nothing”?

What has Pres. Barack Obama accomplished in his first year in office? To hear conservatives and Republicans tell it, the answer is “nothing.” This, from enthusiastic supporters of the party that has enthusiastically voted “No” on every single piece of legislation this administration has put in front of them. What has the Republican Party accomplished to pull itself out of the doldrums to date? A “purity test” that even Ronald Reagan couldn’t pass!

All of the above explains why I find it so refreshing to read Jacob Weisberg’s assessment of Obama’s first year — “brilliant.” Indeed, Weisberg  writes that “by January, [Obama] will have accomplished more than any first-year president since Franklin Roosevelt.”

The case for Obama’s successful freshman year rests above all on the health care legislation now awaiting action in the Senate. Democrats have been trying to pass national health insurance for 60 years. Past presidents who tried to make it happen and failed include Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. Through the summer, Obama caught flak for letting Congress lead the process, as opposed to setting out his own proposal. Now his political strategy is being vindicated. …

We are so submerged in the details of this debate … that it’s easy to lose sight of the magnitude of the impending change. For the federal government to take responsibility for health coverage will be a transformation of the American social contract and the single biggest change in government’s role since the New Deal. If Obama governs for four or eight years and accomplishes nothing else, he may be judged the most consequential domestic president since LBJ. He will also undermine the view that Ronald Reagan permanently reversed a 50-year tide of American liberalism.

Obama’s claim to a fertile first year doesn’t rest on health care alone. There’s mounting evidence that the $787 billion economic stimulus he signed in February—combined with the bank bailout package—prevented an economic depression. …

When it comes to foreign policy, Obama’s accomplishment has been less tangible but hardly less significant: He has put America on a new footing with the rest of the world. In a series of foreign trips and speeches, which critics deride as trips and speeches, he replaced George W. Bush’s unilateral, moralistic militarism with an approach that is multilateral, pragmatic, and conciliatory.  …

TMV’s Michael Stickings, writing at his own blog, speculates that at least part of why Obama has gotten so little credit, even among his supporters, relative to how much he has accomplished can be traced to the irony of high expectations:

It’s like, if he doesn’t remodel the entire American way of life for the better — fixing health care, righting the economy, reversing global warming, ending terrorism, establishing world peace — he is somehow deemed, even by those inclined to continue to support him, by those who generally agree with him, to be a failure. It is to be expected that conservatives wish failure upon him, and upon America if he can be blamed and they can score some political points, and applaud his perceived failure at every turn, but it is disheartening when those who should know better, those who should have the good sense not to rush to judgement, criticized him with such gusto.

Or, as Steve Benen puts it, “There have been plenty of painful missed opportunities, but as first years go, this isn’t bad.”

Author: KATHY KATTENBURG

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23 Comments

  1. I agree wholeheartedly that his first year has been successful overall. Take away the progressive purity activists on the left and the Reaganite Irredentists on the Right and you have a very productive first year. The biggest issue – the economy – remains a very sticky proposition…but for reasons we understood back in late 2008 – jobs always follow the market by several months, the precarious status of banks, excessive influence of banks on the government (despite their precarious capital position), overvalued real estate, etc. The Obama Administration's response has been smart for the most part. Sure, I wish there were more teeth in the bank bailouts, and I wish they would have done less to raise expectations on job recovery (knowing that jobs would not come back until next year). But overall the first year has been an important recalibration of American politics after 30 years of conservative rule.

  2. “But overall the first year has been an important recalibration of American politics after 30 years of conservative rule.”

    Are you including the Clintons (yes plural)?

  3. I wouldn't describe it as “nothing”, I would describe it as “poor”.

    I do agree that the impossibly high expectations raised during Obama's campaign have probably hurt his image now that he has to actually govern. Obama and his supporters are completely responsible for those expectations, though.

  4. I wouldn't describe it as “nothing”, I would describe it as “poor”.

    Really? How would you describe what GWB accomplished in his first year? On this day in GWB's first year — November 29, 2001 — what had he accomplished?

    And you are opposed to Obama's performance for ideological reasons, so the high expectations issue isn't an issue for you at all.

  5. Going by memory, I think in November 2001 Bush was still riding the crest of popularity post-9/11 so I'm not sure it's a good comparison. I think Bush did do a good job immediately post-9/11 otherwise his presidency was mostly a failure.

    Do you think GWB should be the standard we judge Obama by?

  6. I wouldn't even qualify his performance as lacking the full force of “high expectations.” He does get four years, last I checked. Considering the enormity of both the economic bailout and “universal” health care, I don't understand why anyone is faulting him for keeping out of even more contentious issues such as DADT.

    The most important steps his administration has taken have been rolling back numerous environmental disasters (and others) that Bush put into place, either through executive order or EPA mandate.

    Ethos

  7. I think in November 2001 Bush was still riding the crest of popularity post-9/11 so I'm not sure it's a good comparison.

    Yes, 9/11. That's my point.

    Do you think GWB should be the standard we judge Obama by?

    Absolutely not. I'm just surprised (well, not really) that you judge Obama's performance after a year in office as “poor” when the only thing that GWB accomplished in his first year was to ignore and dismiss all the many warnings he was given of an impending terrorist attack. That's an accomplishment, of a sort — it's something he'll be remembered for. I just don't think it compares favorably to Obama's first-year accomplishments.

  8. I don't see how Bush's performance has any bearing at all on judging Obama's performance. He should be judged on his own merits.

  9. Well, since you've already said you judge most of Bush's presidency to be a failure, I'll just say fair enough and leave it at that. It's not as if you're saying Bush's first year was filled with soaring accomplishments.

  10. I honestly wonder how contentious repealing DADT is. I bet Congress repeals it next year as part of a defense authorization bill. Maybe it'll sweeten the way for Democrats to pass an authorization bill for Afghanistan – repealing DADT might get some progressives on board. But I doubt it will happen that way.

  11. He has done just fine. If coldly rated, he'd be ordinary, average, or mediocre. But he's done pretty much what anyone could expect him to do so far. He has done a number of things that are demerits, such as behave (along with his team) like elitists out of touch with what the people want or expect much of the time. Trying to silence suppression, beginning with more conservative critics (Fox), and seeking a Commie-style identification and denunciation practice against un-PC news and its sources was sinister. Perpetuating a debased appealing-to-the-lesser-lights “campaign” tactics after taking office was a big demerit. Aligning himself with the lib Dems in pushing to rush through bad legislation without review or thought was disturbing, too. Overall, though, he has done okay so far. And as a bonus to the kiddies, he looks really good and is articulate, unlike his predecessor, superficialities that seem to matter to some.

    “Do you think GWB should be the standard we judge Obama by?”

    No — he should be judged by the whole field, and by our reasonable expectations, instead. Bush will end up either in the fourth or fifth quintile, in my opinion, and could well end up below Bill Clinton. (The longer the US is a nation and the more Presidents we have, the larger the quintiles become and the more likely Bush will be relegated to the fifth rather than the fourth quintile.) Obama hasn't been our President long enough for us to make a real determination. So far, he's not been really good, of course, nor has he been really bad. Were his term abbreviated, he'd be in the third quintile, largely by default.

  12. “['30 years of conservative rule'] Are you including the Clintons (yes plural)?”

    Well, the author of the book I have on proportional represention did (at least in the first edition) put the Democratic Party (or at least its leadership) slightly right of center(!). (Reagan and Thatcher, “far right”)

    And more to the point, the 1990s (post-1994) “reformed” “Third Way” Democrats probably were viewed by the far left as conservative…

  13. “I'll just say fair enough and leave it at that.”

    Actually, overall, that's what we can say about Obama after this year, Kathy. Or “he's done well enough.”

    The post-election campaigning has been stupid; the attack on dissent even concerned the majority liberal media (who knew they were next, after Fox and the righty commentators). One Dem critic has Obama and his gang pegged, that they're kids dressing up and playing the roles they are placed in (this was something I'd noticed and reported independently a number of times this year), and they sometimes seem inept as well as out-of-touch elitists. On the plus side, they're certainly capable (we knew that about Bill and Hillary Clinton in the 1990s, too, whether as critics or as defenders then), and (to zero back in on the individual) Obama certainly seems competent to handle the position and what it entails.

    No demerits for being “late” (not by year-end, necessarily) on health care “reform” (it got stalled due to overreach and due to conflicts among the Dems), nor late on removal of prisoners from, and closure of, Guantanamo (Congress and others have been interfering with progress), nor on any other things that of course have to be shelved or deferred while more pressing issues like health care “reform” and deciding what to do about Afghanistan still have precedence. He'll probably do enough to concern or disturb critics while satisfying many but not all of his supporters (Example: far lefties want Obama to succeed at getting the US to agree to an agreement in Copenhagen that is “fair, ambitious, and binding,” to quote speakers on Alternative Radio and people they quote about the climate issue, like Alanis Morissette).

  14. “I don't see how Bush's performance has any bearing at all on judging Obama's performance”

    You must remember, DaGoat. This is a knee-jerk reaction from liberals when their idol is being criticized. It's been a year and they still can't stop saying “What about what Bush did?” to every critical question.

    I personally think that President Obama has done a decent job. I support him as Commander-in-Chief thus far but am cynical on most of the rest. I stand against most everything that Kathy stands for, but in all fairness, President Obama has not put forth anything for which she voted for him. Thank goodness.

    The jury is still out on his presidency. So far so good. I just hope he doesn't go over the Pelosi/Reid edge.

  15. Kathy,

    I think President Obama has been about average for a rookie President. He's made several mistakes, but that seems to come with the territory when there's a new President and a new party that hasn't been in the executive in 8 years. I'd say he's begun a lot of good things – at least they sound good – but for me the proof is in the pudding and I'll wait to see if his initiatives are effective and successful.

    The economy is one area I don't think he's done too well. He didn't nationalize many Wall Street firms when he should have and he nationalized GM when he shouldn't have. The “mounting evidence” Mr. Weisberg talks about for the stimulus actually points in the opposite direction he says it does. I seem to remember the White House claiming it would keep unemployment well below where it exists today.

  16. I support him as Commander-in-Chief thus far but am cynical on most of the rest. I stand against most everything that Kathy stands for, but in all fairness, President Obama has not put forth anything for which she voted for him.

    I thought he had, but you know better than I do why I voted for him, so I must be wrong.

  17. First of all Kathy, I didn't claim to know why you voted for President Obama.

    Your banner causes (abortion, homosexuality, etc) have yet to be addressed by the President even though he promised a bunch of things during the campaign.

    So educate me, Kathy.
    Tell me some of the reasons that you voted for Obama and which of those issues have come to pass.

  18. How can you fairly judge his performance this early in the game? He and his people decided to not waste a “good crisis” to push for BIG programs and changes in government. For this kind of approach, right or wrong, I think it is too early to score.

  19. He and his people decided to not waste a “good crisis” to push for BIG programs and changes in government.

    TARP, the stimulus package, the auto bailout/takeover, the health care plan and the escalation in Afghanistan are all big programs Obama has supported or is supporting. I don't think it's too early to be critical of the huge gifts Obama gave Wall Street and the UAW, or too early to be critical of pork barrel spending in the stimulus bill and budget. The health care plan is still a work in progress but I don't think Obama's “guidance” has resulted in a good bill thus far.

  20. You named all the ones I don't like either. The HCR bill stinks, as is. I was just just trying to give him a little more time before critics, who are always early birds, go too far. And, I hope he moderates his BIG plans.

  21. I call it “Foolishness.”

    Tripling the deficit in just one year, is hardly nothing. Continuning Bush's policies in Bagram and in several other areas is what I'd call bordering on criminal. Bludering in Honduraswas I'd call stupid.

    Now he has done some positive things too, but in my book it is far outweiged b the poor decisions.

  22. First JD:

    I stand against most everything that Kathy stands for, but in all fairness, President Obama has not put forth anything for which she voted for him.

    Second JD First of all Kathy, I didn't claim to know why you voted for President Obama.

    Why won't anyone take responsibility for anything anymore? We would so have a world of rainbows and unicorns if someone would take responsibility for what they say!

    Tell me some of the reasons that you voted for Obama and which of those issues have come to pass.

    Re-read (or read) my post above. Click on the links and read those posts. If you still can't answer your question, tell yourself that you did the very best job you could.

  23. and what does the extremely poor performance of the shrub have to do with what obama has/hasn't accomplished? i'll easily grant you that bush was an exceptionally poor POTUS. how does that earn obama or any other president a pass when it comes to performance or lack thereof?

    clearly, it doesn't.

    the fact that bush was so terrible a president has no bearing on obama's misdeeds whatsoever. and obama is doing plenty of things WRONG.

    appointing turbo-tax timmy as sec'y of the treasury;
    [not firing turbo-tax timmy];

    renominating ben-dover bernanke for a second term as president of the FOMC;

    not putting an end to warrantless wiretapping;

    supporting the bush admin over valerie plame-wilson;

    secretly negotiating IP treaties clearly at the behest of big business and at the expense of US citizens who would be deprived of due process;

    faking jobs saved or created statistics;

    i'm sure we could come up with an extensive list esp if everyone else around here chimed in. i voted against mccain/palin and actually FOR obama. the change we could believe in has turned into lip service we couldn't rely on. he's turning out to be no better than his predecessors. he's taking care of the banksters at our expense. his 'leadership' on the issue of health care is a damning example of how mistaken we were. he stirred up that pot and then stepped back to let congress work it out. CONGRESS?!?! gimmee a break. their list of failures is longer than reagan's, clinton's the bush's and obama's COMBINED. he didn't want to risk the political fallout of putting himself on the line in the event it didn't work out. if something passes he'll take credit for it but at the rate we're going we would have been better off if they'd done nothing.

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