After reviewing what’s happened to other Western leaders confronting voters in this economic vortex (eight governments toppled in Europe in two years), and observing that President Obama’s “cautious centrism soured the left without reassuring the right,” Nick Kristof gives the president some due credit:
Obama has done better than many critics on the left or the right give him credit for.
He took office in the worst recession in more than half a century, amid fears of a complete economic implosion. As The Onion, the satirical news organization, described his election at the time: “Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job.”
The administration helped tug us back from the brink of economic ruin. Obama oversaw an economic stimulus that, while too small, was far larger than the one House Democrats had proposed. He rescued the auto industry and achieved health care reform that presidents have been seeking since the time of Theodore Roosevelt.
Despite virulent opposition that has paralyzed the government, Obama bolstered regulation of the tobacco industry, signed a fair pay act and tightened control of the credit card industry. He has been superb on education, weaning the Democratic Party from blind support for teachers’ unions while still trying to strengthen public schools.
In foreign policy, Obama has taken a couple of huge risks. He approved the assault on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, and despite much criticism he led the international effort to overthrow Muammar el-Qaddafi. So far, both bets are paying off.
Kristof quotes Bill Clinton saying he’ll “be surprised if [Obama]’s not re-elected,” and concludes with this plea:
[T]hink back to 2000. Many Democrats and journalists alike, feeling grouchy, were dismissive of Al Gore and magnified his shortcomings. We forgot the context, prided ourselves on our disdainful superiority — and won eight years of George W. Bush.
This time, let’s do a better job of retaining perspective. If we turn Obama out of office a year from now, let’s make sure it is because the Republican nominee is preferable, not just out of grumpiness toward the incumbent during a difficult time.
Obama is a center-left leaning moderate. Mitt Romney, a center-right leaning moderate trying to appease primary voters to get the nomination. If he gets it, the battle will be between two apparent technocrats and the “enthusiasm gap” will afflict both sides.
There’s no reason to worry about that. Sometimes what the world needs is a technocrat.