Monday, January 16, 2017

President Obama’s Accomplishments

1/16/2017—What can they not take away? In an incoming administration with a labor law violator running the Labor Department and a sympathizer with polluters running the EPA, you have to wonder. President Obama’s greatest failure was that he was unable to put most of his attainments into legislation, making them easier to reverse. On the other hand, healthcare reform was put into legislation and it is going to be repealed—so maybe that is not even true. Anyway, there was a genuine disagreement with Republicans in Congress over most matters, so not much legislative compromise was going to happen even if President Obama had been better at it.

I have to start with the racial change. America elected an African-American President. He and his family led the nation with grace and dignity for eight years. They cannot take that away. On Martin Luther King Day, that is an accomplishment of surpassing importance for this nation. I know that people think race relations are bad and that police brutality is terrible, but both problems are miniscule compared to the past. White racism will never make sense to anybody after the example of President Obama. Its last spasm helped elect Donald Trump, unfortunately, but that does not change the change.

President Obama’s next great accomplishment was leading the economy without major mishap. Over the last eight years, American economic performance has been better than any other advanced economy in the world. We have come back from the terrible recession he had nothing to do with to an economy more or less performing well. It is odd to read about the economy never attaining a 3% growth rate under Obama—the major Republican Party counter to this narrative. Neither did any other nation as far as I know. When your performance is the best in the world, it is the best in the world. I realize that Presidents get too much criticism and too much credit for economic performance, but that is the way we rate them and Obama did fend off Republican policies that were tried elsewhere and made things worse. If President Trump is able to deliver on his promise of 4% growth, then I will have to reconsider. But even then remember third quarter GDP growth in America was 3.5%--Obama’s best, but occurring under him. Obama was steady when we needed that.

The Iranian deal is next and is proving impossible to undo. Thank God. I don’t understand criticism of the deal—as if we would be better off if Iran were building a bomb and not buying planes from Boeing. Sure Iran is still doing terrible things and now can do them even better because there are no sanctions—but the point was to keep Iran from doing terrible things with a nuclear bomb. One day Israel will have to acknowledge that Obama was right and Israel was wrong about what was best for its own security.

What Netanyahu wanted was an attack on Iranian facilities. Either by the US or by Israel. This leads to Obama’s next great accomplishment—he kept us out of new wars. I wish we had wound down faster—we still have troops in too many places doing too much fighting, but Obama kept us from new foreign adventures. Obama mishandled Syria, but mostly because he promised what he could not deliver—the departure of Assad. America never had a national interest in the forces fighting in Syria—there never was a democratic opposition. We should have stayed out altogether. But the point is that after eight years of war, Obama was elected to draw down and he did.

There is a downside to that. The influence of the US is less than it was eight years ago. Russia and to a lesser extent China are emboldened by that. In years to come, Obama will get even more credit for managing a withdrawal from empire without things getting even worse. What the Republicans are correctly pointing to is not a failure but a necessary adjustment to the end of US hegemony in the world. It should not go too far. We should rebuild the navy in particular and be a presence in the South China Sea. But basically the last eight years should have been a time of retrenchment.

Then there is healthcare. I thought this would be one more reversal, but it turns out it may be harder to reverse than I thought. If President Trump ends up proposing catastrophic insurance for all, Krauthammer’s suggestion some years ago, that will not be as good, but it will still be a lot better than we had before Obama and it would never have happened without Obamacare. After all, the point was always to get people healthcare without preconditions—so that people would not die because they could not afford a cancer operation. If President Trump wants that, good for him.

I might add that I really hate this “illegitimate President” stuff. Trump did not commit any dirty tricks. What was he supposed to do? They were not his emails. Yes, he got fewer votes, but again he won by the rules we have. Which is what anyone running for President is supposed to do. All that means is that he should remember he has no mandate. Presidents generally forget about that.

Finally, we had eight years of attempts by the executive branch to fight global warming. And American carbon emissions are actually down. The biggest part of the decline is the switch from coal to natural gas, but what is wrong with that? The main thing is Americans now know that it is all true—even a Trump nominee admitted that humans are warming the climate and we have to do something about it. The best news on that front is the operation of a carbon capture coal plant announced last week—or was it two? I don’t know why the Administration did not take more credit for the subsidies that made that possible and the coal jobs that now might actually be saved—a lack of imagination by both Obama and Secretary Clinton—she might have won Pennsylvania with that news prominently featured. But this is an accomplishment. Maybe even here, reversal will not be possible.

A good record. A very good record. Could have been better, particularly on wages and inequality, but who is to say? Even on that front, the Obama years will be paying dividends to the Trump Administration for years. I hope Donald does not screw it up.

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