By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
You’ve heard of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight? Barack Obama’s the man who can’t shoot straight. His first 20 months have zipped by with nothing to show for them. He’s broken every promise he made. He’s achieved not one major legislative accomplishment. It even took him three months to plug an oil leak.
That’s the rap on President Obama, from commentators on both the right and the left. It’s ubiquitous, it’s loud, it’s earnest — and it’s dead wrong.
I say that, not as an Obama apologist. Indeed, I’ve been as critical of Obama as many conservative commentators, although for different reasons. In my opinion, he’s spent too much time sucking up to Republicans and too little time paying attention to his political base. He settled for too weak a bill on both health care reform and Wall Street reform. He’s dragged his heels on getting rid of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And he escalated the war in Afghanistan when he should have pulled the plug on it.
Still, when you examine the record, whether you agree with everything he’s done or not, you must conclude that Obama inherited the worst problems and has already taken bolder actions than any president since FDR. The facts speak for themselves.
On the economy. With America on the brink of economic collapse, Obama’s first act was to push through a $787 stimulus package — already credited with saving or creating more than 3 million new jobs, with almost $200 billion still unspent. Obama also propped up banks large and small with the second round of TARP money, of which $194 billion has been repaid, with interest. And he saved GM and Chrysler from bankruptcy with an $86 billion bailout, of which taxpayers are expected to recoup at least $74 billion, if not actually make money on the deal.
On jobs. With unemployment stuck at 9.5 percent, it’s hard to celebrate job growth. Yet the fact remains. In January 2009, according to Department of Labor records, America lost 598,000 jobs. In January-June 2010, employers added 982,000 new jobs. Too many Americans are still out of work, but we’ve turned the corner from monthly job losses to monthly job gains.
On health care. Without a public plan option, private insurance companies still rule the roost. But they must now operate within tough new guidelines. Thanks to federal subsidies, 32 million Americans who couldn’t afford health insurance before can now do so. That means 95 percent of Americans are covered, which is the closest we’ve ever come to universal health care.
On Wall Street. Obama recently signed into law the toughest regulations on banks and financial institutions since the Great Depression. That bill also creates the first-ever consumer protection agency for financial transactions.
Oh, and along the way, Obama also dealt with an H1N1 epidemic, started bringing troops home from Iraq, expanded the war in Afghanistan, named two Supreme Court justices, took 13 foreign trips to 22 countries, met with 93 foreign leaders, signed a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, hosted 47 nations in a nuclear proliferation summit in Washington, and marshaled federal forces to deal with the worst oil spill in history.
Yes, we could list the things Obama has not yet achieved: global warming legislation, immigration reform, the Employee Free Choice Act. But even Obama’s detractors should admit that what he has achieved so far adds up to no mean record of accomplishment, especially given the fact that he’s forced to deal with one of the least effective collections of senators ever. Indeed, it’s hard to tell which are worst: Senate Democrats, half of whom are afraid of their own shadow, or Senate Republicans, all of whom simply follow orders and automatically vote against anything Obama’s for.
Yet there remains this huge disconnect between Obama’s reputation and record, as reflected in the latest Washington Post/ABC poll — where 58 percent of Americans say they’ve lost faith in Obama. To me, that says more about us than it does about him. It says we are impatient, expecting miracles overnight. It says we are unrealistic, demanding a level of perfection no politician can deliver. And it says we are like spoiled children, not happy with just one piece of candy. We want the whole box. Now.
It also says that liberals like me, especially, should stop being so fickle and recognize how lucky we are. Remember George Bush and Dick Cheney?
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