I got an invitation from President Obama to the inauguration! Okay, it wasn’t from him personally, just from someone on his staff. Scratch that, it was not even from someone on his staff. Instead, I got an automated email invitation because I donated to his campaign. I was given the opportunity to compete for a chance to stand in the bleachers during today’s Inaugural Parade. I declined the opportunity, which even if I won it would have cost me $25. It seems like everything is for sale in this country, including the privilege of watching the President and First Lady maybe wave at you from Pennsylvania Avenue. I used the holiday instead to remove wallpaper from our downstairs bedroom.
However, I did listen to his inaugural address. This one was better than the last one, at least, which was an amazingly mediocre speech from a usually eloquent writer. Like most Americans, I did not know exactly what I would get when I voted for Barack Obama the first time. With the benefit of hindsight I can now assess his first four years. Did he live up to my expectations? Back in 2007 when I decided to support for him I said:
What makes Obama different in my mind is that of all the candidates he is the one who behaves the most like a genuine leader. In these perilous times, we need a leader that can pull us in their wake. He or she must do this while also moving us in a positive direction that moves us back into the international mainstream, addresses the root causes of terrorism, and moves us toward taking real action on global warming. We need someone with sound judgment who also truly grasps the nuances of the bigger picture. In short, we desperately need a president with real intellect and mojo. I have some concerns that Obama’s mojo may be more for show than real, but overall I feel comfortable that it is real.
It’s already hard to remember what a mess was dropped on Obama’s doorstep when he assumed the presidency. One of the most unusual things about today’s inauguration was how ordinary it seemed. The economy is still not great, but it feels like we are fully out of the woods. 7.8 percent unemployment sucks, particularly if you are unemployed, but it beats the high of ten percent we reached in 2009. Obama’s first four years were mostly about keeping the lights on. Unemployment sucked, but it sucked less because long-term unemployment insurance and food stamps kept the unemployed from starving. The stock market has more than fully recovered. In fact, Obama has been one of the best presidents ever for Wall Street. It’s a mystery why Wall Street would not support him this time. He saved their undeserving hides. In March 2009, our net worth had dropped to $687K, most of it from declines in the stock and housing market. Today it is $1.07M. Granted, we have been stashing away more money and paying down debts, but most of this is due to recovery on Wall Street. This would not have happened on its own. It took a lot of leadership, principally from Obama, to turn the economy around. It’s actually progress that we are arguing about deficits instead of the sinking economy. In addition, Obama and a Democratic controlled congress successfully rescued the auto industry, stabilized the housing market and helped lead a resurgence of manufacturing in the United States. Employment may be slowly recovering, but so far there is a net surplus of jobs created during his first four years. During his first term, he created more net jobs that George W. Bush did in eight years. His most important economic achievement was avoiding another depression. It was not a given at all four years ago. Overall on the economy, I give the president a B+.
We need Democratic presidents simply to keep us out of unnecessary wars. Obama exceeded my expectations. He found and killed Osama bin Laden. We are out of Iraq and will be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. From his inauguration address today, it sure sounds like he will not get us involved in a war with Iraq or Syria. The United States is now generally respected around the world again. The only thing about his foreign policy that really disturbs me is his failure to close Guantanamo. I am disappointed that he has continued Bush policies regarding electronic eavesdropping. I expected he would be more of a civil libertarian. Yet overall, Obama definitely gets an A here.
Like most liberals, the Affordable Care Act disappointed me. Had Obama chosen to be more engaged in shaping it, it would have been a much better piece of legislation. Even so, getting it into law was a huge accomplishment in itself, since it had not been done before in the United States. Understandably, Obama had plenty else on his plate to deal with at the same time, including the economy. Perhaps it is just the lackluster economy, but health care costs are easing for the first time in many years. It may be a result of the ACA. A solid B here.
I am most disappointed in his lack of leadership on climate change. He did direct funds toward clean energy solutions, and the EPA has issues new rules limiting particulate matter. His most important accomplishment was probably increasing vehicle fuel efficiency standards. This doesn’t solve the problem of climate change, but it dramatically reduces need for oil and will do much to reduce smog and ozone, at least compared to not having the rules. Given Republican domination in the House, it’s not surprising why he saw it as a lost cause. Still, I feel much more could be done here. I give him a D here.
I expected a more progressive president than I actually got. President Obama turned out to be a ruthlessly pragmatic president, which at times was something of a weakness. Still, his strategy has been consistently long term, with short-term milestones if possible that make progress toward a long-term accomplishment. Obama was given a chessboard with the queen captured and only a rook, knight, bishop and some pawns. He has won the queen back. Winning the game though looks like it will be a problem for a future president to accomplish. Obama’s major accomplishment will likely be that he kept moving the ball down the field.
Overall, I am glad that I voted for him. I’ll take a man of practical action in the White House any day over a rabid ideologue of any type.