12:10 PM CDT, October 31, 2012
If this was not totally obvious to everyone who glances at this column from time to time, I’m endorsing Barack Obama for president. Now I will make you suffer through a column about why I will vote for a second Obama term and why you should too.
First of all, voting for Obama over any Republican is a no-brainer simply because the Republican Party no longer has a foot left in anything resembling reality. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, their near-universal denialism regarding climate change is, by itself, disqualifying. Furthermore, if you think anyone in that party is remotely interested in anything other than the prosperity, protection, and perseverance of a small economic elite, you are seriously deluding yourself. Protean though he may be, a vote for Romney on the vague hope that he doesn’t really mean what he’s saying on 30% to 70% of the issues, is perplexing at best. I get it, though, because looking at what he actually says is much worse, right up to the present situation where he claims a Romney administration would return FEMA to the states or privatize disaster relief.
A sheltered supply-side plutocrat like Mitt Romney is about as capable of facing the challenges of our times as his supporter Lindsay Lohan is capable of constructing a nuclear submarine from scratch.
Secondly, while I will fully own up to admiring President Obama a great deal, I also do not fall into the whole-hearted Obamabot camp. His administration has plenty of policies with which I vehemently disagree, he has made mistakes as president, and it remains to be seen how great of an impact he will eventually have on a political and economic system that has some egregious flaws.
However, the narratives presented about his presidency are seriously thoughtless. The Republican critique specifically has almost nothing to do with reality. The Romney/Ryan ticket has premised its entire campaign on the terrible economy, but even if you can’t recall what happened four years ago, you can still read a book about it. The truth is that all the numbers about debt, unemployment, food stamps, etc. are the result of the financial crisis of 2008. When the president entered office the economy was in freefall, and the measures his administration took arrested that. The much-derided stimulus was actually one of the most successful pieces of legislation in modern times, as TIME's Mike Grunwald documents in his comprehensive history of the Recovery Act, “The New New Deal.” Some of the investments made in it will pay dividends for decades, such as those in electronic medical records and green energy (you’ve heard of Solyndra, but have you heard of BrightSource?). While Europe took conservatives’ advice and went into an economic tailspin while forcing austerity on their people, the Obama administration managed to dodge cutbacks at every turn and even keep the “apocalyptic cult” of House Republicans at bay.
To put it very simply, Barack Obama is the reason we are not in a much deeper hole, and history will give him much more credit for this than present politics does.
Obama’s landmark accomplishment, Obamacare is the most important piece of legislation passed by an American president since Medicare. Once fully implemented, it will set the foundation for universal health coverage. Like Social Security, it can grow and change as needed in order to cover more people and steer doctors and hospitals toward better care while beginning to control costs by dispensing with expensive fee-for-service practices. Providing 30-35 million people with health care is the best anti-poverty, pro-growth program in a generation and will bestow benefits upon average Americans that another round of tax cuts never could. Even if it lacked everything we rooted for, even if it was not the perfect piece of legislation, there were many in Obama’s own party who thought it was dead with the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, and it’s to Obama’s enormous credit that he, and almost he alone, pushed it over the finish line.
Wall Street remains a hydra of mismanagement, risk, and greed, yet Frank-Dodd still has several components which make a repeat of 2008 (slightly) less likely. The most important of these is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has already caught and punished bad behavior of banks. A robust CFPB will be a worthy legacy. In other pocketbook issues, he reformed student loans, eliminating billions of dollars in useless corporate welfare to banks, reformed credit cards with a consumer bill of rights, and enacted fair pay legislation for women.
Though he failed to pass a carbon price, the president has devoted an enormous amount of money to green energy, which contrary to what has been reported, has a higher rate of success than Romney’s time at Bain Capital. He raised fuel standards on automobiles, even while salvaging the U.S. auto sector from the brink of collapse—an action for which the entire industrial Midwest, especially my home state of Ohio, likely owes him their vote. For those always trumpeting how well the private sector works, Detroit is the prime example of how, while we may not want government running industry, we certainly do want forward-thinking people in charge and not those concerned simply with maximizing the next quarter’s profit alone as their companies fall to pieces around them.
The president has advanced the cause of gay rights light years by ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, scrapping the Defense of Marriage Act, and publicly endorsing same-sex marriage. It sometimes amazes me that it was just 2004 when there was real consideration of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. He appointed two highly competent justices in Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, the SCOTUS being reason enough to cast your vote for him if you care anything about the toxic influence of money in politics, for it was Republican appointees that gave us the abominable Citizens United decision.
Abroad, the president ended the war in Iraq, has committed to pulling out of Afghanistan, saved Libya from Qaddafi’s mass slaughter, and killed Osama bin Laden. He has refocused foreign policy on the Pacific rim, tightened sanctions on Iran rather than rushing headlong into a dangerous military confrontation, and, let’s say, done his best under the incredibly difficult circumstances presented by the Arab Spring.
I voted for Barack Obama enthusiastically in 2008 and I will vote for him with the same measure of enthusiasm in 2012. There is plenty I would object to about his first term as president: the unbridled drone war in Pakistan, little change in the shameful, racist, wasteful drug war, a hostile attitude toward whistleblowers, a fool’s errand surge in Afghanistan, a lagging effort in reigning in the excesses of Wall Street, an obtuseness about dealing with an opposition party that has no political objective except the equivalent of a Jihadi rage against the first black president, and an inability to move climate change seriously onto the political radar, among others.
Yet as I keep saying in this column space, we live in reality, not the reality we so wish to construct for ourselves. The American presidency is a singular role that requires competence and wisdom most of us cannot even fathom. It boxes one into the role of either pariah-in-chief or disappointment-in-chief, depending on which side is making the criticism. However, by any objective measurement of history, Barack Obama has been one of the gutsiest and most effective political leaders of our time. He has my unqualified support for a second term.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC