On Obama’s First Term
|June 11, 2012||Posted by Lindy Davies under The Obviologist Blog|
I’ve written before about the intriguing political niche I live in between my Dad, a staunch small-government Republican, and my Father-in-law, a revolutionary Socialist (they converse, sometimes, about the grandchildren). Both of them have recently asked me for my impressions on President Obama’s first term — which each of them, as you might guess, for quite different reasons, views as a dreadful miasma of awfulness.
As a Georgist, I must state at the outset that no president in today’s political climate is going to be Any Great Shakes; we have to take what we can get. But, I’m inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone so vituperatively reviled by both ends of the spectrum.
So: let’s start with domestic policy. That amounts, basically, to the health care law. A lot has been said about this, so I’m going to to cleave to this blog’s premise and stick with the obvious. First, everyone agrees that something had to be done. Many administrations wrestled unsuccessfully with the issue (though the last one steadfastly ignored it for eight years). With all due respect to folks who think we could get there with tort reform and interstate insurance markets, I believe a single-payer system would be best. Hillary Clinton came out and said that (quietly) during the 2008 campaign, but she also admitted that politically it was never going to happen. So we got what we got: Obamacare, with its “demon-spawn” Individual Mandate. Sticking with the obvious: If we’re going to have a system based on private health insurance, and pre-existing conditions are going to be covered, the individual mandate is necessary. But it’s unconstitutional! Profit-grabbing capitalist opportunism! Pure socialist horror!
Let’s calm down. The fact of the matter is that we had socialized medicine all along. We had free health care for all — we just had it in the most inefficient, inequitable form possible. For some time now, the United States has not been willing to refuse emergency care to the indigent. Of course, poor people who lack insurance will expand on this service, showing up at the ER with bad fevers, screaming children and undiagnosed illnesses of many sorts. When they become very sick, they get treated — not very well, or with much follow-up — and the costs are passed on to those who pay taxes and/or buy health insurance. We shouldn’t mince words: the real free-market reform would be to simply let people die if they can’t afford medical care.
Obamacare is a faltering step in the right direction. It is not going to lead to draconian rationing; those with good-quality health insurance will be able to stay on their plans. It’s not going to bust the budget; most projections call for modest savings at the Federal level. It’s not going to drastically increase the cost of hiring workers, because individual tax savings can be factored into pay levels. It’s going to make health care somewhat more affordable for quite a big number of Americans, without actually Destroying the Free World As We Know It.
Aside from that, domestically? Obama has appointed a couple of pro-choice Supreme Court Justices, and made some halting steps on civil rights for LGBTs. Oh, and he nixed the tar-sands oil pipeline. I realize conservatives think that was dumb, but I don’t! We don’t need more pipelines; we (obviously) need to use less oil.
Before we leave domestic policy, a word on the federal debt: it’s high. It was, however, going to be high in any case. Tax revenues go down during recessions. And we mustn’t forget that under George W. Bush, we cut taxes while increasing annual Federal spending — and fought two wars! Spending for Iraq and Afghanistan was never part of the annual budgets that were submitted and adopted — it always came by way of separate, supplementary appropriations! Yet they added to the debt, right along. Furthermore, the TARP program was administered by the Obama administration, but it was legislated under Bush. And I though I carped, at the time, about the bailouts of GM and Chrysler — they worked! They got paid back. Since 2010 there has been a Republican House that will not countenance lavish federal spending (and very little of Obama’s socialist mischief will withstand Senate filibustering). So, while I can more-or-less see how one could accuse Obama of being a glib, fast-talking wishy-washy triangulator, calling him a rabid big-spender just doesn’t work.
On foreign policy the wishy-washyness does come to the fore. He hasn’t done well with the Giant Festering Messes left by the previous administration. He should have stood up to Congress and kept his promise to close Guantanamo; he should have gotten out of Iraq much more quickly, and the Afghanistan surge was a mistake. I realize it’s a mess over there and there are no easily solutions — but in Afghanistan, that was also true in 2001. I suspect that the biggest single thing the US could do to deny support to the Taliban would be to legalize heroin.
However, I do give the Obama administration good marks for fighting terrorism. It has prosecuted the campaign against terrorism as I believed it should have been done all along: under the radar, out of the public eye, focusing on the people who actually carry out terrorist acts — rather than whole nations where they might be hiding. The killing of Bin Laden is famous, but a number of other high-level Al Qaeda figures have been taken out, and recently a double agent was arrested as an underwear bomber — a US agent had successfully infiltrated a real terrorist group, been trusted with their technology and sent on a mission.
In a similar vein, the US, apparently in close cooperation with Israel, has successfully damaged and delayed the Iranian nuclear program using computer viruses! Apparently it was tactically important to get Israel on board with this project, to help dissuade them from up & bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities. There may be questions of retaliation, which I hope the US is ready for. But, this shows to me that Obama is serious about the threat from Iran and willing to take tangible steps against it — short of actually bombing.
The other huge foreign-policy challenge is “What To Do About China?” And because I believe this can only meaningfully be addressed by economic reforms that I haven’t seen any Rep. or Dem. presidential candidate come close to understanding, much less actually espousing, I’ll have to leave it to subsequent posts. I’ll just plant this notion for now: it seems to me that rumors of the demise of the United States of America have been exaggerated. Our economy, while staggering a bit, is in far better shape than Europe’s. The dollar remains strong against currencies near and far (too strong, for our exporters). Nobody messes with us militarily; Al Qaeda is fragmented and wavering. And so far — so far, mind you — the onslaught of inexpensive consumer goods from China has fallen short of fully destroying our way of life.
Yes, there are scary things out there, huge challenges, stuff that’s GOT to be dealt with. But I am impatient with gloom-and-doom predictions — especially when they come from the Left AND the Right! The most likely outcome is a final count of somewhere around twelve steps forward and eleven steps back. And I predict that unless the economy Totally, and I mean Totally, tanks in the next few months, Mitt Romney is going to lose big.