The politically incompetent, and a look at year one

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 20, 2010, 7:52 PM | comments: 0

I'm kind of annoyed the way a lot of people have strong political opinions that aren't based on anything. I'm not sure I understand how people get this wrapped up in ideologies that they can't explain. I'm not saying that it's a universal phenomenon, as I have friends who are outright dogmatic about what they believe, but at least they can explain why.

Today there were forums, comments on news stories, Facebook statii, etc., all proclaiming shock and awe over the Massachusetts election. Granted, this was the story in pretty much all of the media too (you know, the "liberal media" that allegedly hates Republicans). I'm not sure I understand how the outcome of one election, for which the Democrats had a pretty weak candidate, by the way, says anything. A change by 1% of the Senate's composition in this case is certainly important, but implying that it means anything other than the Republican candidate was the better fit is a real stretch. It reminds me a lot of this skit on SNL.

Predictably, the Obama haters have all piped up as well. The funny thing is, challenging people to explain why they dislike him gets you nowhere in most cases. I've yet to see any real answer from anyone I've asked to explain themselves, only implied inuendo and the use of inflamatory words like "socialism." To me that's one step away from the teabagging, er, tea partying freakshows who equate this president with Hitler. Because, you know, what he's done is just like slaughtering millions of Jews, right? Do you really want to associate with morons like this? (Seriously, watch that... it's more scary than all of the elected officials combined from my lifetime.)

With today being the end of the first year of Obama's term, I figured it would be a good time to look back at what he's actually done. In reviewing, I'm not as enthusiastic as I used to be, but part of that comes from the rampant divisive nature of politicians and those who think they know them.

He had some solid scores early on, pushing the stimulus hard. Congress already had that in motion when he started, obviously, but he pushed for TARP beyond that. You won't find many economists who think that was a bad idea, and frankly I trust those opinions over any from Washington. That banks still aren't lending enough is a problem, but that they're still around is a plus.

His foreign policy has been a dramatic shift from the status quo. He has expressly forbid any kind of tor ture, promised withdrawal from Iraq, committed a focused and time-limited effort in Afghanistan, slapped the hand of Isreael for advancing settlements, and perhaps most importantly, showed some humility and respect toward the billion practicing Msulims in the world. As an American with loosely Christian beliefs, I don't think we're out to crush Islam, but it's pretty obvious to me why anyone outside of here would think that was our agenda. Iraq characterized us as crusading imperialists, even if the real motivation was just some wacked out idea in Dubya's head, fueled by post-9/11 desire to kick someone's ass.

Obama's environmental record has been pretty solid. I'm glad he's had the balls to say that the recenty treaties and agreements are completely inadqueate. He's also removed the rules overriding California's, so they can as a state choose their own stronger fuel economy standards. I love that he's also got the nuts to call out the US private sector to be too slow to innovate in the "green" technology that represents entirely new sectors of business. We're in danger of being followers, not leaders.

Letting the Bush tax cuts expire was also a win. That's easy to say since I know so few people who were benefiting from that anyway. Some may have a philisophical issue with that, but the thing about tax cuts is that they're always made in a vacuum without matching cuts in spending, regardless of who is in the White House or who is running Congress. In that respect, with ballooning debt, a tax cut to me is no different than new spending.

The health care thing has been a mess, but I only half blame him for that. For every Democratic president who has tried to pursue health care reform, he's the first that provided some guidelines he wanted to see, but left it to Congress to work it out. I'm torn about that, because I realize that you have to make compromises to get anything done, but I think it went too far. The current bills don't fix any of the core problems. On one hand, I'm all for subsidizing premiums for the poor and banning the denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, but almost everything else is junk that doesn't get to the root of the problem over why health care is so expensive. I've come to appreciate that a ton since moving, as everything here is so inefficient compared to the Cleveland Clinic. So much overhead in paper movement. Don't get me wrong, Microsoft's insurance means no co-pays or deductibles, so we now pay zero for this baby stuff, but the inefficiencies of the system are ridiculous.

I'm also not fond of Obama's half-assed treatment over Guantanamo Bay or his administration's defense of warrantless wiretapping. Two giant steps backward there. I also don't agree with the auto bailouts, because the big three's failure to compete was based squarely in their inability to innovate or build what consumers wanted.

I think overall I'd rate him at a B-, or maybe C+. He got off to a strong start, but the health care stuff seemed to take precedence over everything else. If it dies in the next few months, perhaps he can recover to his previous velocity.

I still take issue with people who pontificate half-truths and nonsense about the guy. The Hitler comparison is pretty fringe, and I realize that, but there are a lot of blatantly stupid comments that otherwise rational people like to make. For example, I fail to see how Obama is "ruining the country," and if you ask someone why, they have no answer. The notion that he's a socialist is almost as stupid, in part because socialism is something we all participate in and benefit from, and also because people equate socialism with communism or some kind of anti-capitalist movement. (Hint: Some components of our economy might function better in a socialist framework while others are obviously left to the free markets. Just ask the Canadians when it comes to health care.)

I also take issue with people who don't even understand how our fucking government works. Don't they teach you about the three branches of government in first grade? I'm saddened that some people don't even understand what a president can and can't do.

A year ago there were a lot of conversations about whether or not Obama could be a transformative leader, and obviously it's way too early to make a call on that. I think the potential is there, but he's become a little too absent for much of that past four or five months. During his campaign and the first part of his first year, he was popular for talking as directly to the people as possible without talking down to some lowest common denominator. That's what I liked about him. He wasn't afraid to go beyond sound bites. These days, we're just not hearing from him.

That the economy isn't in free fall anymore will certainly help him in terms of popularity. It has a long way to go, but it seems we can expect things have already bottomed out. The markets have been on a steady rise since March. If we can just turn that unemployment corner, that'd be awesome.

Year two should tell us a great deal about this president.


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