Im Not Dumb, Ive Just Been Paying Attention

 

“ It’s not that I don’t understand the critiques of Barack Obama from the enraged right and the demoralized left. It’s that I don’t even recognize their description of Obama’s first term in any way. The attacks from both the right and the left on the man and his policies aren’t out of bounds. They’re simply—empirically—wrong”

And thus Andrew Sullivan begins his opinion piece in this month’s Newsweek magazine. In the article, entitled: “How Obama’s Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics” , Sullivan goes on to claim that criticism coming from the right are so off base as to be described as “unhinged”.

Simultaneously, the criticism coming from the disenchanted left stems from a lack of understanding of just how awesome the Obama administration’s policies have been. He calls it Obama’s “long game” and thinks that if (when?) Obama is reelected and given an 8 year mandate, liberals will finally be able to recognize all of the good that this administration had accomplished.

To make his case Sullivan breaks his article down into two sections: reasons why the right is wrong to criticize Obama; and reasons why the left is wrong to do the same. Sullivan writes, “But given the enormity of what he inherited, and given what he explicitly promised, it remains simply a fact that Obama has delivered in a way that the unhinged right and purist left have yet to understand or absorb.  “

Ok Mr. Sullivan, make your case.

Bank Bailouts:

“But Obama did several things at once: he continued the bank bailout begun by George W. Bush, he initiated a bailout of the auto industry, and he worked to pass a huge stimulus package of $787 billion… All these decisions deserve scrutiny. And in retrospect, they were far more successful than anyone has yet fully given Obama the credit for. The job collapse bottomed out at the beginning of 2010, as the stimulus took effect. Since then, the U.S. has added 2.4 million jobs.”

While this is obviously a reductive view of the last 3 years, the numbers, on their face, offers support for the idea that the stimulus package and bank bailouts were “far more successful than anyone has yet fully given Obama the credit for” as Sullivan asserts. However, one only has to dig a bit deeper into the numbers to find out the true story about America’s job situation.

Take the employment report for the month of December released last week for example. The jobs report that the administration and news agencies cite are based on two surveys: one given to households; and one given to employers. Last month’s surveys pointed in two completely different directions.

“The employment survey, the normal focus of attention, showed overall growth in payrolls of only 103,000. That was well below expectations, especially after a disappointing November report and a remarkably high estimate from private- sector payroll processor ADP earlier this week.” (source)

Yet the household survey, from which the unemployment rate is calculated, sent a completely different message. It showed an extra 297,000 people in jobs and 260,000 fewer people in the labour force. The combination of the two was enough to cause a drop in the unemployment rate from 9.8 to 9.4 per cent…

 “At the moment [both surveys] send the same message: things are doing OK but not as well as you would have hoped or expected given the apparent strength of growth,” said Paul Dales, senior US economist at Capital Economics in Toronto.

Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve chairman,struck a similar note in testimony to Congress prepared before the release of the payrolls data. “Although recent indicators of spending and production have generally been encouraging, conditions in the labour market have improved only modestly at best,” Mr Bernanke said.” (source)

The jobs picture is a lot murkier and much less clear cut than Andrew Sullivan would have you believe. I find it hard to give the Obama administration credit for a jobs situation that is still up in the air at best.

The Liberal’s Case Against Obama:

For the first part of the article, Sullivan attempts to defend Obama against Republcan attacks, pointing out the hypocrisy of the right for criticizing Obama’s tax policy as he has kept the Bush tax cuts for the top 1 percent (the fact that he promised to allow them to expire while he was campaigning doesn’t seem to affect Sullivan’s assessment) and implemented a series of tax cuts that affect 95% of Americans.

Taken by itself, the fact that the Bush tax cuts not only were renewed but also seemed to never be in danger of being dropped, would not be that alarming if it didnt show a steady trend of a candidate who talked big talk of standing up to the type of economic policy that adversely affected the nation (cutting taxes while increasing the deficit to its highest levels ever), but after being elected meekly acquiesced to the status quo.

He goes on to assert that “Obamacare, is also far more moderate than its critics have claimed. The Congressional Budget Office has projected it will reduce the deficit, not increase it dramatically (CBO projections are notoriously unreliable, why they are continued to be cited like they are scripture is beyond me)…”It does not have a public option; it gives a huge new client base to the drug and insurance companies; its health-insurance exchanges were also pioneered by the right.”

I found it amazing that Sullivan would site these two things in an article meant to defend Obama’s record. In just a few paragraphs, Sullivan encapsulates the very reasons that the people who gave Obama an overwhelming and undisputed mandate in 2008 should be disappointed in his governance over the last three years. In defending Obama to Republicans he invariably shows just how weak of a Democratic leader he has been.

When the Public Option was taken off the table, polls showed that support for the its inclusion in the healthcare reform bill was incredibly strong, ranging from %55- %65. While citing the need for compromise when dealing with congress in defense of the removal of the public option, liberals tend to forget that the public option WAS the compromise. The single-payer option was what was promised during the campaign, a public option was the compromise. So here we are three years after his election, this is what healthcare reform in America looks like: A mandate that the 44 million people in America who are uninsured, presumably because they were too poor to, to buy health insurance or face a penalty. Whether this will work towards reducing healthcare costs, shrinking the deficit, and adequately providing insurance to those who can not afford it remains to be seen.

Sullivan’s Final Attempt at Defending the Indefensible:

 “From the start, liberals projected onto Obama absurd notions of what a president can actually do in a polarized country, where anything requires 60 Senate votes even to stand a chance of making it into law. They have described him as a hapless tool of Wall Street, a continuation of Bush in civil liberties, a cloistered elitist unable to grasp the populist moment that is his historic opportunity….”

Out of all of the defenses of what has been a giant failure of a presidency in my opinion, this is the most annoying. That somehow the public is asking too much of Obama. Do you remember the 2008 campaign? He set himself up for this dissapointment by promising to be some sort of bipartisan, like-youve-never-seen-in-Washington, super-politician.

I understand that this rhetoric was simply designed to get him elected and he was capitalizing on anti-beltway insider sentiment that the Bush administration had fomented over the previous eight years. But then dont turn around and act like you dont know where these high expectations came from. They came from your campaign!

Also no one is asking Obama to part the Red Sea. We only ask that you make a good faith effort to do the things you promised you would during your campaign. Like closing down Guantanamo Bay, instead of keeping it open and then signing legislation that makes it virtually impossible to close. Like decrying the Patriot Act, and then forwarding legislation that expands its power. Like running on true healthcare reform that included, at the very least, a public option, and then unceremoniously dumping it without negotiation. Like decrying Bush for expanding executive power and then actively trying to expand executive power once you get into office.

Sullivan unsuccessfully attempts to separate the Iraq war into an issue in and of itself and then declares an Obama victory for ending that war.

“The Iraq War—the issue that made Obama the nominee—has been ended on time and, vitally, with no troops left behind. “

This is of course revisionist history. The issue for liberals wasnt just the Iraq War, it was the fact that the executive branch acted unilaterally (no, the “coalition of the willing” does not count) to go to war with a country that was not a threat to us. The country was fed up with the idea that the president could act without the approval of Congress and take the country into a war that it neither needed nor wanted, an issue that Sullivan admits himself.

“Yes, Obama has waged a war based on a reading of executive power that many civil libertarians, including myself, oppose. And he has signed into law the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without trial (even as he pledged never to invoke this tyrannical power himself)….”

But to defend Obama from criticism in the next sentence he says, “ But he has done the most important thing of all: excising the cancer of torture from military detention and military justice.” Since when was that the most important thing of all! Yea torture sucks but I swear it was like eighth on my list of things that were important for the Obama administration to change. Somehow in Sullivan’s fantasy world of Obama’s presidential infallibility the “end of torture” jumps to the status of “the most important thing of all”.

My response isnt to say that the Obama administration does not deserve credit for some stuff (the Bush administration got SOME stuff right too, doesnt mean it wasnt the worst administration ever), but to argue that he doesnt deserve criticism from either the left of the right is simply ridiculous just on it’s face. If he is in fact promoting an agenda that liberals can be happy with, then it stands to reason that conservatives should be critical of him. If he is in fact promoting an agenda that is actually very conservative, then of course it stands to reason that liberals should be disappointed. It seems as though Sullivan wants to have his Obama cake and eat it too. He talks out of both sides of his mouth to once again turn Obama into Mr. everything for everybody, a persona that he successfully rode to the White House back in 2008. A role that , referencing the last three years of his governing record reveals, does not fit him in the least.


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