Monday, December 20, 2010

Obama's Glass: More Than Half-Full In Some Places; Less In Others

The Glass is Half Full!
As Kevin Drum points out, in the grand scheme of things the Obama administration is two-for-three on the major priorities of the day. Health care reform happened, even if it wasn't pretty. And our misadventure in Iraq has come to an end. In addition, Don't Ask Don't Tell has finally been repealed (and credit to Harry Reid for basically daring Republicans to vote against a standalone bill), the financial reform bill, compromised as it was, was certainly better than what would have happened under a Republican President. Behind the scenes, the Obama administration has made progress on rebuilding the country's regulatory apparatus in various places, notably EPA and antitrust but also mundane but important agencies such as the FDA, FCC, and so forth. Those are some serious high lights.

The lowlights are also pretty clear:
  • Obama got everyone to say some nice things at Copenhagen, but really, doing anything to slow down carbon-based pollution has been a total bust.
  • Immigration reform hasn't happened, though it was pretty obvious bipartisan cooperation there was dead for a long time halfway through Bush's second term.
  • As Drum mentions, despite some early positive indications, unwinding Bush's travesties on civil liberties basically hasn't happened.
  • The health care reform bill leaves a lot to be desired. Forget the lack of a public option; the climbdown on end-of-life care, on covering non-citizens, on doing more to make insurance more affordable for those living at working class wages, left much to be desired.
  • Appointments to subcabinet positions have been bad, and to the judiciary have been even worse.
  • There's a general distate for Obama's habit of negotiating with himself. How this is perceived by the median voter is still unclear to me, though.
  • There seems to be a lot of fear that deficit-reduction hysteria is going to lead to some terrible budgets in the near future, along with an awful reduction in promised--and paid for-- Social Security benefits.
It's hard to say that the bad outweighed the good here. The first two years of the Obama administration alone mean that he will end up as the most progressive President since LBJ (or, if you like the Kennedy/Johnson years) when it comes to domestic policy, and the mess in Afghanistan pales in comparison to what we had in Vietnam. If he ends up working out an awful Social Security "compromise", that could change the calculus, but we'll have to see what happens there. I have a hard time believing anyone wants to look like they're cutting Social Security during a Presidential Election year. For now, though, a solid A- for Team Obama.

cc photo by flickr user Ibn-Ar Rashid


wsn said...

A-? Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations. ;)

In my mind, the biggest problem was accepting the 60 vote threshold as legitimate.

I just can't give him higher than B to B+ because of that. It's subjective, but when we will have such majorities again?

Nick Beaudrot said...

Seriously, though, compared to what? Yes, he could have done a better job on judicial and executive branch appointments. But HCR is really the lynchpin of the welfare state, DADT happened, and we're more or less done with Iraq. Afghanistan is a downer, but how much of one? At the very least it was clear in '09 that he was unhappy with the generals' lack of exit planning and forced them to think about it. Civil liberties is a wreck but name me the modern President who has voluntarily curtailed civil liberties abuses. Accepting the 60 vote threshold might have led to better HCR and finreg proposals, and a larger stimulus, but by how much? This seems like a difficult problemt to quantify.

wsn said...

Well, I agree it's difficult to quantify. Let me try a few ways. :) These are, obviously, rough.

* 60-vote threshold. If we accept this, I agree he's an A-.

* Larger stimulus - you could run models of +25% to +100% and see how they would have affected unemployment. I'm not sure what the range for extra stimulus would have been, but I think +25-100% is reasonable.

* I think people have quantified public option/non-public option differences during the big debate, no?

* You could quantify the effects of Medicare-for-All (single-payer) as a baseline for HCR.

* How many undocumented immigrants are there that would/could gain citizenship? The effects of the DREAM Act?

* Carbon Pricing -> global warming. Maybe there weren't 50 votes for a full-on version, but perhaps a half-assed compromise could have passed.

* Overall tax rates - go back to Clinton rates for those over $250k.

* Appointees confirmed. Fed chairs? Judges? Assistant to the undersecretary of state's office manager in east MadeUpistan?

* Time wasted waiting for filibusters to ripen on votes that passed easily. (I am conflating a 50-vote threshold with time-sink reforms ... but I don't think that's too unfair.)

NOTE: Iraq, DADT, Afghanistan are probably about as good as could be expected from what we heard from O's campaign. Civil liberties not so much. If O really cared about civil liberties he would use them to investigate Fox News, Rush, & Palin. Only then will R's repeal them.

Anonymous said...

Low expectations, indeed... And a fair amount of rationalization, too. "most progressive president since LBJ ... better than what would have happened under a Republican administration" -- are we measuring "progress" in counterfactual terms now? (Is Berlusconi progressive because at least he didn't start a fascist movement?) Progressive, my foot...