100 Days, 100 Successes – Obama’s First 100 Days in Office
by John Clifton Yesterday, I read the New York Post’s “100 Days, 100 Mistakes” list and found myself both amused and annoyed. So I decided to write my own “100 Days, 100 Successes” list for the first hundred days of the Barack Obama administration. The list ranges from the policy successes to personal political triumphs to successes that simply help a lot of people. I like the list, but I would be interested in hearing feedback from both sides. In no particular order, here’s 100 successes by Barack Obama and his administration in their first hundred days. I’ll start with broad concerns and narrow down to individual successes as I go. Leadership SuccessesSuccessful presidents are successful leaders. At times, that means sensing the mood of the country and seizing the opportunity. At times, that means making the unpopular decision that you know to be right. Being a good leader is making the right decision most of the time, while taking responsibility on the occasions that you don’t. So far, it looks like Barack Obama has the making of a good leader.
- Setting Expectations – While the first 100 days of the Obama presidency are important, Obama reminded Americans that the work doesn’t end there. He stated, “The first hundred days are going to be important, but it’s probably going to be the first thousand days that makes the difference.”
- Honest Assessment – Give Obama credit for being brutally honest on the future of his presidency. He admitted early on that, if his plans to turn around the U.S. economy were unsuccessful, America would have a new president in 4 years. That’s laying it on the line. Just imagine the kind of ammunition that quote will give Obama’s opponents if the U.S. economy is still sputtering in four years. And you know what? If he has failed, he deserves to lose his job in four years.
- Admitting Mistakes – When it became clear the Tom Daschle nomination would be a disaster, Obama owned up to the error by saying “I screwed up”. Can you imagine George W. Bush admitting something like that? If a president doesn’t blame the press constantly, he might learn from his mistakes.
- Delivering on Change – Argue what you want about whether Barack Obama’s changes are for the better or not. We’ll see in time who’s write. But Barack Obama campaigned on the need for change and was elected to be an engine of change in Washington. In that respect, Barack Obama has brought many changes in policy. In that respect, Obama he’s been remarkably successful. Let’s discuss those changes.
- Signing the Economic Stimulus Package – The stimulus package meant to give tax reductions to most Americans and economic aid to states was signed into law. One consequence of the Bush tax cuts was that much of the tax burden has been shifted to states over the years, hurting public education and infrastructure projects. Despite the grandstanding of Republican governors, most states need these federal funds.
- Staying Calm and Confident – President Obama appears to be calm and confident, seeming like a reasonable and moderate politician. Conservative attempts to portray him as a radical socialist have fallen on largely deaf ears. As a consequence, the Republican Party has had to whip up their base to get their arguments heard, and this makes them look like the radicals.
- Stock Market Is Stabilized – For those who predicted the Dow Jones would fall to 6000, the first 100 days of the Obama Administration have seen a steadying of the stock market. The Dow Jones Average sat at 8281.22 to open Inauguration Day, and there was widespread consternation of a record inaugural drop of over 300 points the day Obama was sworn in. As I write this, I’m looking and the Dow Jones is sitting at 8,250.48 So after months of sinking numbers in the final days of the Bush Administration and fears of a panic on Wall Street that a socialist has taken over, the panic on Wall Street seems to have ended – which is a sign that Obama is winning over the money men to the idea he isn’t bad for business.
- Expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program – The 1997 SCHIP law provided federal matching funds to help uninsured children and pregnant women, but two proposed expansions were vetoed by President Bush. Barack Obama helped 4,000,000 children get insurance by signing an expansion of S-CHIP.
- Health Care Reform Promises – Barack Obama also gained the approval of a budget resolution that the Congress will work on major health care reform laws in 2009. Once again, this follows Obama’s campaign pledge to work on much-needed health care reform.
- The White House Office of Health Care Reform – Taken alongside the promise to have a health care reform bill in front of Congress by October 15, 2009, President Obama created the White House Office of Health Care Reform. This signals a clear decision to address the health care crisis in America.
- Listening Tours – Like in the Obama Campaign, the president has announced he will send officials on listening tours to discuss with American citizens their hopes, dreams and fears about the American future. Unlike the previous administration, which often seemed unwilling to listen to what the average citizen thought about their country, the listening tours are a sign that the Obama administration will be responsive to the cares and concerns of average US citizens.
Political SuccessesThere’s a difference in good politics and good policies. The Bush administration was great at winning elections and winning debates, though their policies were frequently awful. It looks to me like Obama is a skilled politician, as evidenced by his unlikely election and the victories listed below. Here’s hoping he has as good of an eye for successful policy making, too. So far, I’m happy with most of his decisions, as you’ll see below.
- The Inaugural Speech – It wasn’t one of his best performances, but President Obama’s Inaugural Speech had a sense of gravity and seriousness that set out for the American people the scope of the challenges we face. Americans have a sense that they finally have a serious leader (for the first time in a while) in President Obama.
- Retaking the Oath of Office – For that group of knuckleheads who would claim he wasn’t really president because he flubbed the oath, going through this formality was probably the right thing to do. End the debate.
- The Budget Vote – Some suggested that the $3 billion-plus budget passed by Congress wasn’t entirely a victory for President Obama, but he got his way on all of his major budget priorities. It’s as simple as that.
- The Bailout Plan – Americans want this economic mess cleaned up sooner rather than later. Simply by having his own bailout plan, that forces the Republicans to oppose American recovery. The recovery plans have become a debate on more or less government action, and while the Republicans are sticking to first principles in opposing a government bailout of Wall Street, they are simply marginalizing themselves and looking like they have their heads in the sand.
- Earmarks Done Right – Contrary to the opinion that earmarks are necessarily evil, President Obama referenced the “good” earmarks in a speech. Earmarks are sometimes needed to fund necessary projects in certain districts of the country and they are not always a measure of corruption.
- Swine Flu Response – The Obama Administration built on the post-Katrina Bush Administration preparations for disaster response by organizing a swift response to the Swine Flu scare by top-level officials like Janet Napolitano (Homeland Security) and Richard Besser (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention). This means the administration should be positioned for a quick response if the swine flu begins to affect cities in this country like it has Mexico City.
- Calling Out Rush Limbaugh – Singling out Rush Limbaugh worked even better. Limbaugh has a huge audience, enough to make him millions and millions of dollars. But most Americans think he’s radical, partisan and overblown. So when Rush Limbaugh is the face of the Republican Party, the Republican Party isn’t very popular.
- Calling Out Sean Hannity – When President Obama singled out Sean Hannity in a comment, I thought, “Why does he care?” Then I realized that he wanted to portray the Republicans as thinking like their most radical public faces. Brilliant. Sean Hannity and his conservative pals rant about it for days, becoming the face of the Republican Party throughout the resulting news cycles.
- Congratulating Arlen Specter – Welcome more into the tent. Republicans have long suspected that Arlen Specter was a Donkey-in-Elephant’s clothing, so it wasn’t that big of a surprise to see Specter jump ship in anticipation of his reelection campaign in 2010. An enthusiastic welcome makes sure there’s no second thoughts.
- The No-Lobby Rule – The rule against having someone in the administration who has been a lobbyist in the last two years is a start in the right direction. The last thing this country needs is a bunch of lawyers on the payroll of lobbying firms making policy decisions.
- Community Organizing is Back! – Much was made about Barack Obama’s past as a community organizer during the election year campaign. While much of the talk was generated by Obama’s opponents in an effort to disparage his past, his election has led to a resurgence of the community organizer in American communities. Suddenly, it’s cool to be a community organizer and Americans are volunteering to help out in their local communities than in recent years. Barack Obama has succeeded in making community service hip again.
Administration Staff SuccessesBelow is a list of some of my favorite decisions of Barack Obama on the staff level. While I’m sure I’m overlooking numerous great officials, these were the ones that jumped out at me. Here’s hoping these guys don’t get into a mess of scandals and make me look like a fool – or Obama look like a fool, for that matter.
- Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State – Regardless of whether you like or hate Hillary Clinton, it’s obvious that she has clout with foreign leaders. While Obama focuses on the economy and other domestic issues, he has a major figure in the State Department looking out for America’s interests abroad.
- Retaining Robert Gates – Keeping Robert Gates on as Secretary of Defense meant a smooth transition at the Pentagon for our various war efforts around the globe. Usually when a new administration comes in, there are the standard period of inefficiency as people learn new jobs and learn about the new personalities. But keeping on the previous secretary in a time of war makes good sense.
- Pay Freeze For White House Staffers – President Obama enacted a pay freeze for White House staffers making over $100,000 a year, affecting approximately 120 staff members. While the savings to the American taxpayer are miniscule compared to overall expenditures, it’s a way of reminding officials in the White House that everyone is affected by the economy and is a personal incentive for them to work towards a time when such measures won’t be needed. Besides, it eliminated cries from the Right if some gesture like this wasn’t enacted.
- Arne Duncan as U.S. Secretary of Education – Placing a man who has worked on inner city education programs as the head of our childrens’ education is a solid idea. America is about equal opportunity, and the idea that everyone has a chance at a good education not only is fair, but it allows America to tap the full potential of its next generation, while education is the best hope to keep the young out of prisons and in productive jobs.
- Steven Chu as U.S. Secretary of Energy – Secretary Chu, a Nobel Prize winner in Physics, is an advocate of reducing our need for oil to help slow down global warming. Steven Chu suggests we increase our energy capacity with both nuclear power and alternative energy. These are practical positions after eight years of pandering to the interests of oil interests.
- Eric Shinseki as U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs – There is nothing more shameful than claiming you support the troops while cutting the benefits of those veterans who have already served their country, but that is what happened during the Bush Administration. Placing an army veteran in as Secretary of Veterans Affairs hopefully means that military veterans have an advocate in this pivotal positions for their needs.
- Judd Gregg as Secretary of Commerce – A third Republican in the Cabinet lends credibility to the idea of bipartisanship. The economy is in a mess and Americans need to leave partisanship at the door while working on recovery.
- Dawn Johnsen as Head of the OLC – The administration nominated Dawn Johnsen, a professor of Constitutional Law, to head the powerful but obscure Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice. Mrs. Johnsen was highly critical of several OLC decisions during the Bush Administration, greatly abetting President Bush’s attempts to skirt the Constitution in its War on Terror. Several Republican congressional members have been critical of the Dawn Johnsen nomination, but she’s a good candidate to frame the debate about the president’s role and power in our society. I welcome the continuing debate on the limits of presidential power.
Interrogation Policy Change SuccessesI wanted to include this as far up the list as possible, so I made the difference in interrogation policies the first specific policy issues on this list. I know it’s political orthodoxy that pardoning presidents for the crimes they commit in office is the right thing, because the resulting political controversies from prosecution are too great. For instance, the Ford pardon of Nixon is considered a wise move. I would completely disagree. If our highest officials believe they will be immune from accountability, they are more likely to break the laws. That’s just human nature. And if our government is allowed to torture people, that government might one day decide to torture people who are Americans. With that in mind, I’m glad to see that Obama has changed the policies of the Bush administration. I’m hopeful that officials who set possibly illegal policies will be held to account. It’s not a matter of revenge. It’s a matter of defending the Constitution and the basic rights of not just people, but Americans. Here’s hoping Barack Obama agrees.
- Setting a Time Table to Shut Down Guantanamo – Crazy things happen in war, but we can’t make it a matter of national policy that we torture people. A government that tortures foreigners will soon torture citizens, so this had to come to an end.
- Closing the Secret CIA Prisons – There are secret CIA prisons out there besides the Guantanamo Prisons. CIA Director Leon Panetta claims that most of these so-called “black sites” were closed by April 9th and that the remaining ones will soon be. Despite the public outcry about Gitmo, Human Rights Watch claims that some of the worst human rights violation went on in the secret prisons, which held about 100 terror suspects.
- Ending Waterboarding and Other Illegal Acts – Obama signed an order that set the Army Field Manual as our interrogaters’ guideline for interrogation of those captured in the war on terror. Waterboarding was one tactic, considered torture by our military since the time the North Vietnamese used it in Vietnam, banned. Once again, while torture has no doubt go on in every war and possibly by every side in every war, the Bush Years was the only time that torture was a matter of national policy, and rejecting torture as a national policy was an important step for Barack Obama.
- Setting Up an Interagency Task Force To Review Interrogation Techniques – On January 22, 2009, President Obama set up an interagency task force to review whether the Army Field Manual is adequate for acquiring the terrorism network intelligence required to keep America safe. Their decision comes down in the middle of July. For those who think Obama has made America less safe with his interrogation decisions, we’ll have the experts’ opinion in the middle of the summer.
- Repudiation of Bush Presidential Directives on Torture – President Obama was quick to repudiate and contraindicate Bush presidential memos on torture practices, bringing the U.S. in line with international standards for interrogation.
- Suspension of the Military Commissions – President Obama temporarily suspended the military commission prosecutions at Guantanamo, which do not hold up to the standards of American jurisprudence. Hopefully, this is a precursor to the terror suspects being tried in a Federal Court, which have a solid tradition in terror cases. This further allows us to prove to ourselves – and the world – that the Bush Administration was holding real terror suspects.
- Setting a Trial for Saleh Kahlah al-Marri – Obama signed a presidential memo which led to Saleh Kahlah al-Murri, a Qater citizen in the U.S. as a student, being placed back into the criminal justice system. al-Marri was originally charged with credit card fraud, but has been held by the Bush Administration since 2003 as an “enemy combatant” and been denied a trial to prove his guilt. Now, we all get to see the evidence against al-Marri and, if he’s guilty of federal crimes, he’ll face a just punishment.
- Review of Rendition Practices – Obama’s January 22nd memo also ordered the creation of a task force to review the transfer policies under the “rendition” category, where foreign terror suspects are rendered to foreign countries who use torture practices. Once again, the rendition process has not been firmly rejected by the Obama Administration, but hopefully Obama’s commission will come back with the proper and safe recommendations.
- No CIA Prosecutions – When the Obama Administration said they would not prosecute members of the CIA for following policies set by the previous administration, many on the left assumed that was it for the prosecution talk. My guess is the administration is splitting hairs, signaling that they are going to go after the policy makers at the Department of Justice. That’s my hope, because people in government must be punished for abuses of power. Criminal wrongdoing unchecked just invites more criminal wrongdoing. I’m willing to give Obama a pass on the CIA interrogations charges – for now.
- Releasing Interrogation Memos – In his decision to make America a more open society, President Obama continues to release interrogation memos that allow the world to see exactly what happened on Bush’s watch. This is only a good move if there are eventual charges brought against officials for breaking the law. Otherwise, this is an attempt to make the opposing party look bad. This may be the precursor to a bloodletting of bad officials at the DoJ by Eric Holder.
- Drawing Dick Cheney Offsides – Since Vice President Cheney left office, he has been one of the most outspoken critics of the Obama Administration. Drawing Dick Cheney into the debate is a big success, because Cheney is so unpopular with large segments of the American public. When the Obama Administration recently unleashed documents about the CIA torture program, Cheney went on FoxNews and demanded that Obama release documents showing the successes of the program. This begs the question, if the successes were so great, why Dick Cheney and friends never released the documents in their eight years in office. This either highlights either the paranoid secrecy of the Bush administration or the lack of evidence to support their claims, or both. Either way, since the Bush Administration seemed incompetent in so many ways that the American public could measure (WMDs in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina), the idea that the Bush Administration was insanely competent in foiling hundreds of terrorist attacks before they happened undermines Dick Cheney’s argument and makes his continued presence on the national scene a big plus for the Obama Administration.
Policy Change SuccessesFor those who say that the two parties are the same, here are a number of policy breaks between the new Obama administration and the old Bush administration. You can see that there are a lot of differences between these two presidents and their parties. I hope you’re reading this, Ralph Nader.
- Freedom of Information Act – Barack Obama made America a more open society by changing government procedures under the Freedom of Information Act during his first days in office.
- Signed the Ledbetter Law – The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Play Act allows women to better challenge pay discrimination in court. This is for cases when women are institutionally paid less for the same work than their male colleagues. A basic matter of fairness like equal pay for genders is a basic American concept.
- Department of Transportation Energy Memoranda – President Obama signed a pair of memoranda which ordered the Department of Transportation to set higher fuel standards for the 2011 and future year car models. Not only does this make good scientific and environmental sense, but higher fuel standards allow Detroit cars to make it into more markets worldwide – like China for example – so higher fuel standards make economic sense, too.
- Reversing the Stem Cell Ban – It’s quite simple: Barack Obama’s reversal of Bush’s stem cell ban is a victory for science. Instead of stem cells being thrown out with the trash, they now can be used to research cures for Alzeihers, Parkinsons and other horrible diseases. That’s a good thing, despite reactionary comments from the Right about stem cell farms and other tactics used to scare good people into immoral positions on the stem cell debate.
- Funds For College Education – President Obama has offset rising college prices for up to 7,000,000 university students by increasing the funds for Pell Grants and other student aid programs. One overlooked issue is how underfunded the Pell Grants have been the last few years. The next generation needs to be educated to pay off all the debts we’re creating for them.
- Increased Funding for Public Education – Amid all the posturing about evil federal funds going to states is the fact that many states will have to cut funding and layoff a lot of school personnel without federal funds. Obama provided over $53,000,000,000 to state education agencies and local school districts to help them avoid these layoffs. That’s a good plan for our childrens’ education.
- Focus on At-Risk Students – The Obama Administration set aside 25 billion dollars to help at-risk students and special needs students. “At risk” means students who have a higher risk of dropping out of school and starting a life of crime. The benefits of keeping these kids in schools, off the streets and out of jail is incalculable, creating a safer community and increasing the talent pool of educated Americans. It also happens to be the moral thing to do.
- Endangered Species Get a Break – Just this week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar rolled back a Bush Administration decision that put endangered species in great danger of dying out. Plus one for our role as stewards of this Earth.
- Early Head Start Funding for Children – The president’s education package offered over a billion dollars to help fund the “Early Head Start” program, to start children on their way to a better education and a better future.
- Head Start Funding – Besides funding the Early Head Start, the administration offered a billion dollars to fund the head start programs across the country. These two measures increased head start and early head start services for nearly 120-thousand children and infants.
- Credit Card Reform – President Obama recently met with executives of the credit card industry in anticipation of a future credit card reform bill. Critics of the current credit card laws have argued that credit card companies are unclear and predatory in their practices, and that laws pushed through by the previous Republican Congresses allow the companies to set up credit traps. The new proposed laws will create regulations that will require transparency and clear stipulations, instead of the “lawyer speak” that is the current practice. Once again, I would say that Obama’s attention to credit card laws indicates he cares about the normal American and this is a worthwhile cause.
- Funding for Local Health Care Facilities – The Obama Administration also increased funds for community health centers, which means that health centers across the country will be modernized. These funds will also go towards health care research, to make certain the next generation has better health care provided to them than this generation.
- Medicaid Money Release – Obama announced in early February that he would release $15 billion to pay medicaid expenses, which gives pharmacies and hospitals relief after waiting months for Medicaid bills to be paid. It also helps businesses of all sizes, who have been required to pay Medicaid expenses, but waiting weeks and months to be reimbursed.
- American Recovery & Reinvestment Act and Medicaid – Let’s get back to the stimulus package. This legislation potentially protects up to 20 million Americans who are at risk of losing their Medicaid or State Children’s Health Insurance Program eligibility. We’ll talk about the economic stimulus package in greater detail in a minute.
Tax Relief SuccessesWhile the Tax Tea Parties raged in cities around the country, the tax code was being rewritten by Barack Obama and colleagues to give most Americans a tax break. Besides a few conservative talk show hosts and Republican politicians, it looked to me like most of the people protesting the tax increases were those good, hard-working American working class citizens who are actually getting some relief. Here’s the numbers and you can sort it out for yourself.
- Siding With the American Worker – 100 days in and President Obama has convinced the majority of the American working class that he’s on their side. No miracles here, either. Whether you think he’s a president who finally gets it or you think he’s the Anti-Christ, you have to admit that President Obama has convinced most Americans he’s working to solve the great problems that face this great nation.
- Tax Relief for the Citizens – Part of the Obama Economic Recovery Package offers over $280,000,000,000 in tax relief for middle class Americans. Obama understands that the American middle class and lower middle class is the engine of the economy, so he’s priming that engine by giving targeted tax cuts to the people who go to Wal-Mart and Target and buy the products that corporation produce. This should help stimulate the economy in the short term. By the way, this makes the Tea Parties seem bone-headed, since most of the people protesting are likely to be in the tax brackets of people getting tax relief. I won’t repeat the oft-repeated factoid that this helps 95% of workers. Oh, wait, I just did.
- Ignoring the Tea Parties – I kept wondering during the tea parties how many of the protesters had paid appreciably higher taxes in 2009 than in 2008. I’m guessing nowhere near 50%, so Obama let this play itself out and allow Americans to decide on their own that this was a politically motivated publicity stunt.
- Alternative Minimum Tax Relief – The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act also spares millions of middle class American workers from paying the alternative minimum tax. Since this is often the required “higher” tax that people have to pay (as opposed to the standard tax formula), the alternative minimum tax relief measure helps millions of middle class Americans pay lower taxes.
- Less Taxes on New Car Purchases – The ARRA package allows makes the sales tax payed when buying a new car tax deductible. By paying less taxes on new car purchases, this gives your average American a tax break when buying a new car and helps the Detroit automakers sell a few more cars to the American public – which can’t hurt the economy.
- Expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit – The Obama economic recovery package targets low-income families with 3 or more children by giving offering a larger Earned Income Tax Credit when figuring income taxes. This is a targeted tax break to help families that are often most-affected by the bad economy. I consider this a “family values” economic tax cut.
- Increasing the First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit – When an American taxpayer buys their first home, they get an $8,000 tax credit for doing so. This encourages Americans to stop renting and start buying homes, which should help the real estate market as well as American homeowners.
- Tax Credits For College Students – President Obama expanded the tax credits program for college tuition, making it easier for college students to stay in college and receive the education to compete in the increasingly global jobs market.
Economic Stimulus SuccessesThe economic stimulus that Barack Obama and the Democrats have put forward have been pretty much in line with what the American people wanted, despite complaints on both the far left and the far right (or the moderate right, for that matter). An age of deregulation and lack of oversight on Wall Street has proven that economic self-interest requires economic wisdom, which Wall Street doesn’t seem to have at the moment. So in steps the government to force Wall Street to do what they should have had the sense to do themselves. To save “the system”, most Americans agree that Wall Street has to have transparency and accountability to go along with the tremendous economic advantage and importance they possess. That’s pretty much where most Americans are at the moment, and that’s the stance Barack Obama and his administration has taken. While we sort out the mess on Wall Street, though, the Democrats have brought forward an economic stimulus package to limit the damage on “main street” and help millions of middle class Americans get out of a jam that is partly of their own making, and partly the making of the lending people who should have known better than to give out sub-prime loans.
- American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – President Obama signed into law a bill that provides over $500,000,000,000 to promote the creation of jobs around the country. Note that this package isn’t just some massive “New Deal” package where we put Americans on the government’s payroll. Over 90% of the jobs created by the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act are private sector jobs.
- Transforming the American Economy – By the way, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is part of President Obama’s plans to transform the American economy into a “green economy”. The economic package hopes to target industries that promote clean energy.
- Avoiding Populism – One fact that escapes many commentators in the media is that Barack Obama has avoided populist causes like nationalizing the money industry and renegotiating the NAFTA Agreement. These are causes the far left want Obama to take up, but he has steadfastly refused to go in that direction. The truth is, Barack Obama has shown a tremendous ability to read the political tea leaves in his first 100 days in office, allowing him to steer America away from the past eight years without veering too far in the other direction. So far, Obama has kept himself planted firmly in the center, making changes he views are necessary, driving the conservatives to the margins of the debate and accurately reading what the American people elected him to do.
- Infrastructure Maintenance – Finally, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides money to help rebuild the American infrastructure. While Republicans might roll their eyes at infrastructure projects, it’s a complete embarrassment (and a tragic one) when major bridges fall down with American drivers on them. It’s time to rebuild the American infrastructure, which will help the jobs market by providing jobs and helping commuters get to their jobs quicker and with a lower carbon footprint.
- Anti-Foreclosure Package – The other four million American homeowners affected by the Foreclosure Prevention Package creates a fund of up to $75 billion dollars to keep them in their homes directly. This reducing the affects on local economies of home foreclosures, which had sent a ripple affect through many U.S. towns and cities.
- Increasing Affordable Housing – The Foreclosure Prevention Package set aside 10 billion dollars to increase the availability of affordable housing. This helps families refinance their homes and has led to an almost 90 percent increase in refinance applications.
- Homeowner Refinancing Package – The Foreclosure Prevention Package specifically helps nearly 5 million homeowners refinance their homes with more realistic mortgages. This package not only helps to keep up to 20,000,000 Americans (including family members) in their homes, but gives mortgage companies and home lenders a needed break that helps get the economy back on track. Good plan.
- One aspect of the American jobs market that isn’t talked about much is the fact that the health care industry often is understaffed. The Recovery and Reinvestment Act should fund the creation of jobs in the health care industry, too, which helps provide good jobs for Americans, while increasing the quality of health care in the U.S.
- Serve America Act – President Obama has encouraged Americans to serve their country in a peaceful way by expanding the national service in areas like the AmeriCorps and other nonprofits organizations that are trying to help American communities in profound ways.
Environmental Successes and Energy Independence SuccessesArgue all you want about global warming, but if we can make investments in the economy that will end our dependence on foreign oil, that is an absolute win for the United States. The sooner we don’t view oil as the most pivotal strategy asset, the fewer costly wars we’ll have to fight in far-flung corners of the world.
- Investment in Energy Efficiency – The Obama administration invested of three billion dollars in the local energy efficiency projects and conservation projects in local Americas states and cities. As you start to see the various investments in energy alternatives, you see that the Obama Administration believes there is no one answer to ending America’s dependence on carbon fuels.
- Clean Energy Research & Development – President Obama set aside $2,500,000,000 for the research and development of alternative energy sources.
- Electric Vehicles Funding – The Obama Administration provided $2,400,000,000 to support advances in electric vehicles engineering. Some on the right sneer at the idea of electric cars, but whatever statistics that point to the lack of viability of such cars at the moment overlook the fact of technological advancement and how those innovations will lower costs and increase capabilities in the future. We had bi-planes at a time, but that didn’t keep airplane designers from trying to improve their designs. Saying the electric car technology isn’t there would be akin to saying we should have stopped developing airplane technology in 1920.
- Financial Support for Renewable Energy Companies – Alternative energy private interests got a boost when Obama doubled the amount of money over the next three years to help them develop renewable energy technologies and capabilities.
- Electric Grid Infrastructure Package – The administration also provided $11,000,000,000 to upgrade America’s electric grid. This should lower costs for American electricity consumers, as well as provide more infrastructure for those using electric cars.
- Persuading Congress to Release the Other $350 Million – The $700 million dollar bailout package passed in the last months of the Bush Administration required that the second half be released when the new term started. This meant that the new president, whether John McCain or Barack Obama, would direct where that money went and how it would be spent. One of the early successes of the Obama Administration was getting those funds released sooner rather than later.
Iraq and Afghanistan War Successes – “War on Terror” SuccessesThe wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are murky situations and I don’t pretend to know what all the solutions in that troubled region are. I opposed the invasion of Iraq because I thought didn’t think it was in our national interests, mainly because I thought the tribal and religious leaders of that country would mess up all the hard work our troops and leaders put into that country. I hope to be proven wrong and I’ll give George W. Bush credit if a stable democracy emerges in the Middle East, but I think getting out of Iraq and disengaging from direct occupation in the Middle East is essential to peace and stability in that region. As far as Iran and North Korea are concerned, I’m more certain that the Bush policies have failed. Claiming you have the right to invade a country because they might one day have weapons of mass destruction puts your potential enemies on alert that they better arm themselves, which is what Iran and North Korea have done. I’m hopeful that Barack Obama’s changing policies in these countries (and Afghanistan) will bring greater stability to the regions surrounding the Korean Peninsula and the Middle East, and hopefully for the rest of the world by consequence.
- Iraq Withdrawal Plans – Obama agreed to go ahead with his election year promises to withdraw troops from Iraq in an orderly fashion.
- Iraqi Responsibility – President Obama’s plan for Iraq includes provisions to encourage Iraqis to stand up and take responsibility for their own country. That’s the essence of freedom and responsibility and is the heart of why we should want the Iraqi government to be a democratic bastion in the Middle East.
- New Afghanistan and Pakistan Strategy – Barack Obama has shifted focus in the Afghanistan-Pakistan phase of the anti-terror war to greater counter-terrorism efforts, more coalition building, a new diplomatic initiative in the region and more training of local anti-terror forces. Perhaps most important is Obama’s increased focus on accountability. One reason the war in Afghanistan went from having the support of the Afghan people to being widely unpopular was the lack of accountability for officials we’re allied with in that trouble country. So a new strategy that combines smart policies with ethical policies hopefully will open new opportunities for success for the U.S. and its allies in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
- First Visit to a Muslim Country – Obama’s visit to Ankara was an important symbolic gesture to the Turks, a longtime ally and about as moderate of a Muslim country as you can find. While many complained that Obama didn’t mention the Armenian Holocaust, the fact is that politicians have been mentioning those atrocities for 90 years without much of a change in Turkey’s position. Presidents throughout the Cold War chose to overlook the decisions Turkey’s leaders made in World War I and that’s a good recipe for diplomatic success in the Age of Terror.
- Greater Emphasis on Afghanistan – Obama sent 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, a sign that the U.S. was going to put a greater emphasis on its war effort in Afghanistan. The Iraq War has distracted the U.S. from securing the real primary battleground in the War on Terror. It was terrorists based in Afghanistan who undoubtedly attacked this country on 9/11, so it only makes sense that securing Afghanistan should be first priority when trying to avoid future attacks.
- The Transitional Force in Iraq – For all those who thought Obama would pull U.S. troops out of Iraq too soon and increase instability, his decision to leave a transitional force of advisers, trainers and counter-terrorism experts in Iraq until late 2011 should come as some relief. This might not play well with the far left, but a smooth transition in Iraq is in our national interest.
- Embracing Moderate Islam – Obama’s visit to Turkey highlighted Obama’s attempt to embrace the moderates in the Muslim world by highlighting the positive aspects of America’s history with the Muslim world. While some view this as weak or cowardly, it’s actually a logical next step in pursuing President Bush’s goal of a more democratic, peaceful Middle East. The Middle East could never be made peaceful through force alone, so it’s only right that we build bridges to those in the Middle East who want to see stability. When Obama said, “The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam,” that was a profound statement to many Muslims, despite how it reads to the American public.
- Not Bombing North Korea Over Their Failed Launch – Several prominent Republicans suggested that we should have responded to the North Korean launch of a satellite. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed, so we didn’t have escalating tensions in the Far East, where the subsequent bombing of Seoul or Tokyo would damage an already weak global economy, and the consequences of a prolonged showdown would require South Korea and Japan to consider building a nuclear arsenal, greatly increasing both tensions and danger in the Far East.
- Shifting Approach on North Korea – Barack Obama has signalled a shift from the confrontational approach President Bush took to North Korea. Including North Korea in the Axis of Evil seems to have increased its desire for nuclear capacity and missile technology – not cowed the so-called hermit kingdom. Perhaps engagement will net better results. One thing that’s certain is that engagement is in no way worse than ignoring the problem, which is what Bush did. While we postured, Kim Jong-Il stepped up efforts at building missile technology and nuclear plants. Perhaps a more rational approach will yield better results.
- Shifting Approach on Iran – Ditto. Once again, including Iran in the Axis of Evil seems to have produced the opposite results from what the Bush Team wanted. Instead of cowing the Iranians, they have become more aggressive and assertive in foreign policy, increasing their research programs. The lesson of Iraq is obvious – if you don’t have a deterrent, we might be the next in line for invasion. So North Korea and Iran have stepped up efforts to build a deterrent capacity, which is the exact opposite of what President Bush wanted. An attempt to reassure the Iranians is a good idea, since the Bush solution seems to have worsened our position vis a vis the Iranians in the Middle East.
Foreign Policy SuccessesThere are more countries in the world than the Middle East and North Korea, so I’ve included comments on Obama’s other travels around the world. I end with a joke and a tip of the hat to Obama’s popularity around the world. To those who think I’m seriously suggesting Bo is a foreign policy success, I would actually rate the presidential dog as more of a domestic policy success (another joke). Seriously, no arena contrasts the clashing styles of George W. Bush and Barack Obama more than the foreign policy arena. I won’t doubt the patriotism of those who think saber rattling and hardball politics are what work in international relations, though I will disagree and say that traditional diplomacy is a better way to further our nation’s interests.
- European Tour a Success – Say what you will, but Barack Obama is popular with the European public. While that popularity doesn’t naturally translate to success, it does put pressure on European leaders to reach compromise with the president. Just like American politicians, European politicians have to consider their constituencies when making decisions, and most are not going to want to seem too nationalistic to a popular U.S. president who seems to be extending the hand of cooperation. Obama’s successful public relations in Europe will pay dividends in the years to come, when politicians who embrace his diplomatic efforts are likely to gain ground in local political contests.
- Brokering Consensus Among NATO – Obama helped broker a consensus among NATO members that led to the accession of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Danish Prime Minister, as the next Secretary General of the NATO Alliance. This showed that Obama had the deftness and authority to still lead Europe.
- The G-20 Summit – It’s unrealistic to imagine that 2/3rds of the world’s population – which is the amount of people represented at the G20 Summit – are going to agree on everything. But the key factor is that, unlike previous world economic crises, the world’s governments are sitting at a table and trying to find solutions to the world economic crisis. Compare this to the reaction of the world’s powers to the Great Depression (protectionism and sometimes virtual autarky) and you’ll see that Obama’s seeming failures at the negotiating table are actually real strides. For those who distrust foreigners, I guarantee you that the leaders of China and Europe don’t feel like Obama caved in to him. Many felt his economic plans didn’t help their investments in the U.S. dollar. The fact is, America still dominates the negotiating table, and Obama’s courtesy does not undermine that dominance.
- Obama’s Meeting With Medvedev – Obama seems to be winning over even Russian President Sergei Medvedev. A calm talk at the highest levels is probably what’s needed after the saber rattling and childish posturing of the last eight years. The fact is, the policies of the past administration caused a blunder in George, as talk of NATO expansion into that country is a provocation to Russia.
- Shaking Hands With the Help – One of the priceless moments of President Obama’s visit to Europe was his handshake with the English bobby guarding the door at 10 Downing Street. Gordon Brown’s ignoring of the outstretched hand of the bobby was equally priceless, and probably a classic contrast between class identity in England and America.
- European Stimulus Package Concessions – Many derided Obama’s concessions to the European leaders on their own stimulus plans, because European leaders wanted only to spend about half of the percentage of GDP on their economic stimulus packages that the U.S. government is. But Obama understood what the truth is – the socialist European states already spend a larger percentage of their GDP on programs that are helping put money in the hands of its neediest citizens. Therefore, these concessions are no more than a recognition of different circumstances in Europe, which has not been forthcoming in recent years. The European and American stimulus GDP percentage is a lot closer than you would think.
- Politeness in the Face of European Reticence – Obama also understands that diplomacy is a two-way street. Instead of the insults heaped on European countries when they didn’t agree with Bush policies, President Obama remains polite. Allies disagree on policy all the time. Read any diplomatic history and you’ll see that allies are not going to see eye-to-eye all the time. Obama understands this, unlike Dick Cheney, so he finds compromise which suit both parties and realizes that European politicians have their own constituencies to consider.
- Lifting Restrictions To Cuba – We can all agree that the Castro Regime is thuggish and backward. But when we are willing to deal with communist regimes in China and Vietnam (of all places), it’s silly to continue travel restrictions to and from Cuba. Like our engagement policy in China, the idea that more engagement with Cuba will lead to a freer and more open society in this island nation is probably the right call. Let’s prepare for the day Fidel Castro and family no longer rule Cuba by engaging its people. By the way, 92% of Americans agree that this is a good idea.
- Obama and Hugo Chavez Shaking Hands – Chavez comes off like a fan wanting an autograph. Obama looks presidential. The handshake is more dignified than Nixon paying homage to Mao Zedong, who killed tens of millions of his own people and thousands of Americans in the Korean War.
- Standing Up To Piracy – I couldn’t believe when Rush Limbaugh criticized Obama for killing teen-aged “organizers”. This country’s citizens shouldn’t worry about being seized off of ships at gunpoint and those who consider it need to know America won’t stand for it. I thought we ended this debate when Jefferson stood up to the Barbary Pirates.
- Bo – Let’s face it: Bo’s the most vetted dog in presidential history. The president and his family spent months and months deciding on a presidential dog and came up with Bo, a Portuguese water dog. Bo’s hypoallergenic, if somewhat aggressive for a children’s dog. Strangely, Obama admirers around the globe are now wanting to own their own Portuguese water dog. If only the President had put as much thought into selecting his Treasury Secretary. Bada-bing!
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