OPINION: Is Barack Obama a good president?

washingtonpost.com

washingtonpost.com

People ask me questions about politics all the time (because I was studying it for so damn long).

The most-common questions look something like the following:

— Are you a Republican or Democrat?

— Who will be the next president?

— Who will win the Republican primaries?

— Do you like Obama?

Very simple, predictive, or binary, questions. Right away people assume that studying politics leads to point predictions about elections and such. The second assumption is that all colleges teach “liberal” agendas. The truth is, neither of those two assumptions are true.

While I can’t always predict events as accurately as a physics major can predict … whatever they predict … I CAN put together a pretty rad argument for or against stuff — after I’ve made such an argument, then it can be tested, and rejected or accepted; and so it goes.

So, I can’t always PREDICT things (although I do have a pretty good idea of what will happen), but I can provide some solid insight. And to appease some of those out there who want to know what I think of Obama, here it is …


Like Obama!?

First off, I find the question strange. Do I like Obama? … like as a friend or as a likeable guy? It’s very uncomfortable to answer. Instead, I would evaluate his actions — like a formal job evaluation would do. Because the presidency is, in fact, a job.

I will approach an evaluation like this, and answer: 1) what has he done, and 2) why was it done? If we can answer those questions, then I can better evaluate performance (because talk is cheap, HUH).


So what has this dude done?

Well, we can look at executive orders, congressional appeals, public opinion, speeches, read his book, watch interviews, foreign policy decisions, and other stuff. … But that sounds like way too much work, so, in the name of keeping the blog at a respectable length, I’ll just pick a few major accomplishments:

  1. Obviously, healthcare reform.
  2. Ending the Iraq War.
  3. Brokered an internationally backed Iranian nuclear deal.
  4. Killing bin Laden.

… I’m sure this is already controversial. I’m not including economic stuff, renewable energy stuff, union stuff, and other stuff. Because, frankly, I’m not overly interested in those topics, and this is my blog. So … DEAL WITH IT.

** I refuse to address personal characteristics of presidents, like skin color, religion, or background. I don’t base performance on anything other than actions — because performance is about actions, and nothing else. While I take into consideration he is the first black president, I would refuse to give him performance points based on that — although there are unique challenges inherent in that fact in the US, so I’ll remark on that a bit at the end. **

Also, to you conspiracy theorists who think Obama and the UN are taking over the world and implanting chips in people: you’re wrong.


OK, we have a list. Now what?

Evaluate what the actions were, and why they were done:

— Healthcare: The logic of the plan was best laid out to me in the Supreme Court decision that upheld the plan (like 5 times: Note to Republicans: Don’t go to the Court about this anymore).

The idea is to avoid, as the Court put it, a “death spiral” where people only purchase insurance when, or right before, they get sick, and the system collapses on itself. In previous iterations of the policy, it barred pre-existing conditions, but didn’t seek to reduce the rate of insurance for low-income households; hence they purchased insurance on a need-only basis.

SO, “Obamacare” was based on a Massachusetts program that gave tax credits to low-income households — again, the goal is to preserve private insurance entities while ensuring everyone can access coverage. If not, then taxpayers will pay more for emergency visits; hence the program.

Why was this done? To try and make the insurance system work. The insurance theory works, granted everyone is covered — and this includes low-income persons and persons with illness. I’m not sure why the huge controversy. I heard lots of screaming, but nothing violated the Constitution (the Court agrees). In fact, the Act is 100% compatible with the Constitution, because each person is supposedly granted the right to life, liberty, and property — and, these days, healthcare helps grant and preserve life.

So, I can side with this logic. It’s been beaten to death by the Republicans, and I don’t really see how they can out-maneuver the Court. And bluntly speaking, there is no sound logic that contradicts it.

Was it a good move? That’s a separate question all together, and it depends on how you see the world. Do you think everyone should have to earn healthcare, or should it me easily accessible (perhaps free) to everyone?

I would say the program is OK, but the difficulty lies in regulation, and tax penalties. … I’m not sure how that’s going to play out, and my guess is that it’s going to be a headache for the IRS, and the program will loose money for some time before anyone sees measurable results. It’s a long-term investment, and won’t pay off at all in the short-term … so I think it’s a weak step towards substantial reform, but it’s a starting point to negotiate.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that healthcare should be available to everyone for free, because, again, the Constitution is suppose to ensure the right to life (which is the complication in the abortion issue). If you’re going to have a document that ensures life, then you should preserve life — am I missing something? Anyway, it was an OK move.

— Ending the Iraq war: We all know the aim of this; to improve public relations abroad. I notice that Americans tend to get impatient with wars once they reach about the 10 year mark; after that, public support plummets. Obama emphasizes time and again his position that state-to-state cooperation is the pillar of a stable international environment. … I would have some questions about that.

Was this a good move? Well, it turns out that leaving a country prematurely in shaky condition is a bad decision. While US troops leaving Iraq didn’t create ISIS, it certainly didn’t help. ISIS would form regardless, and probably wait for US troops to leave anyway, but this sped the process up quite a bit. I would say this is an example of when public opinion needs to be sacrificed for state stability. … I would say, it was a bad move to give in to public opinion. Sometimes the president has to be the bad guy, and it’s that simple.

I interpret Obama’s action as saying: At some point in time, these weak states need to find a solution, and one that will come only after violent power struggles — most likely. Obama isn’t quick to make decisions about troops, nor is he willing to craft American-led solutions to foreign problems. I like that mindset, but, frankly, the Iraq withdraw was too soon.

— Iranian deal: He recently brokered the Iran nuclear deal, with cooperation from Russia AND China, which is impressive. But, will it really prevent Iran from getting the bomb? Not sure. My guess is that if Iran REALLY wants the bomb, they’ll find some backdoor way of getting it … or a fractured entity within the state will piece one together. But, formally, at least on the surface, states agree that Iran needs to develop internally rather than get the bomb.

This seems promising, but state-to-state cooperation has a spotty history. There aren’t very many times when states cooperate; other than on mundane topics like standardized airspace, uniform voltages across countries, or trading regions. National security can be used by any state at any time to justify any action.

Was this a good move? Oddly, despite my intuition, in this case, I would say yes. The truth is, a deal like this has never been agreed to; so, at worst, it will test the limits of global cooperation — and if, in the future, Iran does pursue a bomb, then it’s a chance for war-hungry activists to get their war.

… I would say, try it out, and keep insurance for the future, which is what happened.

— Killing bin Laden: Naturally Americans celebrated this one, regardless of party affiliation. While he didn’t physically do this, he gets credit in the history pages, because that’s a perk of the job.

But, I wonder how things would have turned out had bin Laden not been killed. This is one of those “what if” moments in history, but, had bin Laden been alive during the recent ISIS takeover, I’m curious to know what his views would be. Would he fight ISIS? Terrorists fighting terrorists … seems counterintuitive, but it could work to form a group that could be a viable, moderate political alternative in the Middle East.

Former General, and CIA chief, Petraeus has been urging the instrumental use of moderate al Qaeda fighters to combat ISIS. He wants to let Arabs handle an Arab problem, and I would agree. It looks like Obama agrees thus far. He’s allowing airstrikes, but is largely letting the CIA train moderate fighters (very slowly). He’s understandably cautious, and he’s trying to reduce the US’ military footprint.

While I naturally agree with the killing, I do also wonder whether or not bin Laden was a leader who would have tried to stop ISIS or not.


So, is he a good president?

Well, I just outlined four accomplishments of the Obama administration. From this sample, I generally agree with two of the actions, and the healthcare thing is OK but weak.

I would say Obama places too much emphasis on public opinion, and ignores potential consequences of policy. But, he IS the first black president, and he will influence future black leaders. So, in that respect, he probably thinks he’s got to accomplish a lot, and implement his ideas as best as he can while moderating a ridiculously divided Congress. He does have a lot more to deal with than the average president had. … luck of the draw I suppose.

His hasty wrap up of the Iraq war, I would say, directly contributed to the rising of ISIS. To make up for his lack of troops, he’s heavy handed with drones, which have mixed results, and still kill plenty of innocent people. So, the Iraq move was positive to the public, but his approach to foreign policy is just as destructive as troops (but cheaper).

Obama has a lot of ridiculously diverse accomplishments, rather than focusing on his core strengths — I would call that a weakness.

I would rather see a president develop resources and energy on sections of policy, rather than tackling every problem imaginable. Healthcare is one piece, he tried to appease the LGBT community (which the Court ended up largely tackling), he does renewable energy stuff, union stuff, he’s attempting to broker all sorts of international agreements (trans-Pacific, China, Syria, Iraq, etc.), international public relations … he’s all over the place. But, given the times, perhaps it’s a strength … I’m undecided.

He also seems to be a president who controls decisions himself (unlike W. Bush, who largely listened to advice); he’s crafting his own legacy. So, Obama is a generalist, rather than a specialist. I would say that results in short-term policies in a variety of subjects, rather than sustainable development in one area.

All in all, I would say he performs well. His speeches are decent, he speaks better than most, and he has lots of accomplishments to tout. I would say that history will remember him as a solid performing moderate who had to put up with a lot of pushback. His race is obviously a unique challenge that other presidents didn’t have to endure, and people interpret his actions through a racial lens (because, in America, lots of people don’t own up to their racism, but they are racist).

While I would have a few questions about foreign policy and long-term policy ideas, the guy does make logical policies and decisions, which I would value as good — hence, I could generally call him a good president.

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One thought on “OPINION: Is Barack Obama a good president?

  1. Pingback: OPINION: Global Conservatism is because of terrorism | Political Ideas and Education

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