A year ago, I took a look back at the first year of the presidency of Barack Obama. It is hard to write about history as it happens. Every historian will tell you that for something to be history, you have to see how the effects of the event played. Sometimes, that takes five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years. Harry Truman is the perfect example of a President whose policies and decisions have improved greatly over time.
Instead, when I look at Obama’s second year in office, I am completely reminded of Franklin Roosevelt’s tenure.
From 1929-1933 Herbert Hoover did little to ease tensions around the country about what would be called “The Great Depression”. Hoover, like many Republicans of the day, believed the stock market would grow again. All the market needed was a correction. What went down, must come up. In addition, Hoover believed it was the role of civil society to help those dispossessed during the depression. America did not. In 1932, the nation elected Franklin Roosevelt to do something about the depression.
In the years that followed, critics of Roosevelt’s New Deal used the term “Socialism” at every turn to describe the New Deal. The Supreme court even struck down some measures of the program. Roosevelt tried to pack the Supreme Court with more justices and that failed too. Words like tyranny were thrown around in newspapers, radio, and in cartoons of the time period. Sounds familiar does it not?
The politics of today have not changed much. Critics in the 1930s like Billy Sunday and Huey Long have been replaced with Sarah Palin and Glen Beck. The rhetoric is just as ill-tempered. The results just as uncouth. The reactions to both time periods to the policies during hard economic times are ones filled with the terminology of enmity in reaction to change.
The big events for the President in 2010 were the Health Care Bills (or what Joe Biden called “A big f-in deal”) and the mid-term elections. The American Public supplanted the Democrats as the party in power in the House of Representatives with the
Republicans. Then in a reversal of fortunes, Obama turned. From early to December, Obama actually governed, compromised and government actually did something substantial during a lame duck session. Tax breaks were given, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, 9/11 First responders were given medical care, and new food packaging laws were passed.
2010 also saw the BP spill disaster and the rise of the Tea Party and a new treaty with the USSR, er I mean Russia. But as 2011 begins three issues still loom large
1. The Deficit – It now nears $14 trillion. This astounding figure will only grow. If America does not get this under control, there will be no America.
2. The Economy – Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
3. Governing – America, as a whole, does not like the rising tide of ineptitude in government at every level. Illinois saw its tax rate rise to 5% last week. A small rise, but the fact is spending must go down. The budget at the federal level must be cut and cut a lot. How is it we could have a surplus 12 years ago and now a trillion-dollar deficit now? Two wars, two tax cuts, and a banking/mortgage industry collapse later, the country and President face tough challenges. With the party of No now in power in the House, nothing may get done in the next year.
When it comes to giving Obama a grade, I still cannot give him good marks at home…A D at best while he gets a B on foreign affairs. Despite the good November and December, the economy and deficit still dominate my grading rubric.
Regardless of the grade, I start to think about what will happen later this year and that is this: The 2012 presidential campaign will kick in high gear. Candidates will flock to Iowa and New Hampshire to start their journey to defeat each other. Obama, oddly enough, will most likely run unopposed for the Democratic nomination. When the election comes in November of 2012, America will have a tough choice. Depending on the candidate, Conservative Republicans like Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee do not translate well to moderates, like myself, nor to Independents, like myself. Does that mean Obama would be President again? I do not know. It is way too early to prognosticate.
As I sat and watched Obama at the Tuscon service last week, I did not think I was watching a memorial service. It was part campaign speech, part celebration, and part remembrance. It was so surreal. As are most days in the government I do believe. In one year’s time, who knows what we will find for year three.
Legislation signed into law by the President in the last 365 days…
January 27: Emergency Aid to American Survivors of Haiti Earthquake Act
March 4: Travel Promotion Act
March 18: Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act
March 23: Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
March 30: Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010
May 5: Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010
May 17: Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act
July 1:Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act
July 21: Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act
July 22: >Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2010
July 22: Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act of 2010
August 10: SPEECH Act of 2010
September 27: Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010
December 13: Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010
December 17: Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010
December 22: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010
January 2: James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010
January 4: Food Safety and Modernization Act
There are two ways to look at Obama’s first year – foreign affairs and domestic affairs. In foreign affairs, Obama actually has had a good year. Iraq is winding down, he committed thirty thousand more men to Afghanistan. He did not rush to judgment or over react about Iran, and he used Bill Clinton to get back two women from North Korea. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for basically not being George H.W. Bush. I would give him a B.
Domestically, I would give Obama an D-. It has not been a total failure here on the home front but it was close. A lot of his poor marks on domestic affairs stem from the fact he has let Congress set the agenda and the legislation. Be it health care or AARP, Obama has not taking the bull by the horns but rather stands on the sidelines as almost a cheerleader or an assistant coach. To look at the White House Website, you would think the amount of legislation passed was similar in size to FDR or LBJ. He has failed to make campaign promises come true from Guantanamo Bay to Transparency in Government. His executive orders, though not spectacular, have been worthy of some acclaim. His selection of Sonia Sotomayor was a good one. But that is about it here at home.
But in historical terms, there are very few Presidents who do not have a disastrous first year in office.
1. JFK – everything he touched that first year turned to crap. Case in point: Bay of Pigs
2. Nixon – invaded Cambodia
3. Carter – too many to mention
4. Reagan – he got shot
5. Clinton – health care and Hillary – Somalia, need I say more?
6. GW Bush – The largest terrorist attack in our nation’s history
7. Lincoln – A Civil War broke out and the Union lost the first battle
But if you want an apt comparison, Clinton might be the most similar. A lot of the comparisons can revolve around health care, but like Clinton, Obama also dealt with military obligations made by the previous president.
As for what Obama needs to improve on for his second year are few when it comes to foreign affairs but many when it comes to domestic affairs. The mess Obama inherited from Bush could not be cleaned up in a year. The stock market has gained back 3,000 of the 7,000 points it lost in 2007-2008 under Bush. However, Obama has to get the budget and spending under control. Much like Clinton did in his first term, he turned his attention from health care to the economy and it made all the difference. Unemployment has to go down. For Obama, another trillion dollar deficit will not get it done. Health care reform and insurance reform is needed, but is the plan made Congress the best plan there could be? Even a $500 billion gap is not going to sit well with the American people let alone our creditors. In the end, Obama has to actually lead not only the country, but he needs to lead Congress and Washington. If Obama cannot stand up to Pelosi and Reid, then his second year will be as bad as his first.
Out of all the political gaffes made in the 20th century, the American public failed itself in 1992 when it did not re-elect George H. Bush President. I am not a Republican (nor am I a Democrat) yet George H. Bush is on of my favorite Presidents of all time. He brought about the most devastating military force the world has ever known and he called out Reagan’s economic policies as early as 1980. Yet, he was not re-elected when he raised taxes. However, economic policies he put in place in 1991-1992 set the stage for balanced budgets of the Clinton era. There are several lessons from Bush’s presidency which any future president can learn from.
Lesson One – Network
George H. Bush is the ultimate schmoozer. Beginning in the 1960s, Bush coveted relationships. Throughout his political career it was those relationships behind the scenes which would allow him to achieve first Operation Desert Shield, then Operation Desert Shield. Whether it was a Congressman, Director of the CIA, RNC Chairman, Envoy to China, or Vice-President, Bush had over 25 years of contacts all around the world when he became President.
For Bush, it was these contacts that made his Presidency. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Bush called upon his 25 years of experience to liberate Kuwait. For Bush, he was not the greatest of public speakers. He was an administrator at heart. And in administrating the war and coalition, he had no equal.
As President Obama gets ready to maneuver American forces around the planet, he would be wise to follow not only Bush’s ability to network, but also his ability to set clear, achievable objectives in the conflict. Now there are some who will say that Desert Storm should have gone to Kuwait. But behind the scenes, the Saudis, who actually paid for the war, said no. To go into Baghdad at that time would have been a mistake. Even Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney agreed with the policy at the time.
Lesson Two – Read My Lips
George H. Bush was not Ronald Reagan’s lackey. he had his own mind and his own beliefs about how the economy worked. In fact, during the 1980 Presidential Campaign, Bush called Reagan’s trickle down theory “Voodoo Economics.” Throughout the 1980s, as the deficit skyrocketed from 300 billion to over 1.2 trillion under Reagan. In fact, Bush campaigned under the promise of no new taxes.
However, the budget problems continued under Bush. He knew something had to be done. He raised taxes in 1991. No matter what Bush did the next year, the American Public did not care. For Bush had broken the promise not to raise taxes. The last year of his presidency spiraled but little did Americans know at the time, the deficit began to shrink. It would continue to do so as the new revenue combined with lowering spending would balance the budget in six years after Bush left office.
What Bush always lacked what he called “the vision thing.” Bush was a great administrator and reactor to events in the world but he was not proactive in the White House. His reaction to events was always sound, but he lacked any sound policy or principle on which to be re-elected. As a result, he was not re-elected.
As for the current Executive, one wonders whether his vision of what America can be will get him re-elected. For everything that Bush wasn’t, Obama is. For everything Bush was, Obama is not. In order for him to avoid the pitfalls of George H. Bush, President Obama will need to learn how to build the coalitions needed in world events yet mesh his vision with the American public’s vision of America.
Other Presidential Lessons for Obama Series
John F. Kennedy
George H.W. Bush
Woodrow Wilson always fancied himself as a progressive at heart. Prior to his election in 1912, he had been the head of Princeton and Governor of New Jersey. He considered himself an expert in domestic affairs and a novice at foreign affairs. He often noted it would be a shame if he had to strictly deal with foreign affairs. During Wilson’s eight years, a number of financial and social reforms were passed, including four amendments to the constitution, but it was foreign affairs which dominated his presidency, and thus, his legacy. When one begins to look at what lessons once can draw from Wilson’s eight years in office, it is a cautionary tale of avoidance at all costs.
Lesson One – Get Re-elected
Wilson was originally elected on his pledge for “A New Freedom”. This domestic agenda included financial, currency, income taxes, and trust reform as well as tariff reform. Unfortunately for Wilson, what took up most of his time was the Mexican Revolution. Events south of the border required Wilson to act before it spread onto American soil. Up to this point in time, the United States had operated under the auspices of the Monroe Doctrine that this our hemisphere. Teddy Roosevelt had added his Roosevelt Corollary and his successor, William Howard Taft, just threw money at the problem in what became known as Dollar Diplomacy. As 1913 drew on, Wilson followed a policy of what he called “Watchful Waiting”. He knew with all the players in Mexico (Carranza, Huerta, Obregon, Villa, and Zapata), there was no one to trust.
As events in Mexico began to play themselves out, events in Europe quickly boiled over and a regional conflict in the Balkans blew up like a powder keg and most of Europe was involved in less than a month. Wilson knew the United States could not get involved. He declared the US Neutral. Over the next two and half years, the economic interests of the US collided with the military interests of German U-boats in the North Atlantic. US ships began to be sunk, followed by a pledge, followed by another ship, and followed by a pledge, etc.
When Wilson campaigned for President in 1916, he campaigned and was re-elected on the fact he kept us out of the Great War. However, before he could be sworn in for his second term, Germany ratcheted up war fervor when the Zimmerman Telegram was published. The Telegram warned Mexico that the Germans would unleash unrestricted submarine warfare on the Atlantic . The note also pleaded with the new Mexican government to join Germany in a war against the Americans and in return they would get the Mexican cession back. To most Americans, they were outraged. However, Mexico was having a hard time fighting its own revolution let alone a war overseas. In April of 1917, war fever had spread across the US and the Congress would declare war on Germany.
Regardless of what any first term Presidents wants to do, their first priority is to get re-elected. Wilson proved that. However, once re-elected, all bets and promises are off.
Lesson Two – World Organizations are Bad…Maybe
Americans don’t want anyone telling them what to do. When the Great War was over in 1918, Woodrow Wilson left to go to Paris as part of the Peace Conference. His 14 Points had captured the imagination of the populace and turned him into a rock star President. However, soon after the peace process began, rather than follow his 14 Points, Britain and France wanted revenge for the war. The resulting treaty was brutal towards Germany and helped set up World War II with its reparations and mandates, but it was never passed. The US was never going to give up its autonomy on foreign affairs to some European group. Led by Senator Lodge, the US Senate never approved the treaty and would sign a separate treaty later. The unwillingness of the US to sign the treaty would make the League powerless to stop Hitler some 17 years later.
While Wilson’s 14 Points could have averted another war, we will never know. What we do know is the Versailles Peace Treaty “screwed the pooch”. Whether it was Britain’s and France’s incessant need for revenge or the Lodge reservations need for autonomy, we were no longer living in a world where the Monroe Doctrine would apply. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, America would go in an isolationist frenzy. No matter what we might think, America could no longer stick its head in the sand and ignore what is taking place in the world. The long-term consequences of doing so are too dangerous. After World War II, Wilson’s 14 Points would become a reality in a new United Nations.
Lesson Three – Don’t Tell the People What They Can and Can Not Do
Wilson often fancied himself an expert when it came to his domestic agenda. Only two Presidents passed more legislation in US History, FDR and LBJ. From anti-trust regulation to child labor laws to women’s right to vote to prohibition, Wilson was at the forefront of an idealist time in America. His 14 Points were part of the idealism, but Prohibition was one of America’s biggest mistakes. The amendment that made the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcohol illegal would be repealed in the early 1930s. However in the years in between, organized crime gained control of the industry and a crime wave unlike any America has ever seen took place.
To legislate morality, or anything for that matter, is to try to control the masses. By stipulating that the citizenry can do this or can not do that is promote tyranny on our shores. Americans have never liked being told what to do and what not to do as far back as the 1760s and the events leading up to the Revolution. Maybe the health care plan will work itself out next year, maybe it won’t. Who knows what will happen. But if you want a clue, look at the reaction of the public during prohibition. It could be that reform and regulation of the Industry might have been the more historically accurate choice rather legislating that every American have health care. We will have to wait and see how it plays out. Otherwise, lesson number one will be for naught.
Other Presidential Lessons for Obama Series
John F. Kennedy
George H.W. Bush
If anyone says they were not surprised by yesterday’s announcement of Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize, they are lying. Not only would they be lying, but it would be that narcissistic kind of lying bred in arrogance. As for why the committee gave him the “Peace Prize” is beyond the grasp of many on both the right and the left. I voted for Obama but I don’t understand this. My wife is a huge Obama supporter and she thinks it’s wrong. If he had brokered a peace between Palestinians and the Israelis or even got Kim Jong Il or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop rattling their nuclear sabers, then yeah, I could see the Peace Prize. From what most of us see and hear at the History Rat, Obama basically received the prize for not being Bush and for giving people hope. Still not enough.
If you look at the sitting US Presidents who had previously won the Prize…
Teddy Roosevelt won it for brokering an end to the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.
The Nobel site states:
In June, 1905, President Roosevelt offered his good offices as mediator between Russia and Japan, asking the belligerents to nominate plenipotentiaries to negotiate on the conditions of peace. In August they met at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and after some weeks of difficult negotiations concluded a peace treaty in September, 1905.
Woodrow Wilson won it for his 14 Points and Peace Without Victory Campaign during World War I. The Nobel site states, “people everywhere saw in his peace aims the vision of a world in which freedom, justice, and peace could flourish.” Wilson succeeded in ending the war but failed to secure a just and lasting peace as the US Senate never ratified the treaty of Versailles and failed to join the League of Nations.
On the other hand, all the Nobel site states on Obama is this: “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”. In a press release, they further add:
Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.
Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.
For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama’s appeal that “Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.”
I think they key phrase in this release is, “The United States in now playing a more constructive role…”I think this clearly a slap in the face of Bush, and deservedly so. But is that enough to warrant giving Obama the peace prize because he is not Bush? The History Rat was not, and still is not, a fan of President George W. Bush at all…not even in the slightest. I still don’t see what Obama has done to justify this award. Somebody help me here. Am I missing something living in Middle America? Has the perception of what America is and what it stands for changed that much in the world? I have not been out of the US since the election in 2008. I know that when I traveled overseas in 2003, the hatred was palpable against Bush – not against Americans, but only Bush. Somehow, the world has always had a clear distinction between the American people and the President.
Going back to Obama, was the world that excited back in February when the voting for this award took place? I must admit, I was a little excited to see what Obama would do in his first 100 days. Aside from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, only a few minor pieces of legislation have been passed. There has been no major brokering of a peace agreement; No major revision of foreign policy revision. Our troops are still in Iraq and Afghanistan has only gotten worse with no end in sight. The economy has improved some but that has nothing to do with World Peace.
We all were hopeful in back in February the ship would be righted in many ways – economically, in foreign affairs, and militarily. It seems to me, the committee acted prematurely. Yes, there is still hope, but that hope has not amounted to anything. Does that mean it won’t? Oh, most certainly not. There is always going to be hope that things will work out right, that we will live in a more peaceful world, that the nations of the world will rise up and put down the vestiges of hatred and fear. But is HOPE enough to give the man a Nobel Peace Prize???
After reading this article on CNN.com, I finally found someone who has been trying to express what I have felt all summer – how an Independent voter thinks; or at least how I think. We are as a group fiscally conservative yet socially progressive. We are in the middle. And at 41% of America, a very large middle indeed. We are a voice who has not been heard in the health care dialogue – if you want to call it that.
As an Independent who voted for Obama, I can safely say I would not change my vote. However, in order to get my vote again, Obama and Congress have to change. This has not been a good summer for the President and Congress. It has been very reminiscent of the Clinton administration’s attempt to change health care. Both have been sorely needed reforms to American daily living. However, both have been shot down by the Republican Party, the Health Care Industry, Moderates, misinformation, and a Democratic Congress unwilling to get things done. It brings back memories of 1993 and of a change in the way politics were done in this country.
In the attempt that almost sank the Clinton presidency, the Health Security Act mandated that every American who did not have health care be on the government plan and they could not leave until they could prove that they had coverage by another insurer. Now while Obama’s plan is somewhat similar, the 2009 version also hopes to insures some 35-45 million uninsured Americans.
What most Independents will tell you is we are not against health care reform. On the other hand, we don’t believe there are any death panels either . We shake our head at the drivel that has come out of Washington on this issue this summer. We don’t believe either party regardless of what comes out of their mouths when it comes to health care.
What we are for is lowering the cost of health care, medicine, and visits to the doctor. If health care were more affordable, more people would, and could, use it properly. Independents would also tell you we are for preventative care which helps to solve health problems before they become a problem. These include high cholesterol, blood pressure, and putting the emphasis on healthy living.I don’t see how providing health care to millions who don’t have it and making them pay for it with money they don’t have is going to improve anything. Free clinics, low cost preventative care would do more good than an umbrella plan of coverage.
However, what Independents are against is this – another government program that costs the taxpayer money and provides no incentives to get off it. Even in 1993, Senator Patrick Moynihan summed up the problem in both time periods when he said:
“There is no health care crisis, there is an insurance crisis”
Succinctly put and prophetic for its time, the problem in this country is not health care but the corporatization of the health care industry from pharmaceuticals to insurance to care. A doctor and the patient should be making the decisions for the health and well being of the patient. All the other industries are there as peripherals to assist in care not determine it. Until how the health industry works is reformed, they will be no change in America. There is room for everyone to make money and, more importantly, to prolong life by providing prompt care that not only treats the problem but helps to prevent it in others. Until Congress and the President realize this, the current health care plan will go down in a flaming pile of paper just like in 1993.