Strong opinions, weakly held

Tracking the Obama administration’s progress

With President Obama’s decision last night to send 30,000 more troops to Iraq, I think we can officially declare the honeymoon over. Maybe it was already over awhile back. Obama was always more moderate than many of his supporters had wished, and people always tend to expect that Presidents can accomplish more than they really can. There are a lot of Democrats in the Senate who just aren’t interested in working to pass legislation that’s progressive in any way. The main lesson I take away from Obama’s first year in office is that we have a national government that is unwilling to even look realistically at the nation’s problems, much less try to enact solutions to those problems.

That said, I’m fairly pleased with Obama, maybe because I didn’t expect as much as many other people did. One thing that often makes me feel a little better is the news feed from PolitiFact’s Obameter. During the campaign (and after), they compiled a list of more than 500 promises that Obama has made, and they’re keeping careful track of how Obama’s doing in delivering on those promises. They’ve already rated more than half of Obama’s promises, and while 25 were broken or are stalled, 308 were kept or are in the works.

Most days I open my news reader and see that President Obama is making progress on one or two promises that he made, and it makes me feel better about my vote. The big ticket items get the lion’s share of the limited attention people pay to politics, but there are a lot of other things going on, and they’re easy to miss.


  1. That’s all fine, but if the dude doesn’t get some jobs on the way the Democrats are toast in 2010 and he is toast in 2012. His remarks today after the completely lame jobs summit are exactly the opposite of what we need to hear – basically, “more jobs would be nice but we can’t afford them” – and reflect a capture of his economic thinking by idiot neoliberals who can’t get us out of this mess because they don’t understand how we got into it. Their only remedy is more of what ails us.

    To a very large extent Obama is also limited by the idiot (that word again) state of the discourse about taxes that hangs over him and especially over the Congress. For various reasons the Democrats have in large part abandoned their role as the party of redistribution – the one that ensured that a fair chunk of the goodies of a modern economy get distributed to the bottom 3 quintiles of the income distribution – in favor of fighting to be more friendly to the highest income section. The result is the stalling of the economy – that highest income section relies on the ability of the rest of the population to buy stuff to generate their riches – and a stagnation in living standards. And, oh yeah, massive unemployment now. This failure to ensure distribution of productivity gains is part of the reason for the hostility to taxes – people even in the middle & lower income segments assume, based on stated rhetoric and past experience, that increased taxes aren’t going to mean increased services. Given a choice between more tax and less tax and the same low level of government service either way, it’s not surprising there is so much hostility towards taxes.

    What is sad and what so far reflects a missed opportunity is that Obama has the gravitas & rhetorical skill to explain that without making it easy to portray it as a demand for handouts – which it is not. Perhaps passage of a healthcare bill will do the trick; it is after all a great demonstration of the ability of the government to effectively redirect resources to provide for the common welfare. But we’ll have to wait and see on that.

    Point is – whatever he does on the little things, the ability to translate those into lasting achievement as opposed to things that the next teabag administration will undo on day 1 depends entirely on the ability to build a solid electoral base for the Democratic party. He managed that during the campaign but so far appears to have failed to understand that in order to reliably bring out those voters who took him to power in 2008, he has to deliver something for them.

  2. I agree with all of that. What really shocks me is the unwillingness or inability of Congress to make policy choices that are not only good for them politically but that would also be good for the country. No incumbent is going to be popular when the economy is this bad, and I’m shocked that Congress isn’t all hands on deck trying to bolster the economy.

  3. I’m pretty sure Obama and a rational, deliberate, bipartisan congressional partnership could get quite a lot accomplished. Still waiting on one half of that equation.

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