Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Evaluation of President Obama

I find it interesting and revealing that critics of President Obama, seeming to be primarily ideological conservatives on the right of the political spectrum, especially in the U. S. Senate and certain media talk show hosts, have been quick and rather critical in evaluating his performance to date.

Ladies and gentlemen, he's only been in office for a little over five weeks! He inherited a deep recession, a very serious financial market crisis, a big housing problem, a huge federal budget deficit, a large and increasing unemployment rate, a sharp decline in the stock and bond markets, and two difficult, expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also inherited critical Social Security and Medicare programs that for many years have needed restructuring and reform. Let's be reasonable and give him some more time to perform.

He and his staff have stumbled a little in vetting a number of important nominations for his cabinet and perhaps more details could have been provided earlier for their plans for dealing with the troubled banking system. However, given what's on his plate and how short a time he's been in office, I think he and his administration have done quite a bit and very well. With an approval rating averaging 70% since he became President, and very recently at 63%, the general public seems to agree.

In domestic affairs, of course, despite noisy partisan objections, he has obtained approval by Congress and signed into law the $787 billion stimulus package called the Recovery and Reinvestment Act. He has also developed and promoted plans to invigorate our very weak banking system to get badly needed credit flowing again, developed a housing plan to stem foreclosures, made an outstanding speech on his vision for domestic initiatives and priorities to Congress, and presented a massive and comprehensive $3.6 trillion budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1st. In foreign affairs he has traveled to Ottawa to meet with Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper and by all counts had a very cordial and productive meeting with the leader of our biggest trading partner. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently returned from a useful trip to the Far East where she met with senior government leaders in China, Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia, among the most important countries in Asia and vital trading partners. A new strategic plan for our sensitive military and political activities in Afghanistan is in the works.

His Republican critics have a right to be concerned with a much bigger and activist federal government, more large budget deficits, and growing national debt. I am as well, particularly if they become long lasting. However, given current circumstances, what realistic options are there, at least for the next two three years? There is virtually no chance that a passive federal government would work. Neither would employing primarily thinly regulated free markets, leaving everything for the private business sector or individual Americans to turn the economy around. There is also no good reason to believe that the stimulus package could have been more effective if it had had a smaller level of infrastructure and other federal projects , and a corresponding higher level of tax cuts, as many congressional Republican leaders have long maintained. It isn't very instructive to point to any historical political example to support one's view. We're living in a different new world now with a unique, highly globalized economy and key technologies that largely did not exist 20-30 years ago.

Almost everyone agrees that the position of President of the U. S. is the most important and probably the most challenging of any in the world, especially today. I think we are very fortunate to have a man as bright, articulate, self-confident, and cool-headed as Barack Obama serving in the prime of his life. It is reassuring that he has surrounded himself with a lot of experienced and capable people who are not afraid to provide their opinions, and that he is a good listener. We certainly do not know for sure that he will ultimately be successful. We do know that he has a highly ambitious agenda and that he will face serious partisan political obstacles in getting many of his initiatives approved in the form he will be seeking.

However, even many strong critics maintain that he is very likely to be reelected in four years if he and his policies are able to do just two things: turn our economy around on a reasonably sustainable track, and keep us free of any terrorist attacks in this country, regardless of what else he does not get done. I'm not sure if that's entirely true, but I'm cautiously optimistic he will be reasonably successful. All Americans should hope that it works out this way, because we are all important stakeholders, especially those of us who happen to earn less than $250,000 annually. Let's not forget that. He needs and deserves our strong support.


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