Thursday, September 6, 2012
Okay, once more into the breech. When I started this blog, my intention was for it to celebrate eclecticism; it's a blog about pop culture, and Mormonism and politics and baseball and . . . . This is primarily because I just have that kind of 'messy attic' mind. I store basically everything up there: don't mind the dust.
I never thought I would post twice in a row on any subject, let alone politics. I mean, I like politics, I'm interested in politics, but more than movies? More than baseball? Come on. Especially with scorching hot pennant races in every division.
But the conventions are going, so there's nothing on TV. And my wife is home recovering from surgery, with me doing my inadequate best to care for her, so haven't been to the movies for awhile. And, you know, this is the most important election of our lifetimes.
At least Chuck Norris seems to think so.
I really don't want to be snarky about Chuck Norris, either. For one thing, even at the age of 72, he could still kick my ass. But he's a good guy, a fellow Christian, and he clearly thinks the Ant-Christ is about to be named the Democratic nominee for President. "Socialism. . . . or worse." Cue the soundtrack to The Omen.
So let me defend Barack Hussein Obama's first term as 44th President of the United States. And the basic Republican argument against him is, in Bill Clinton's memorable paraphrase, "we handed you a horrendous mess, and in four years, you still haven't cleaned it totally up, so put us back in power."
A sixteen trillion dollar national debt, eleven trillion of it on Obama's watch: that's the argument. So let's look at the debt. Where did it come from? Here's what caused it.
And here we go again, blaming Bush for everything. But what's important to recognize is that the Bush legacy consisted entirely of continuing commitments. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were hardly something we could just walk away from. We had to wind them down, transition to civilian rule. It wasn't easy and more importantly, it wasn't cheap. The Medicare expansion was actually a good thing, completely necessary. (All except for the 'not paying for it' part; that was a uniquely Bush innovation.)
Now, I don't think the war in Iraq needed to be fought. But I'll concede that reasonable people disagree there. The one completely foolish, absolutely unjustified bit of spending on that chart, the Bush tax cuts, were the one continuing commitment that could have been abandoned. The Bush tax cuts remain the single most idiotic public policy decision of my lifetime. They accomplished exactly nothing, except to expand the deficit and give rich guys more money. They had no stimulative value whatever. But I can see the reluctance to raise taxes mid-recession. Plus there was no way Obama could have gotten ending the Bush tax cuts through Congress. So we were stuck with that one too. (Maybe they go away in December. We can hope).
Okay, so there's all this deficit spending going on, all of it in continuing commitments, and the economy was in free-fall. Tax revenues way down, making deficits worse. What exactly should the President have done?
Well, eight days into his Presidency, Mitt Romney was already declaring Obama's policies a 'failure' on national TV. So what exactly was he doing that was so terrible?
Not cutting spending. Not imposing austerity. Providing a stimulus. Not following Great Britain, a big nation with a big economy that was facing exactly the same problems America was, with pretty much exactly the same causes. That has to be it, that has to be what Republicans mean by 'failed policies.' Obama didn't follow the David Cameron path.
And boy did we dodge a bullet there.
Because there's just not an argument to be made for austerity anymore. It just flat doesn't work. I mean, look who's tried it? France, Great Britain, Spain, Italy, Ireland. It hasn't worked anywhere. Double-digit unemployment everywhere.
Oh, yeah, he also instituted Obamacare. So let me ask this question: it's two o'clock in the morning. You're a Mom or a Dad, in a family too poor to afford health insurance, one of the 30 million Americans in that boat, and your kid is really seriously sick. At that point, you have exactly two choices, both of them hopelessly irresponsible. You can take your child to the hospital emergency room and rack up a bill you have no possible way of paying, knowing your next months are going to be a nightmare of dodging calls from bill collectors. Or you can let a potentially serious illness go untreated. Maybe the kid has meningitis. Maybe she has strep. Maybe something worse.
So, okay, you hate Obamacare. What's your solution? Uninsured Americans right now face a completely untenable double-blind, one that also has serious health cost implications for the rest of us. The US pays twice what other nations pay for health care, with worse outcomes than almost any other industrialized nation. Every one of our last nine Presidents has attempted some kind of health care reform.
Obama got it done.
And with apologies to Chuck Norris, this is not the apocalypse. President Obama is not a socialist, he's not a communist, he's not a terrorist, he's not muslim (not that it wouldn't be perfectly fine if he was muslim, it's a major world religion and a peaceful and wonderful one). He's not (apologies to Dinesh D'Souza), an anti-colonialist, except in the sense that basically everyone nowadays is anti-colonialist. (I don't see anyone in either party suggesting that what the US needs is more colonies.) He's a pro-business moderate, who has cut tax rates to their lowest level in years, whose Presidency has seen the highest corporate profits of my lifetime. Not that that's necessarily a good thing.
I personally don't think he got enough in his negotiations with AIG and Goldman Sachs et. al. We saved their fannies; they should have agreed to cut bonuses and CEO compensation packages and agreed to much stricter regulations. And I fault Obama for not insisting on a much stronger version of what became the Dodd-Frank bill. The specific excesses that made up the world-wide financial crisis are still not illegal. And they should be.
Personally, Obama's a Christian--he and Michelle and the girls attend the Episcopal Church close to the White House, though the President isn't always able to make it. His wife is wonderful, and his girls are adorable--he's a good father and husband. He's a reasonable guy, thoughtful and smart, and he's also pretty cool--gets pop culture references, chats on Reddit. He likes basketball, and he loves to read. He's not perfect, but he's hardly Satan.
And yes, he was, in fact, born in Hawaii.
President Obama's policies will, if enacted, lead to a continued, somewhat slow recovery. I think we could do better, but I don't think he can get a huge Paul Krugman stimulus through Congress. But in ten years, Americans will be astonished think that Obamacare was ever controversial. He's been a pretty good guy, and a pretty good President. This is not the End of Days.