I want you to hold your government accountable. I want you to hold me accountable.
Ok, we will!
Like most everyone, I imagine, I’ve been watching what President Obama has been up to. Trying to remember that he isn’t king and can’t just “make things happen”, I’ve also attempted to be fair with regards to my perceptions of the job he’s doing.
What’s being done right
I have to admit, I’m seriously impressed with the pace this president has maintained over the last 100 days: it’s felt more like a year. Through a seriously and rapidly deepening recession, a lot of bickering from the right, all on the backdrop of high expectations both from himself and from the public, he has managed to push trough several truly major pieces of legislation while continuing to impress the governments of foreign nations, even if said nations are a little reluctant to treat us as repsectable members of the human family. Still, he has managed.
Among his accomplishments, he has ((This is not an exhaustive list, you can verify all of these at PolitiFact.com under the “Promise Kept” heading)):
- Reached out to foreign leaders in the Middle East ((Consider this run-down from Reuters
- Opened the door to dialogues with Cuba ((As reported by the New York Times)) while putting the onus back on the Castro government to do what it can to improve the country’s position with the United States ((See this Reuters article))
- Expanded healthcare for children ((CNN reported on this in February, you can read that article here.))
- Created a way for the American people to stay in touch with him through a highly interactive website
- Worked at helping out financial institutions in trouble, then, in the wake of the outrageous “Bonus” news, raked over the coals those CEO’s who weren’t acting with integrity (more than once!) ((See some of what has been done about it, as well as some of the video of, for instance, the AIG hearings in March. You might also want to simply run a search on the CPSAN website for “AIG” for more tidbits.))
- Set up a way to help out homeowners in danger of foreclosure ((Promise No. 15))
- Created a method for the public to keep track of the recovery money
- Funded a major expansion of AmeriCorps ((Promise No. 371))
- Banned lobbyist gifts to executive employees ((Promise No. 427))
- Invested in alternative energy, launching a major push towards cleaner energy in a myriad of ways ((Promises No. 458, and 459))
- Support high speed rail (can’t wait to see that actually take off!), and generally worked at improving America’s transportation infrastructure ((Promise no. 480))
- Reversed restrictions on stem cell research ((Promise No. 513))
In addition, he has also managed to work out some kind of compromise on the following ((These can be found at PolitiFact.com under the heading “Promises that are Compromises“)), most of them having to do with taxes:
- Reduced capital gains taxes for small businesses and start-ups (the promise was to actually eliminate it, but he wasn’t able to get that passed) ((Promise No.3))
- Expanded the “Earned Income Tax” (EIC) credit ((Promise No.5))
- Created a tax credit of $500 for workers ((Promise No.32))
- Ensured people making less than $250,000 a year would see no tax increases (this was rated a compromise because a tax hike on cigarettes went into effect April 1st, though this is an increase on goods, not income). ((Promise No. 515))
In all, he has worked out 34 of his 500+ campaign promises already, (six of them compromises of sorts), while breaking 7 more (though a few of those might come to fruition at a later time… there’s always next year!)
Amongst all of this, he has opened up documentation on the war in Iraq, is in the process of closing Guantanamo Bay, is reducing troops to Iraq while bolstering the forces in Afghanistan, and is allowing the Justice Department to figure out what to do about the previous administration’s behavior with regards to so-called “enemy combatants”.
He toyed with the idea of renaming the “war on terror” the “Overseas Contingency Operation” (THAT was idiotic and didn’t go over too well!), and changed the tone of America’s foreign policy from the “Wild West Comboy” to the “conciliatory big brother” by reaching out to Cuba, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and criticized Pakistan when it became clear they were ineffective against Taliban and Al-Qaeda incursions.
Through all that, he managed to get his daughters a puppy, too.
The immediate result? The world still loves him ((See this article from “Voice of America”))— though many foreign leaders aren’t ready to forgive and forget, having refused to make any of the concessions the administration has asked for — the American people still love him—his current approval rating sits in the 69% range—and the conservatives (let’s call them “The Vocal Right”) are practically screaming for an armed revolution. That’s gotta mean something!
It also probably helps account for lower approval ratings than he probably deserves, and, assuming he starts garnering successes over the next 100 days, I suspect history will prove that to be the case.
In fairness, though, he has made a few gaffes. The biggest isn’t actually his fault (it seems pretty clear he didn’t know about it at all) but it happened on his watch. An ill-advised, secret fly-over over lower Manhattan for a photo op triggered panic, and infuriated a mayor who was apparently not informed.
There is some controversy over some of Obama’s policies, too.Although I am not a vengeful person, I am upset that he appears to be unwilling to investigate and prosecute the war criminals who sought to change or controvert the law in order to torture “enemy combatants”, a crime that has been well established since World War II and which we, ourselves, have prosecuted under the Geneva Convention (to which we a signatory). We’ve even added the following reservation in 1955, which has been upheld in various other reservations:
Reservation made upon signature and maintained upon ratification:
Mr. VINCENT, Minister of the United States of America in Switzerland, on signing the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of August 12, 1949, made the following declaration:
“The Government of the United States fully supports the objectives of this Convention.
“I am instructed by my Government to sign, making the following reservation to Article 68:
“The United States reserve the right to impose the death penalty in accordance with the provisions of Article 68, paragraph 2, without regard to whether the offences referred to therein are punishable by death under the law of the occupied territory at the time the occupation begins”
Just because the government says it’s ok doesn’t make it so, that’s the whole point of the “war criminal” appellation. My objection to this reluctance to prosecute is in the name of justice, not revenge. I don’t care if it’s George W. Bush or Barack H. Obama who’s commander-in-chief, if I find out he has allowed— even encouraged—that kind of criminal act, I want him and his subordinates investigated, then, if appropriate, prosecuted, impeached, sentenced, the whole nine yards.
On the budget, Obama has a huge one that the right has serious reservations about. They figure it can never be made to balance. However, they are ignoring one simple fact: the previous administration never included the cost of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The budget hasn’t been balanced in 7 years. The Obama budget depends very much on getting a lot of other projects going, particularly ones that “green” the country’s economy. Should they succeed, I’m pretty confident we’ll be back on the right kind of track.
Perhaps the most important thing about this president isn’t what he has or hasn’t accomplished, but how much he has managed to do without irritating his congress too severely. It’s unfortunate that the Republicans appear united in thwarting him at every turn, though I suppose, after 8 years of Bush rule, it’s to be expected that they would protest anything that shakes up the house, and Obama is nothing if not a house shaker. Besides, I suspect both houses have worked harder in the last 100 days than they did in their first year under Bush.
At the moment, though, a new crisis has emerged in the form of a possible swine flu pandemic ((See also the CDC website for continuing details about the situation in the United States, and the Homeland Security website for security alerts and information related to this issue, as well as the United States Department of Health and Human Services website)), and when this crisis broke, we didn’t even have a Health and Human Services Secretary yet. ((Kathleen Sibelius (D-Kansas) was confirmed two days ago as Health and Human Services Secretary. For a complete list of nominations and appointments, see the White House page on the subject.)) Obama’s own rules requiring a high level of integrity amongst his cabinet has made the task of filling all positions rather difficult: four nominees have had to withdraw, at least three had to pay back taxes before they could be confirmed, ten others have been waiting on their confirmation for at least the last 100 days—including the Health and Human Services Secretary whose presence is needed right now—and the last confirmation happened February 12th, more than ten weeks ago.
Nonetheless, through a combination of swift action and thoughtful consideration, in my book President Obama is off to a good, solid “B-” start.
Personally, I am particularly impressed with his willingness to take responsibility for himself and his staff, even going so far as to apologize for some of America’s past foibles in the world community, a move that has irritated the Nationalists ((Nationalist: a term I am using to mean “One who thinks his or her country is always right, simply by virtue of being their nation of origin; often confused with ‘patriot’, one who takes pride in his or her country’s positive contribution to the world, and who works to continue it’s fine traditions”)). To me, this is a refreshing departure from previous policy, where it seemed distance and “plausible deniability” ruled the White House. I’m pretty sure our parents taught us to apologize when we messed up, to take responsibility for our own actions, teaching us that doing so actually ups our standing with those who have been offended. I know my parents did. Unfortunately, it seems much of America confuses integrity, honesty and accountability with weakness. I hope President Obama will show the lie in this assumption.
Let’s see what the next 100 days bring. ((For an interesting comparison of other presidential “First 100 days”, try Chris Weigant who’s done a two-part article on the subject.))