Obama’s report card

By Jonathan Power

Will the real Barack Obama be allowed to stand up? The New York Times’ columnist and Nobel Prize winner for economics, Paul Krugman, writes in “Rolling Stone, “Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential presidents in American history”.

You wouldn’t know this if you observed the swing towards the Republicans in the recent Congressional elections – the same Republican Party that has implemented a scorched-earth policy against many of Obama’s initiatives.

The truth is he’s made more of a go of it than much of the media has reported.

He came into power inheriting the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. He has emerged as the only full-bloodied Keynesian of the developed economies, leading the US to outperform in economic growth its European partners by a substantial margin.

More could have been done. Given the way the big banks with their malignant policies tore down economies around the globe, it would have been useful to get some of their top executives behind bars as a warning to those who would take their places.

But then so were the big car firms which otherwise would have gone bankrupt, putting tens of thousands out of work and shooting a big hole in the balance of trade. The car firms are now in ruddy good health.

Add to that the Dodd-Frank financial reform law that Obama pushed for. It will give government the legal right to seize large complex financial institutions in a time of crisis.

Of course more could have been done if the Republicans had not made it impossible for him to further stimulate the economy. His Keynesian-inspired policies for massive infrastructure, educational and environmental improvements and the like were mercilessly shredded.

Nevertheless, he has done more to limit growing inequality in America than he has been given credit for. The rich are paying higher taxes. ObamaCare – the great health reform – means that subsidies to help low income families pay health insurance premiums go disproportionately to poorer Americans.

Obamacare – the Affordable Care Act – is a milestone. After serious computer glitches at its onset it is now working better than even the optimists expected. Not only are tens of millions now getting better health care, they have better financial security. Insurance premiums are falling for everyone. Cost controls on the escalating cost of health care are beginning to bite. Hopefully a successor Democrat president can build on this to help the millions who still remain uninsured, in particular undocumented immigrants.

Obama has presided over America becoming a more tolerant, open-minded, nation with his policies towards women and gays. Abortion and gay-marriage are widely accepted. Young blacks, incarcerated for possession of marijuana, are being released.

Now by presidential decree he is reforming the immigration system.

On climate change Obama has just brokered an important agreement with China to limit future carbon emissions. This will have a big impact on the willingness of other countries to follow suit. At home car and truck fuel-efficiency standards have been toughened up and solar and wind energy are increasing fast. Power plants have been ordered to lower emissions.

On foreign policy the record is not so good. Guantanamo prison, where terrorist suspects languish, is still not closed. The Republicans have stymied his every move. Obama outlawed torture but he decided not to prosecute CIA officials who carried out torture under his predecessor George W. Bush.

Tens of thousands of US and NATO troops have been withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan. A few thousand are back in Iraq to fight the fast spreading Islamic State and staying put in Afghanistan, but local governments are calling the shots.

The fact is no man on earth could in 6 years clear up the dangerous and putrid imbroglio created by Bush. Bush’s malign legacy will last for decades.

The rapid growth of the Islamic State – one consequence of Bush’s policies – has pushed Obama to unleash American air power. It is unlikely to work. A cleverer policy of emptying the towns and then cutting off water and food supplies once IS fighters move in would be a better way to go.

The US has messed up in Libya, mishandled the Arab Spring in Egypt. Most important, it and the EU must share a large part of the blame for events in Ukraine.

On the plus side, sizeable cuts have been made in the number of nuclear weapons and the budget of the Pentagon. Despite today’s clash with Russia there’s still a great deal of cooperation.

Obama has another two years to go. What is possible? An Iran deal? A rapprochement with Russia and then more nuclear arms cuts? Sanctions on Israel to push it to a peace deal with Palestine?

If he could achieve these objectives he will be remembered for being more than just the first black president.

Copyright: Jonathan Power

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