The Sunday Political Brunch - January 15, 2017
Sunday, January 15, 2017
Mark Curtis, GoLocalPDX Contributor
It is the Sunday in between Presidencies in the United States. It's time to look back on what President Obama accomplished, and forward to what President-elect Trump might accomplish down the road. We are in the “heart of the beast” of politics in the nation's capital for the next two weekends, so let's “brunch” on that:
“Making History” - I believe President Obama's most significant accomplishment is simply having been the first African-American President. That was no small task. His Presidency speaks volumes about the significant decrease in the racial divide in this country. That's right! I said “decrease,” despite all the hue and cry that racism is worse now than it was, say, forty years ago. The numbers back this conclusion up. Obama received more votes from white Americans in 2008 and 2012 than Al Gore received in 2000 or John Kerry, in 2004. The willingness of a majority of Americans to put then-Senator Obama in the White House was ground-breaking, historic and a sign of how far this nation has progressed with regard to race relations.
“Killing bin Laden” - Critics thought President Obama took too much credit for the killing of terrorist Osama bin Laden. But go back and look at Obama's statement in which he clearly and rightly credited U.S. Intelligence and military personnel for making it happen. Just remember that the final call is up to the Commander in Chief. If he doesn't give the order, the mission doesn't happen. That power can cut both ways, of course. President Jimmy Carter's attempt at a military rescue of the U.S. Hostages in Iran was a disaster and cost him dearly. President Obama made the right call on the right day by taking the right advice. Good riddance, bin Laden!
“Obamacare” - Whether you support the Affordable Care Act, or not, the fact that it passed is a lesson in political willpower and persuasion. People as diverse as President Richard Nixon and Senator Ted Kennedy tried to craft a national health care plan, but couldn't find the votes. President Obama saw a rare opportunity in 2010 - with Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate - and took the risk. Its supporters “read the room,” counted the votes, and had enough to pass what's become known as “Obamacare.” You may love it; you may hate it; but it passed and became law. Even if it's repealed, the Republican majority promises to replace it with something better. Health care remains a political work in progress.
“Obama's Cuba Folly” - This one is probably the luck of good timing, rather than political skill; but, again, it happened on Obama's watch. President Obama opened up U.S. relations with Cuba; and, within a couple of years, Fidel Castro died. I've always thought that – no matter who was President of the United States when the Castros were gone - Cuba would emerge as a thriving democracy, with lots of U.S. Tourism and business investment there. It's coming; just you wait and see. I've even joked about a thriving Trump resort and casino on Cuba's shore. It could happen! In the 1860's, many laughed at Secretary of State William Seward's controversial purchase of Alaska, soon known as “Seward's Folly.” In a different way, opening relations with Cuba could be characterized as “Obama's Folly” - a controversial move which turned out to have huge advantages.
“Economic Ebb and Flow” - It's not fair, but Presidents get credit for economic good times (e.g. Eisenhower, Reagan, and Clinton) and blame for bad times (e.g. Carter, Bush I, and Bush II.) Truth be told, the Federal Reserve, private enterprise, innovation, and investment opportunity are the real drivers of the economy. As I've often said of the late 1990's, the economic boom was more about Bill Gates than about Bill Clinton. Yes, Presidents and Congress can nibble around the edges of the economy with tax and spending policies, but are small players. President Obama – whether he deserves it or not – will get credit for helping move the disastrous 2008 economy to where we are today.
“Midterm Report Cards” - Another way to evaluate a Presidency is to look at what happens in the midterm elections. In the early midterms of 2009, Republicans elected governors in New Jersey and Virginia. In 2010, the GOP seized control of the U.S. House on the heels of Obamacare and, in 2014, took control of the Senate under the same impetus. Yes, President Obama won a second term in 2012, but his party was roundly rejected again in 2016 at both the state and national levels. One of Obama's legacies is that – other than his own inspiring campaign in 2008 – his agenda had no coattail effects for his party down ballot. In a sense, he got himself elected, but no one else.
“Promises Made; Promises Not Kept” - If you search deep into my blog archives, you will find my predictions about political promises made in 2008. At the time, Senator Obama campaigned on closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but I predicted it would never happen. Why didn't he follow through? Well, I suspect that when he started getting daily intelligence briefings, he had an “Oh my God” moment! It's one thing to campaign to become President; it's another to actually have the job. Some of the terrorism and national defense threats must be jaw-dropping when you first see them, especially when you had planned to close Guantanamo.
“Path for Trump” - Here is my prediction for President Trump: Even though he promised to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border, my bet is that it never happens. A fence or wall is old-school. Would China build a Great Wall today? You can build electronic and computerized surveillance, with infra-red cameras and all kinds of technology, plus you can double the number of border patrol and immigration agents. Mexico says it won't pay for the wall, and Congress is unlikely to make U.S. taxpayers foot the bill. More realistic measures include automatic deportation of immigrant criminals, who are here in sanctuary cities and elsewhere. Immigration reform is most likely to work as eight or nine separate bills concerning separate issues, rather than trying to pass one big, all-encompassing immigration bill.
Give us your report card for President Obama, by clicking the comment button at http://www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.