A lot of people, including myself, are writing about why Mitt Romney is not fit to be president but it struck me that very few people are actually writing about why Barack Obama deserves a second term. Is it because the Obama Administration's track record is so poor that it is hard to defend? Hardly. On the contrary, I think it is just easier to criticize than to defend, and easier to sit on the sidelines than to fight back against misinformation.
So, let me set the record straight.
Let's start with the fact that President Obama has presided over one of the toughest periods in American history and inherited a financial crisis that was of catastrophic proportions. To make things even more difficult, today's landscape of instant communication and mass media escalates every problem to crisis proportions within hours -- a timeframe that is too short for any adequate response, even from the American government.
Yet, despite the massive storm that hit the US at the end of 2008, the president has managed to keep the ship from sinking and steered it, as fast as anyone reasonably could, into calmer waters. But to appreciate the true extent of his achievement, it is necessary to view it through a non-ideological prism.
The starting point, of course, is the Wall Street bailout. Few actions of the Obama Administration have been as reviled as this one, and on both sides of the political aisle. However, the reality is that the bailout was not aimed at rescuing greedy bankers but at saving our entire financial system. What most people refuse to understand (or perhaps accept) is just how close we came to complete collapse as an economic system and as a nation. I was at a leading hedge fund during those tumultuous days and I can tell you firsthand that the situation was every bit as dire as the hype surrounding it. The bailout was not only necessary but, under those circumstances, the only viable option. It is also worth remembering that the original decision to bail out the major banks had actually been made under the Bush Administration and was simply ratified by Obama.
In hindsight, the bailout was a success. It did cost the government money but most of it is being recovered with interest. Indeed, while the US economy might still be struggling, it is definitely on the road to a recovery, just at a slower pace than we would like. Unemployment is still high but investments are being made, infrastructure is being built, the real estate market is uneven but active, and major corporations are making record profits. Whatever the noise in the political arena, does this sound like a failure to you? The fact is that the president's decision to rescue the banking industry and the liberal monetary policy of the Federal Reserve averted a meltdown of our system; but as with all major crises, getting back on track takes time. To blame Obama for the slow pace of our economic recovery is both disingenuous and ridiculous.
The next big achievement of the Obama White House that is often touted as a disaster is the healthcare law -- affectionately dubbed "Obamacare." The public's hatred for the law mystifies me even more than their objection to the bailout. The American health system is hopelessly broken, with healthcare costs spiraling out of control, insurance premiums skyrocketing and accountability at all levels breaking down. My 80-year-old father spends an inordinate amount of time every week dealing with myriad healthcare providers and insurance companies in order to get the most basic care that any citizen of the United States deserves. Millions of people in our country cannot get adequate medical attention due to the prohibitive costs of healthcare and the mercenary practices of insurance companies, and prior to Obamacare there was no hope on the horizon for them.
There is no denying that certain provisions of the law are problematic and that Obamacare cannot ensure medical nirvana for everyone. However, it is still a crucial step in the right direction and one that is needed urgently. The Republican solution to the healthcare problem, which basically involves leaving it all up to the private sector to figure out, is a non-starter since the opportunism of the private sector is largely responsible for the mess our healthcare system is in today. It is a bit like suggesting that the wolf should walk Red Riding Hood home...
Obamacare may not be the perfect answer, but it is a lot better than the alternative of doing nothing and a substantial improvement over our existing system. Moreover, the difficulty and political heat that the president overcame to get it passed is a testament to his commitment to the welfare of the American people. In my opinion, it is a definite win.
Last but not least are the many international challenges that Obama has tackled, including the intractable situation in Afghanistan. Once more, the president has acted with pragmatism but also with resolve. It is important to remember that there is no playbook that instructs presidents on how to handle crises -- the reality is messy, unpredictable and most decisions have to be based on imperfect information and a gamble on the future. That is what Obama has done time and again and like any other president before him, some of his policies will succeed while others will fail. What is important is that nowhere in the process has he failed to rise to the challenge or make tough decisions.
It is easy to get caught up in the hope that a new president will bring with them magical solutions to all our problems, but that is a fantasy. No president, Democrat or Republican, can give us utopia. History will judge President Obama on the effectiveness of his policies, but if you examine his track record objectively, it is clear that he has been a dynamic, committed and effective leader during a time of extreme challenge. Contrary to Republican propaganda, Barack Obama is a strong president who has done a good job for us and we should not hesitate to acknowledge that.
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