During his campaign, skeptics warned that Barack Obama was nothing but a "beautiful loser," a progressive purist whose uncompromising idealism would derail his program for change. But as president, Obama has proved to be just the opposite — an ugly winner. Over and over, he has shown himself willing to strike unpalatable political bargains to secure progress, even at the cost of alienating his core supporters. This bloodless, if effective, approach to governance has created a perilous disconnect: By any rational measure, Obama is the most accomplished and progressive president in decades, yet the only Americans fired up by the changes he has delivered are Republicans and Tea Partiers hellbent on reversing them. Heading into the November elections, Obama's approval ratings are mired in the mid-40s, and polls reflect a stark enthusiasm gap: Half of all Republicans are "very" excited about voting this fall, compared to just a quarter of Democrats. But if the passions of Obama's base have been deflated by the compromises he made to secure historic gains like the Recovery Act, health care reform and Wall Street regulation, that gloom cannot obscure the essential point: This president has delivered more sweeping, progressive change in 20 months than the previous two Democratic administrations did in 12 years.
The Rolling Stone
's Tim Dickinson argues The Case for Obama
Dickinson identifies eight key areas in which President Obama has made significant progress:
1 | Averting a Depression:
"According to a study
by economists from Princeton and Moody's, more than 16 million jobs would have been lost without the interventions of TARP, the Recovery Act and the Federal Reserve — double the damage actually suffered. Unemployment would have spiked to 16.5 percent, and next year's federal deficit would have more than doubled, to $2.6 trillion. [...] Obama played a pivotal role in the economic interventions that staved off disaster. He renominated Ben Bernanke as head of the Federal Reserve, backing the central bank's use of record-low interest rates to prop up the banking system. He demanded unprecedented transparency of both the Fed and Wall Street in administering 'stress tests' that restored the confidence of panicked investors, allowing 'zombie banks' to return to the living without resorting to nationalization. Thanks to such stewardship, the Treasury now estimates, the price tag for the TARP bailout has dropped from $700 billion (the equivalent of the Pentagon's annual budget) to $29 billion
(about one-fourth the spending on veterans). Above all, the president drove the passage of the Recovery Act, which the Princeton-Moody's study concludes has created nearly 2.7 million jobs."
2 | Sparking Recovery:
"The [stimulus package] included the most progressive middle-class tax cut ever enacted — delivering benefits to 95 percent of working families
. It invested $94 billion in clean energy and $100 billion in education — unprecedented levels of commitment in both areas. It also devoted $128 billion to health care and $70 billion to mending America's safety net — including direct cash payments to the elderly, the disabled and impoverished parents, as well as billions invested in low-income housing, food stamps and child care. [...] The stimulus alone represents a strikingly progressive presidential legacy — rivaling the biggest reforms of the Clinton presidency. And it passed on Obama's 24th day in office."
3 | Saving Detroit:
"It's difficult to overstate how effective and efficient the government's intervention has been. By risking $60 billion, Obama saved a third as many jobs as the entire stimulus package, which cost 13 times more. In fact, the auto industry has not only survived, it has roared back to life. GM is profitable and preparing to go public
in an IPO that could allow the government to recoup its investment. Ford is prospering, edging out Japanese rivals for quality. Even Chrysler is expanding its market share. 'The bailout of the auto industry protected against absolute devastation in the economies of the Midwest,' says Ornstein. 'And it is now turning out to be a huge financial boon for taxpayers.'"
4 | Reforming Health Care:
"Obama's $1 trillion reform is neither simple nor elegant. But over the next decade, it will extend health coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans — the equivalent of New York and Illinois combined — by expanding eligibility for Medicaid and subsidizing insurance for low- and middle-income citizens. By the end of this decade, 95 percent of Americans will have health insurance. The law also establishes a new bill of rights for patients
: Starting in 2014, insurance giants will be banned from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions and from imposing annual caps on benefit payouts. Other rights have already kicked in. As of September, insurance companies can no longer arbitrarily revoke coverage for those who get sick. Children with existing illnesses can no longer be denied insurance. Younger Americans can stay on their parents' policies until they're 26. And 1 million elderly citizens are receiving checks for $250 to fill the gap in Medicare's coverage of prescription drugs. Most striking of all, the law accomplishes all this while extending the solvency of Medicare by a dozen years and cutting the deficit by $143 billion
over the next decade."
5 | Cutting Corporate Welfare:
"The president's Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act
, which piggybacked to victory as an add-on to health care, kicked private banks out of the federal lending game. The unalloyed victory over corporate lobbyists will cut lending costs by more than $60 billion over the next decade — $36 billion of which is being reinvested to expand federal grants for low-income and middle-class students. The law also makes unprecedented investments in historically black schools and community colleges, caps student-loan repayment at 10 percent of a borrower's income and pays for a program to forgive the debts of students who make their careers in public service."
6 | Restoring America's Reputation:
"As president, Obama has stuck to the timetable he laid out, withdrawing nearly 100,000 troops from Iraq [...] Despite the continuing loss of NATO troops [in Afghanistan], U.S. approval ratings in western Europe have soared into the 60s and 70s — far higher than during the unilateralism of the Bush era. U.S. approval is up more than 10 points in Poland and Russia, 20 points in China, and 30 points in Indonesia, France and Germany. Overall, global confidence in America's leadership has leaped from 21 percent in 2007 to 64 percent today."
7 | Protecting Consumers:
"The Federal Reserve and the FDIC now have the power to seize and dismantle firms like AIG and Lehman Brothers and to force the financial industry to pony up the costs of their liquidation. Banks can no longer gamble federally insured deposits on high-risk investments, and they are required to risk a portion of their own assets in the dubious investments they sell — a move designed to prevent firms like Goldman Sachs from profiting off of 'shitty deals.' But the most significant facet of the legislation is the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
. For the first time, a single regulatory authority will have the power to protect consumers from bad loans and credit deals, the same way the FDA protects patients from dangerous drugs. Armed with an annual budget of $500 million — exempt from congressional cost- cutting — the agency will police everything from payday loans to jumbo mortgages. [...] Another measure pushed by Obama — the Credit CARD Act
— has already forced Visa, MasterCard and American Express to include a box on your statement spelling out how long it will take to pay off your debt making only the minimum payment. It also bans credit-card companies from jacking up your rate without warning, and places stiff restrictions on luring college kids into mountains of debt with easy credit."
8 | Launching a Clean-Energy MoonShot:
"Consider that the stimulus targeted $94 billion for clean energy — making unprecedented investments in everything from weatherizing federal buildings to building solar thermal plants in the Mojave. Roughly half of the money involves direct federal spending. But the administration structured the other half — $46 billion — as matching funds and loan guarantees that are realized only when the private sector steps up with capital of its own. According to a report from the president's Council of Economic Advisers, every dollar of federal co-investment is attracting more than $2 in private capital. Add it all up, and the Recovery Act is driving more than $200 billion in public and private investment in clean energy — $20 billion more than the Apollo program would have cost in today's dollars. [...] What is the country getting for this moonshot? The investment is on track to double the nation's renewable-energy generating capacity by 2012 — bringing enough clean energy online to power New York around the clock. It will also double the nation's manufacturing capacity for wind turbines and solar panels, driving down the cost of clean energy so it can compete with fossil fuels [...] By executive order, all federal agencies are now required to reduce their carbon pollution by 28 percent in the next decade. That act alone is enough to scrub 101 million metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere — as much climate-heating pollution as Ireland and Hungary generate combined."
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