debate

’Til Trump do us part

At the dawn of a new era, was Barack Obama a good president?

By Sarah Sidlow

Photo: Illustration by Rick McKee, The Augusta Chronicle

Real talk: Donald Trump has taken over the biggest boardroom in the land. He was put there by 61,900,651 American voters who were ready for a change in Washington. But let’s, for a moment, jump on the bandwagon of remembering a presidential era started on the premise of change—was President Obama an awesome president, or was the inauguration of Donald Trump the dawning of a new, necessary era after a disappointing run?
For a lot of Americans, those 62 million notwithstanding, Obama was, simply, great. His fan club will forever boast about Obama’s ability to lead and unite, his eloquent manner of speech, and the way he elevated the office of the president.
Moreover, they argue, Obama was great because like all the great ones, he was dealt a sucky hand and he did something with it. As GQ author Jim Nelson said, “The times have to suck for the president not to. Civil wars, World Wars, depressions and recessions. You got to have ’em if you wanna be great. That’s why we rate the Washingtons, Lincolns, and Roosevelts over That Fat Guy with the Walrus Mustache.”
But the highlight reel of Obama’s legacy breaks down much like his presidency itself: the same actions considered milestone victories by one party are marked as catastrophic by another. The Affordable Care Act: did it make health care more accessible for millions of Americans, or was it an unconstitutional overreach of government into business and citizens’ private lives? Same-sex marriage: did Obama take another step toward creating a more inclusive society, or did he single-handedly dismantle the sanctity of marriage? Vetoing the Keystone Pipeline (and advancing solar and wind power technologies): was he helping curb America’s dependence on foreign oil, or crippling American business?
Also on Obama’s playlist: the capture and killing of al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden, the Iran deal, oh, and being the first African-American president. Thanks, Obama.
For some, many of these feats are the things that will propel Obama into the Hall of the Greats. But is the squad at Mount Rushmore saying, “You can’t sit with us”? Many argue there’s a reason the president-elect is the antithesis of Obama—because he’ll have to unwind the damage he left behind. Perhaps one of the biggest bullet points is the federal debt, which has more than doubled since Obama first took office. Another is Obama’s liberal policies on illegal immigration (think: the DREAM Act). And, also, there’s ISIS, which is still a problem, and which Trump and others argue was created as a direct result of Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of the war in Iraq. Thanks, Obama.
Ultimately, the question is: What makes a good president? And is that even something that can be measured?
Karl Rove (President George W. Bush’s chief political advisor) in a speech at the University of Utah offered these characteristics as the material that makes up an effective president: clarity of vision; consistency of purpose with a willingness to change strategy; a healthy respect for public opinion, without being driven by opinion polls; and a strong team of advisors.
For better or worse, whether you rejoiced or rallied, the last eight years are over. Thanks, Obama.

Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

Debate Forum Question of the week:

Was Barack Obama a good President?

Simmered, should have boiled

Obama will be remembered as a good president, not a great one

By Tim Smith

It’s a new year, the election from hell is officially over, and a new president has been sworn in (or sworn at, in some cases). Now we can begin the great American pastime of evaluating the job performance of the last commander in chief.

Was Barrack Obama a good president? Overall, yes, and I think history will treat him as such. Was he a great president? No, for a number of reasons.

Let’s begin with what made him a good president. Shortly after he took office, he played hardball with the automakers and Wall Street bankers who had approached his predecessor with their hands out, because they couldn’t balance their checkbooks. Obama made it clear that the Bush-era bailouts were not gifts, but loans, and he expected them to be paid back. American automakers reorganized and eventually rebounded because they were forced to. The same thing happened with lending institutions. His administration was often criticized for imposing too much government oversight on private sector businesses, but it was this type of look-behind that jumpstarted the economy and forced some needed changes.

The unemployment rate decreased to a 10-year low, and more American businesses opened up or added jobs. We saw an emphasis on clean renewable energy to combat climate change. We became less reliant on foreign oil, which resulted in better gas prices at the pump. Rebates for people who invested in energy-efficient appliances helped the average family spend less on utilities each year. Mortgage rates also dropped, allowing more people to buy homes. As a result, home sales increased, as did the sale of new cars and other consumer goods.

Cultural and gender diversity made great strides over the past eight years, although it was an uphill battle. These are now in danger of being unraveled by the current placeholder. Foreign policy may not have been Obama’s strong suit, but it didn’t deteriorate as badly as his critics suggest. He succeeded in repairing the fragile relationship the U.S. had with Cuba and strengthened our relations with other countries. Obama never lost sight of what made America a world super power after World War II—the alliances we formed and maintained with other countries. He also did it without resorting to insults, name-calling, or posting nasty-grams on social media. And let’s not forget that on his watch, bin Laden was silenced for good.

There are reasons why Obama will not be regarded as a great president, from the spiraling national debt and the problems with Obamacare, to his secretary of state’s Middle East bungling. The main reason, though, can be summed up in three words—the Republican Party. From the moment Obama took office, the GOP adopted Nancy Reagan’s war on drugs mantra: “Just say no!” Naturally, their Democratic counterparts felt obliged to push back. Never before have we as a nation witnessed so much partisan bickering, posturing, and drawing of lines in the sand. Had these elected representatives worked in the private sector, they would have been fired for gross incompetence.

The chief leader of this nonsense was the former Pouter of the House, John “Cry-Me-a-River” Boehner. If you watched him during Obama’s presidential addresses, he typically had his lower lip stuck out and acted like a 6-year-old who didn’t get chocolate cake for dessert. Sure, he made a half-hearted attempt to work with the prez on a balanced budget, but it was all smoke and mirrors, likely so he could tell the folks back home, “Hey, at least I tried!”

During the 2012 election, I read a story about Washington gridlock in Time magazine. The article pointed out that the GOP had banded together to become what would be termed The Party of “No.” Basically, every Republican lawmaker was pressured or threatened into voting against Obama’s proposals, whether they wanted to or not. This no doubt led to all of the last-minute deadlines on whether the federal government would stay open for business or if they should hang the “Out to lunch” sign on the door.

We can all be Monday morning quarterbacks and wonder what would have happened with some of Obama’s ideas if he had received a modicum of cooperation and support. Rebuilding the country’s infrastructure was one of his priorities, but it became mired in so much red tape and deal-making that it never left the starting gate. It’s interesting that President Trump is now proposing the same thing. I wonder if he’ll get any further with it?

Obama knew he’d been dealt a lousy hand when he took the job, but he played his cards the best way he could. Now, we can make book on how long it will be before some lawmaker or op-ed pundit says, “Gee, I wish he could have run for a third term. I really miss his leadership style.”

I give it six months.

Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com. 

 

Participation trophy

Hope for Obama’s presidency turns to disappointment

By David H. Landon

Eight years ago, as President Barack Obama took the oath of office, I wrote a column for Dayton City Paper anticipating what an Obama administration might hold in store for our country. If you will indulge me, I would like to review that column to frame our discussion today of how President Obama did during his two terms in office.

In that column, I expressed the hope that the new president would be successful while acknowledging that the same was not a courtesy extended by most Democrats to any Republican administration since Eisenhower. I made another observation that many on the left have trouble accepting, especially today: elections have consequences, and having won the election, Obama had the opportunity to implement policy. At the time, the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and, with President Obama in the White House, were clearly in the driver’s seat.

In my article, I suggested that, “Now is the time for responsible and loyal opposition. As conservatives and Republicans, we can demonstrate what it means to disagree without becoming disagreeable. Eventually, if Obama’s policies restrict freedom, subsidize non-production, penalize self-initiative, and restrict free speech, those policies will fail, falling under their own weight.” That is exactly what we have witnessed as the Obama years come to a close.

Donald Trump is president today because of the miscalculations and missteps of the Obama administration.

If we look at the economy, we find Obama’s greatest failure. While he inherited a mess, his policies led to the weakest recovery in our country’s history. The national debt has nearly doubled since President Obama’s election, as he has added more debt than all of the other presidents combined. Today, middle class income continues to fall, and a large number of trained workers are unable to find jobs that match their skills. We find that nearly a third of those between the ages of 18 and 34 are still living with their parents.

Since 2009, the percentage of working-age Americans, who are not in the labor force, has reached near-record levels. During that time, the number of adults outside the labor force has increased by 12 million. There are fewer full-time jobs in America than when the recession started. Nearly 29 million of the 124.5 million Americans in prime working years—ages 25-54—are currently without a job. Obama’s supporters point to the 5 percent unemployment rate as a sign of the success of his policies. That’s hardly persuasive to a worker in Mahoning County who lost his job in the mills and has taken a part-time job at a lower wage to help feed his family. Then there’s the whole Obamacare fiasco. President Obama’s economy is what ultimately elected Donald Trump.

Barack Obama hasn‘t faired much better on the foreign policy front. Obama practiced a policy of attempting to lead the world from behind. It didn’t work. The Middle East is in flames. A resurgent Russia threatens her neighbors, having already taken part of Ukraine. The refugee crisis, which threatens to overrun Europe, was created in part from Obama’s failed policy toward Syria. An ill-advised withdrawal from Iraq left a vacuum that the radical Islamist group ISIS was only too willing to fill. China has only grown emboldened in the face of perceived American weakness. China has even deployed new missile systems to a man-made Chinese island in a disputed region of the South China Sea. These and other challenges have all been made worse on Obama’s watch.
In areas of foreign policy, where Obama has tried to forge new policy, the results have been catastrophic. The deal with Iran only delays slightly the time in which Iran will develop a nuclear weapon, and Obama paid them billions for the privilege of that slight delay. It’s like negotiating with a suicide bomber to use a longer fuse. The chances of an unspeakable nuclear explosion occurring in the future have increased because of President Obama’s Iranian deal.

His treatment of Israel has consistently been to challenge its security. The recent U.N. Resolution abandoned decades of the U.S. defending Israel before the increasingly hostile United Nations. Israel feels the U.S. has betrayed the only democratic government in the Middle East. Incredibly, the Obama administration even spent U.S. tax dollars in an effort to defeat Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That’s not how America should be treating our allies and friends.

This is the result of Obama’s worldview in which he sees the United States having played the role of a selfish bully. As his disastrous foreign policy was premised on that mistaken view, it’s little wonder we find ourselves in the current mess. Our enemies no longer respect us and our friends no longer trust us.

The column that I wrote on the eve of the Obama presidency was hopeful that our first African-American president would bring us together as a nation. I wrote, “We will await the inauguration of President Obama with anxiety in anticipation of his public policies and also a sense of pride that this nation has, once and for all, put the sad chapter of slavery behind us. Godspeed, President Obama. In four years we’ll see how you measured up.” Sadly, we seem no closer on that front.

I see President Obama as a decent man who failed as president. I still wish him God’s speed.

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at DaveLandon@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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