On a day when we pause to consider those things for which Americans ought to be thankful, I feel obliged to mention my appreciation for many of the things that Barack Obama has accomplished as President of the United States, and my profound relief that he is in the Oval Office rather than any of the Republicans who sought to displace him.
On this day, it seems appropriate to reflect not only on Obama’s considerable achievements, but on how much worse our situation might be if his opponents had been in control of events from January 2009 until now.
With our continuous immersion in harsh commentary from factions and ideologues across the spectrum, a mindless negativity tends to dominate assessments of his presidency. He is certainly more flawed than his most zealous supporters would ever have admitted six or seven years ago, which is why some of them are disproportionately disappointed today; he has made regrettable mistakes in both policy and politics; and, as we saw in this month’s midterm election, he has suffered declines in public confidence that injured his image and the fortunes of his party. His approval ratings remain low.
And yet, whatever his fellow citizens may feel, the undeniable truth is that Obama righted the nation in a moment of deep crisis and set us on a navigable course toward the future, despite bitter, extreme, and partisan opposition that was eager to sink us rather than see him succeed.
So I’m thankful that Obama was president at the nadir of the Great Recession, rather than John McCain, Mitt Romney, or any other Republican who might have insisted on austerity and prevented the stimulus spending that saved us from economic catastrophe. It wasn’t large enough or long enough to prevent the human suffering of unemployment, but it was sufficient to bring recovery, more rapidly than most countries have recovered after a major panic.
The simple proof may be found in the record of growth that outpaced every other industrialized country in the world – a record that seems even more impressive because the crash began here, as a consequence of irresponsibility and criminality in American financial markets. Undergirding the stimulus was his courageous decision to bail out the automotive industry, denounced as “socialism,” saved at least a million jobs and prevented the further deindustrialization of America.
I’m also thankful that Obama – a politician who respects science and listens to scientists — was president as we began to encounter the difficult realities of climate change. Having declared his determination to double the production of renewable energy in this country, he has far exceeded that objective already. Under his guidance, the federal government has acted against excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, required automakers to double their fuel economy by 2025, ordered agencies to achieve sustainability in operations and purchases, and invested tens of billions in smart electric grids, conservation, and clean fuels.
I’m thankful that he oversaw passage of financial reform, despite his overly cautious failure to prosecute the financial felons who caused the crisis and his refusal to take down any of the big banks. Like the stimulus and the auto bailout, the Dodd-Frank Act is imperfect but useful and necessary – and wouldn’t have occurred if the bankers and their most abject Republican servants had been fully in charge.
I’m even more thankful that he pushed through the most extensive and generous reform in American health care since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act – which, despite its troubled debut, has proved to be a remarkable success. It isn’t Medicare for all, but Obamacare is insuring and protecting millions of Americans who would otherwise be subject to the Tea Party Republican policy, pithily summarized by that mob screaming “let ’em die” at the GOP debate in 2012. Health care costs are falling, Medicare’s solvency has improved, and millions more of the country’s poor and working families are covered by Medicaid, in spite of Republican legislators and governors who would, quite literally, let them die.
Finally, I’m appreciative of many other policy decisions Obama has made – promoting human rights by ending anti-gay discrimination in the military, banning the Bush era tolerance of torture, outlawing unequal pay for women, and most recently his executive order on immigration. I’m grateful that he is seeking peace through negotiation with Iran, instead of going directly (and insanely) to war as McCain or Romney would almost surely have done. I’m glad he had the guts to order the operation that finished Osama bin Laden.
None of this diminishes the president’s political errors, his sometimes naïve attitude about “bipartisanship,” his excessive deference to the national security and defense establishments, or his persistent susceptibility to wrongheaded cant about entitlements and deficits.
But he remains admirably cool under attacks that would madden most people. He refuses to mimic the cynical, mindless, and ugly conduct of his adversaries. He still proclaims American values of shared responsibility and prosperity, of cooperation and community, of malice toward none and charity for all.
In different ways, those ideals were epitomized by the presidential founders of this national holiday – George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt – and their persistence is reason for thanksgiving, too.