Only a Democrat could prevent a Depression, end a war, capture and kill Osama bin Laden, double the Dow — and then hear constantly that he can’t run on his record.
If President John McCain were seeking a second term with these undeniable accomplishments, the GOP would skip the campaign and spend the money on carving his grimace into Mt. Rushmore and onto the dime, while renaming every federal everything in America after the man.
In 2004, after George W. blew the surplus, didn’t prevent 9/11, let bin Laden get away at Tora Bora, and invaded the wrong country, Republicans still proudly ran on that record. Of course, that was before Bush tried to privatize Social Security, gave up on his Orwellian terror alerts, and let New Orleans drown, driving his approval rating down to Nixon-during-Watergate-era levels. Since Herbert Hoover, has any president had a worse tenure? But who said, “George W. Bush can’t run on his record!”
A lot of people did, certainly—just as millions took to the streets to protest the Iraq war. But there wasn’t a liberal machinery to repeat the rallying cry. So Republicans re-elected George W. Bush—barely—claiming: “He kept us safe.”
Can President Obama run on his record?
It’s a question so ridiculous that even asking it shows how the conservative media and their coordinated talking points pollute perceptions.
President Obama’s success began before he was even elected president.
In 2008, Bush adopted his timeline for withdrawal from Iraq. During the financial crisis, his support made the government’s efforts to put a backstop on the crisis possible. As he came into office, he laid out the framework for an unprecedented economic stimulus and managed to get the two Republican votes he needed within weeks—despite an agreement by the GOP to do everything they could to oppose his progress. Even before the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act went into effect, the GOP learned to call it a failure and repeated that ad nauseum.
You know that during his first two years, the president had a majority in the House that included dozens of “Blue Dog” Democrats who were basically moderate Republicans.
Anyone who says that President Obama ever had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate doesn’t know what a Joe Lieberman is. For a few brief weeks, 60 Senators did caucus as Democrats, but that number included Lieberman, along with Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Mary Landrieu (D-AR), conservative Democrats who often voted like Republicans.
Despite those obstacles, President Obama’s legislative wins in that one period can only be compared with the first full term of Lyndon B. Johnson or Franklin D. Roosevelt’s three terms of pure progress for the middle class and working families.
In addition to the stimulus program — which made a massive investment in green energy that thrust us forward by decades — he signed the Lilly Ledbetter act for equal pay, credit card reform, Wall Street reform that created Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, student loan reform that cut profiteering banks out of the process and made sure loan repayments were more affordable, and the mother of all progressive accomplishments — the Affordable Care Act.
Here we get to the second reason President Obama’s accomplishments aren’t properly heralded—idealistic liberals.
Would Medicare for All have been a better health care solution? No doubt. But Nelson, Landrieu, Lieberman, and several other senators would have shut that bill down before you even got to the “All” part.
If you look at Obamacare’s massive expansion of Medicaid for the poor alone, funded entirely by tax increases on the rich and corporations, you see an astounding yet imperfect accomplishment. A public option in the House bill wasn’t included but it can be easily added—if the law survives.
The president also appointed two progressive women to the Supreme Court, signed a bill to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a renewal of the START treaty, and came within a handful of votes of passing the DREAM Act.
All in two years.
Once the GOP won the House by blaming the president for the crisis he inherited and ridiculing optimistic predictions his economists had made before the worst of the crisis, the president resisted Republican demands to immediately curb spending and renew the recession. He negotiated to keep government running and thrived in foreign policy.
After the remarkable decision to go after bin Laden inside Pakistan, the president carried out the timeline for withdrawal from Iraq just months after averting a massacre in Libya, helping to topple Muammar Gaddafi and supporting mostly non-violent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.
As Congress continued to slow down the recovery and voted to repeal Obamacare dozens of times, he used executive powers to demand fair treatment for home health care workers, double fuel-economy standards, and allow DREAM-eligible young people to stay in the country legally. (You can find a more complete list of his accomplishments here.)
No, the president isn’t perfect. Far from it, as he would surely agree.
Escalating in Afghanistan has not yielded the results we hoped for—though it may have made it possible for us to pin bin Laden down. On Guantanamo Bay, privacy, and civil liberties, moderate Democrats in the Senate fearful of seeming weak on defense have adopted right-wing positions and the president went with them. But there is no issue where Mitt Romney wouldn’t do worse. Not one.
Due to the existence of the Electoral College, the tremendous financial demands of campaigning, and the vicissitudes of history, every candidate is marred by contradictions. Some are far worse than others. Johnson had Vietnam. Roosevelt had Japanese-American internment. But Social Security and Medicare drastically transformed the quality of life for hundreds of millions of Americans.
The Affordable Care Act will do the same — if it survives.
President Obama’s progressive record in his first term is unmatched by any of his recent predecessors—something even Bill Clinton admits. And now, as the economy seems about to boom, his victory is uncertain. To punish him for what he’s achieved would reward the GOP for their cynicism and laziness — and would be an undeniable miscarriage of justice.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Susan Walsh