David Frum

07.25.12

Obama's Report Card

Michael Brendan Dougherty catches up with right-of-center people who expressed themselves in favor of candidate Barack Obama in 2008 - and who have since changed their minds.

Have the Obamacons been disappointed? Yes.

[Andrew] Bacevich’s summation speaks for most: “On balance, Obama has been a disappointment but not a disaster.”

“I did make a judgment that Obama wasn’t an inspirational figure to me, but I didn’t think he was a left-wing radical either,” [Scott] McConnell says. “He seemed to be a standard liberal-centrist, which I thought the country could tolerate okay. I haven’t been thrilled with the Obama presidency, but I think that judgment has been vindicated.”

“Obviously, Obama has been way worse on civil liberties than I expected,” says [Megan] McArdle. “I kind of can’t believe I was naïve enough to think that he would actually change anything—or even try to change anything, except for the incredibly stupid symbolic move of Guantanamo prisoners to U.S. soil, which he chickened out on anyway. But I was. Ooops.”

[Bruce] Bartlett sees a lamentable continuity between Obama and his predecessor: “He continued Bush’s policies without one single solitary change.” Some Obamacons, like [Kevin] Gutzman and Bacevich, see that continuity as reflecting a broader pattern in the political class. “I continue to have the feeling that the people in charge of the federal government are driving us into bankruptcy, and the fast-track is more war,” says Gutzman.

I didn't vote for Barack Obama in 2008, although I keep reading online that I did. (I gave my reasons here.)

As to what I intend to do in 2012 and why … that's another blogpost.

For now, just this: in my opinion, Barack Obama has proven a better president than I expected in 2008: more careful, more thoughtful, more fair-minded.

Whatever else you say about his policies, they halted the economic nosedive of 2008-2009. The US is recovering - weakly, slowly, but nonetheless moving in the right direction, in a world where few other major economies can say the same.

The administration's signature initiative, healthcare reform, is an overdue commitment and a good concept, Republican in provenance, but marred in the execution - yet that is at least as much the fault of opponents who wouldn't come to the table as of an administration that used one-party rule to cram through pet proposals.

On the other hand, the economic situation has developed worse than I (and not only I) expected. President Obama has been overwhelmed by that unexpectedly difficult challenge. The big fiscal stimulus of 2009 did not do the job, and the Obama administration has not developed much of an idea for dealing with the huge housing debt overhang that is depressing consumers. That the president's big proposal going into the 2012 re-election campaign is to allow a raise in the top rate of income tax from 36% to 39.6% is just disheartening. Americans are mired in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and the president is offering a fiscal policy, not an economic policy, and a meager and wrong-headed fiscal policy at that.

The president over-invested in Afghanistan and under-invested in Iraq. It's hard to discern any positive U.S. contribution to the resolution of the Euro crisis. In the Middle East, he's alienated both Israelis and Palestinians.

Yet to give credit where it's due, he's maintained broad continuity with the best of the Bush administration's counter-terrorism policy, course-correcting where necessary, but otherwise effectively hunting and killing Al Qaeda, culminating in the bin Laden raid. President Obama had to be pushed, but he's arrived at pretty much the same Iran policy that John McCain would have delivered. (No, bombing was never in the cards. Too big a war.)

The president has not succeeded in his hopes of overcoming the country's ferocious partisan divisions. Some of the blame attaches to his own unpersonable nature. Some to his election-season micro-targeting of Latinos, gays, and other Democratic constituencies. Much, much more to the reckless, irresponsible radicalism that has overtaken the Republican party.

Yet all in all, not too bad a record for a president who inherited the worst inbox of any president since Ronald Reagan in 1980 or perhaps Richard Nixon in 1968.

So this non-Obamacon has to rate himself surprisingly reassured, rather than disillusioned.

But the prospect of a second Obama term raises new issues and new concerns. Elections, as they say, are about the future … but as said, that will be another post for another day.