I was quite hopeful and optimistic as he approached taking office. I felt that he would move toward the center and have a bipartisan approach and in so doing sacrifice ideology for pragmatism and getting some meaningful things done.
I’ve been disappointed. I’m disappointed by the fact that he didn’t tackle the foremost issue at hand with the vigor he could have. That issue was the economy. He was terribly distracted by going into other arenas that deter job growth and add immensely to our deficits in the long term.
I’m actually terribly confused as to why he hasn’t provided more leadership. The three seminal acts of his presidency have been the stimulus bill, the health-care bill, and the cap and trade bill, none of which he authored or originated. He delegated to Congress and stood on the sidelines as they battled it out. I don’t think that’s leadership.
On the domestic front, I believe John McCain would have focused much more laser-like on the economy. The TARP bill was a bill originated under Bush and continued under Obama. I believe the McCain administration would have continued the same way. I don’t think Obama did anything wrong with financial institutions. But the stimulus was a grab bag of congressional goodies, a very small portion of which stimulated the economy and a small portion of which has been spent to date.
• More Daily Beast opinion on Obama’s first year A McCain bill would have been more targeted, more akin to the House bill, which was half the size of the stimulus bill that was out there. It would have been more directed on the projects that more stimulated effect.
On foreign policy, there would have been very little difference in Iraq. In Afghanistan, McCain would have acted more expeditiously, quickly deciding, although perhaps not dramatically different from what they are doing.
The biggest difference is his conduct on national-security issues. For example, I do not think [McCain] would have allowed his attorney general to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civil court versus military. I don’t think we would have allowed the Nigerian bomber to lawyer up before we aggressively questioned him. …I do not think we would be having a special prosecutor for the CIA agents who spent eight years protecting our shores.
We have a huge deficit and mounting debt problems. Trying to lump in health care and environmental and cap and trade was clearly not a good idea. I think we do need to address the health-care system in this country. Addressing environmental concerns and health care was not something that had to be done in initial months of the administration.
Obama has been a great fundraiser for the Republicans, no question. It’s not just the Republican party. If you look at those elections in New Jersey and Virginia, the independents went 2 to 1 for Republicans. Among other things, it reflected the dissatisfaction with the policies and direction of this administration.
I want the best for the country. I want the young president and the country to succeed. I’m not one of these people who look through a partisan lens.
I’m not sure the first year is the defining year. You have a relatively inexperienced president with an incredible amount of potential and talent, but we don’t know. Certainly when he and his advisers in the White House look at the pub opinion polls, look at the independents going 2 to 1 to Republicans, and look at generic polls for voting in the Republican direction, they clearly must know that they must tilt a little bit more to the center. We are probably past the point of no return on health care though.
TARP and the continuation of TARP was a very sound thing to do. I give them very low marks on the stimulus bill and adding to the deficits as they have. They have built up more debt in the next four years than has accumulated in our history. That can’t have a happy ending.
Fred Malek, who worked in the Nixon White House, was campaign manager for George H.W. Bush, and chief money man for John McCain’s 2008 presidential run.