Sunday, June 27, 2010

On the Road to Change

President Obama had an eventful week, and a pretty good one politically. But two of the events--his handling of the Afghanistan command situation, and particularly the congressional agreement paving the way for final passage of a financial reform bill--prompted several pundits to step back and look at his accomplishments so far. I've highlighted a few that don't get much attention.

For example, Steve Benen in the Washington Monthly: "And in the larger context, this will add to an impressive list of historic accomplishments spanning President Obama's first 18 months in office, a list that will now include Wall Street reform, health care reform, student loan reform, economic recovery, Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, expanded civil rights protections, expanded stem-cell research, new regulation of the credit card industry, new regulation of the tobacco industry, a national service bill, and the most sweeping land-protection act in 15 years, among other things. Taegan Goddard noted this morning, "Not since FDR has a president done so much to transform the country." That's not a hyperbolic observation in the slightest."

But the most impressive was Rachel Maddow ending her MSNBC show on Friday. I'm now going to quote it at length.

She began by describing the accomplishments of an unnamed President: "He signed a bill that gave amnesty to undocumented immigrants. He grew the size of the federal government and the budget, added a whole new cabinet level agency and added tens of thousands of government workers to the federal payroll. He tripled the deficit. He bailed out and expanded social security with a big fat tax increase. He raised corporate taxes by hundreds of billions of dollars. He raised taxes on gasoline. He, in fact, signed into law the largest tax increase in history. He supported federal handgun controls. He called for a world without nuclear weapons.

He was Ronald Reagan.

As a conservative saint, as the right-wing rock star, as king of the Republican prom in perpetuity, as a transformative figure for people who call themselves conservative, the facts of Ronald Reagan`s legislative record are awkward. Ronald Reagan`s record has in it a lot of things that would get him kicked out of today`s Republican Party, which is not to say that President Reagan was a secret liberal. He was not. What he was, was complex, but accomplished in his own way."

Rachel then turned to President Obama, took a step back to simply list many of his major accomplishments:

"It turns out that a lot of things that have happened in the less than two years of this administration are the biggest or first or most important in generations... Even before today`s historic Wall Street reform agreement, President Obama, of course, did what politicians have been trying to do for more than 60 years. He passed health reform, which, for the first time, establishes government responsibility for the health care of American citizens.

Consider also the stimulus bill. It didn`t just throw a lasso around our entire economy and yank and yank it back from the brink. It also pumped about $100 billion into the crumbling embarrassment of our national infrastructure and transportation system. It was the largest investment in infrastructure since Ike. For solving our country`s energy problems, something Obama has compared to man walking on the moon, it contained about $60 billion in spending and tax incentives for renewable and clean energy, also a historic investment.

It also included an unheralded but giant investment in science and tech, amping up the budgets at NASA, the National Science Foundation, and an experimental energy research agency that was created under President George W. Bush, but never funded until now.

President Obama also expanded state kids` health insurance to cover another four million kids. He signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act amending the 1964 civil rights act for equal pay for equal work.

He signed a nuclear arms deal with Russia that would reduce both countries` arsenals by a third. He created a new global nonproliferation initiative to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists.

He set forth an international way forward on that radical left-wing proposition of Ronald Reagan, a world without nuclear weapons. Then there are the legislative and policy achievements that don't just build on precedents, but set new ones.

The Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also known as the Matthew Shepard Act. It had languished in Congress for years. The Food and Drug Administration permitted for the first time to regulate tobacco. Better late than never, he dismantled the scandal-plagued Minerals Management Service, broke it into three parts so that the folks who collect money from oil leases aren`t the same ones regulating the industry. And now, it will actually investigate the industry that it was busy schtupping and doing drugs with during the last administration.

Obama fired two wartime commanding generals in little over a year. He overhauled the astonishing stupidity of the student loan system in which banks were being subsidized to give loans that were guaranteed by the government anyway, a license to print money. That was ended in the savings put toward actual aid to students.
He canceled a weapons program that was bloated, unnecessary and totally irrelevant to either of our current wars, the F-22. Why even mention the cancellation of a single weapons system? Because that never happens. Weapons systems never get canceled. The F-22 did, which is itself a miracle.

In each of these achievements and in the list of things he has yet to do - "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," closing Guantanamo - in each of these things, there is room for liberal disappointment. I sing a bittersweet lullaby to the lost public option when I go to sleep at night.

But presidential legacies are complex. Not even the Reagan administration's legacy is pure as the conservative-driven snow. But Taegan Goddard at "CQ Politics" was right today about nothing this big happening since FDR.

The list of legislative accomplishments of this president in half a term even before energy reform which he`s probably going to get to is, to quote the vice president, "a big freaking deal." Love this administration or hate it, this president is getting a lot done.

The last time any president did this much in office, booze was illegal. If you believe in policy, if you believe in government that addresses problems, cheers."

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