A Runaway Train
“To hear the Republicans tell it, from the second President Obama took his hand off the Bible taking the oath of office, everything that happened after that was his fault, I’d like to see any of you get behind a locomotive going straight downhill at 200 miles an hour and stop it in 10 seconds.”
-- Former President Bill Clinton
Our Era's Roosevelt?
As argued in a New York Times article by reporter Peter Baker, "During the first half of his term, [President Obama] used the tools of government to shape the nation's economy more aggressively than any president in 75 years." Yet few history books make the mistake of blaming Roosevelt for the misery of the country he was attempting -- program by program -- to rebuild. Not only do we hope that future history books so kindly and accurately reflect the circumstances of President Obama's present tenure, we have a more pressing hope and challenge: that this same message is accurately communicated to the voting public when they enter the voting booths this November.
Princeton University economist and former Federal Reserve vice chairman Alan Blinder related to Baker in the same article, "The White House Looks for Work," that President Obama's economic policies were "quite good" while blaming poor public relations from his administration for much of the continued public complaints. Blinder describes the situation as "the American public has little to no understanding why various things were done, why they made sense, what effect they were expected to have and did have, and instead they feel ripped off.” Perhaps as a country, we needed a weekly fireside address from the President to re-emphasize the work that was underway.
Despite the halfway derisive term -- Obamanomics -- devised to represent the totality of President Obama's economic goals and accomplishments, his policies have produced results. Despite Republican obstructionism at every turn and our natural national impatience for a faster rate of improvement, our economy is no longer shrinking and jobs are being created, albeit slowly. This may not seem like much, but when one reads various economists' versions of what might have happened the term "nuclear meltdown" might be a more appropriate description that a simple train wreck. President Obama's actions stopped the slide that would have lead to disaster with a variety of programs, the "Stimulus" plan just one of many actions undertaken.
An Incomplete List of The Specific Programs
• The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) initiated by George W. Bush and continued by the Obama administration ended up repaid and earning taxpayers a little interest as opposed to costing them the first estimates that approximated $700 billion. At the same time, TARP -- also known as the Bank Rescue Program -- helped avoid a run on the banks, provided a "stress test" for high-risk institutions and generally gave the country and the financial markets a couple of Valium.
• The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, known as "the stimulus package", produced or saved almost 1.9 million jobs and as many as 4.7 million in 2010. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the almost $80 billion bailout of the American auto industry may "cost" taxpayers only $15 billion. Restructured and reorganized with new goals and incentives, both General Motors and Chrysler vehicles continue to demonstrate strong sales. After an absence of years, tractor-trailer car haulers are again commonly seen on our Interstates.
• The Obama administration's efforts to reduce the number of home mortgage foreclosures have been far too few, applied to too few citizens and have been disorganized in development and application. Instead of measuring in the millions, the affected households only number in "the hundreds of thousands" and almost none involve reducing the principal. It is progress, nonetheless, and more action demonstrated that with the previous Bush administration.
• The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act designed to reduce sex discrimination as demonstrated by unequal gender pay rates.
• The Obama administration has also overseen reform and stricter financial regulation of consumer credit card rules, limiting the degree to which credit card companies could gouge consumers.
• Stricter tobacco regulations have also been created to help prevent the 1,000 US citizens under the age of 18 who begin to smoke each day. This bullet point is not a typo left over from a health report. Tobacco use is probably the single most common habit that, if abolished, would reduce health care costs to a fraction of what they are.
• Some of the stimulus money was used by the Obama administration to prevent public school teacher layoffs while more was used in a carrot approach to encourage states to adopt education reforms, such as his Race to The Top initiative.
• An expanded and reorganized student loan program with a special emphasis on community college programs has been a priority from early in Obama's administration, well before the recent countdown and challenge for the Republican-led Congress to extend the cap on student loan interest rates.
The First Lady's Challenge
On May 1st, the First Lady spoke to a group in Albuquerque on behalf of her husband re-election campaign.
“Make no mistake about it, whether it’s health care or the economy, whether it’s education or foreign policy, the choice we make in this election will determine nothing less than who we are as a country. But more important, it will determine who we want to be,” Obama said. “Who do we want to be? Will we be a country where opportunity is just limited to the few at the top? Or will we be a place where if you work hard you can get ahead no matter who you are or how you started out?”