Monday, March 15, 2010

Take a Deep Breath

The Obama Presidency has failed.

14 months into it, that's the only conclusion you would draw based on the way the press has reported it. And I'm not talking about the vast right-wing noise apparatus. Listen to NPR or pick up any issue of the NY Times, and that's what they're reporting. The latest exhibit in this litany of doomsaying is yesterday's (Sunday) Times Magazine whose cover story is about the failure of Rahm Emmanuel to get anything done. (The Times, for its part, still cowers in fear from being slapped around by Dick Cheney for 8 years. I think they've changed their famous motto on the banner to read: "All the news we're not scared to print." )

But even given the cravenness of the mainstream press, someone ought to mention that this story line of failure and inaction is simply wrong. Obama passed an enormous stimulus bill, whose effects are now beginning to be felt (out here in Ohio we may even get passenger rail service because of it!); he has in fact ramped down the war in Iraq even as he has ramped up the war in Afghanistan, both exactly what he campaigned to do; he has signed a number of important Executive Orders which would have gotten my attention if not for the other larger issues. (I'll mention only that he did away with Bush Administration restrictions on stem cell research).

How soon we forget! And now there is serious movement on a financial reform bill, a real chance of fundamental change in the student loan system (those of us involved in higher ed ought to be cheering loudly about this one), and last week Obama launched an effort to re-write No Child Left Behind, which comes up for re-authorization this spring.

Oh yeah, and health insurance reform. Obama is right that we have never been as close as we are right now to getting a health insurance reform bill - never.

There are plenty of reasons to complain about the particulars of any of these. I certainly don't think the financial reform bill, as it currently stands, goes far enough, nor do I have any enthusiasm for the escalation of the war in Afghanistan. But a year into this administration and the economic arrows are starting, tentatively to point in the right direction and even the Pakistanis are now arresting terrorists.

Failure and inaction?

And while we're at it, let's put this in some historical context: no American president, with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, inherited as many messes as Obama has. The economy may well have been worse in 1933 when FDR took office, but he had few foreign policy issues to worry about (he didn't pay much attention to Europe for several years), much less two bungled and mis-managed wars; Vietnam was certainly a larger mess than Iraq in 1968 but the economy was still humming when Nixon took office. While we're at, for another point of comparison, George Bush II inherited a balanced budget, a budget surplus and a nation at peace. Heckuva job Georgie.

And remember too that when Abraham Lincoln took office the entire Southern congressional delegation left - Obama has accomplished what he has in the face of the most vicious, partisan and obstructionist opposition in American history.

The Times may well be hopelessly craven, but why are the rest of walking around with such a feeling of dread, convinced that a collection of aging white tea-partiers and Palin-ites will take over Washington in November? Let's all take a deep breath, realize how far we've come in the past year, and put the gloves back on. We should all be relishing the opportunity to take on the Party of No and hold them accountable for holding the nation back.