Written by Sean Deveney
It’s not entirely shocking to find out that, after two years in office, there is a sense of disillusionment around President Obama. How could the guy possibly live up to the expectations he himself helped prop up with his ’08 campaign rhetoric, especially given the swampstink political and economic landscape he had to tread once he took the job? He could give a heck of a speech, of course, but that wasn’t going to fix the recession or help the fact that Republicans were dead-set on giving him the same treatment my date gave me on prom night—“No,” over and over again.
But the funny thing about Obama’s oratory on the campaign trail was that, as good as his delivery was, he was also saying some very important things. Things he wanted to do, and how he intended to do them. You know, policy-type stuff.
It really seems that, as he was laying out what his policies would be, very few people were actually listening. There’s a lot of style—a lot of “cool” and “smooth” as my good friend Matt says—to the way Obama gives speeches, but there’s a lot more substance than he gets credit for. And he has delivered a lot more on the substantive things he said than he gets credit for. If you call him an “ineffective leader” (as my good friend Matt just recently did) it really means you haven’t been paying attention.
Look, you don’t have to agree with everything the guy has done. We can argue whether the $800 million stimulus package has anything to do with pulling the country out of a recession, we can debate the health care overhaul, we can poke and prod whether the administration should have gotten involved with the auto industry, we can pull our hair out over financial regulation. But those were major undertakings spearheaded by the administration, and they got done.
You can disagree with whether they were the right thing to do, but you can’t deny that, for two years in office, that’s an impressive number of major initiatives to knock off the checklist. I am not quite sure how that can be counted as ineffective.
But again, the problem Obama had in taking office was that his supporters expected him to do exactly what they wanted him to do, even if he had said the opposite thing on the campaign trail. Take my mom, for instance—she is a vice president of one of the local teachers unions, and was a big Obama supporter. Now, however, she has been very disappointed to find out that Obama’s education agenda includes charter schools, long considered a scourge by unions.
Of course, in every speech Obama gave on education, he spoke about charter schools. And the unions would rather be disappointed in his stance on charter schools than happy about the fact that he’s pledged more money to the Department of Education than any president in history.
You can go right down the line in finding policies that Obama iterated in speeches on the campaign trail that have since disappointed supporters. His support of off-shore drilling (pre-BP, at least). His ramping up troop levels in Afghanistan. His pushing through of the new START treaty to reduce the world’s stock of nuclear weapons. Even on the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell homosexuality policy—something he was able to get overturned—he was criticized for not doing it fast enough.
He’s always said these are the sorts of things he wants to accomplish. They were the actual words of the speeches he was giving, but, evidently, Americans were only listening to the timbre of his voice and his rousing cadences. Change and hope—yeah, that’s nice, and there’s no question he oversold on that kind of thing. But those are vague and goofy notions. If you want to look at policy, if you judge a leader by getting done what he says he’s going to get done, it’s just silly to call him ineffective.