Successful President, Research Paper Example
Words: 6444Research Paper
Now that Barack Obama is into his second term as president, pundits will begin to rate his presidency according to how other presidents have fared at the same time in their second terms. This paper will seek to answer the question: Has Barack Obama been a successful president? Much depends on how we decide to define “successful.” It also depends on how much of the economy we claim can be influenced by a president and how his overseas adventures in foreign policy will be perceived by history.
Barack Obama has been more popular during the early days of his second term in office, sporting a Gallup Poll approval rating of 56% as of December 19, 2012. His disapproval number for the same date is 37%. This compares favorably with previous presidents in their third year in office; Bush, who had a 52% approval rating in December of 2003 and Bill Clinton who had a 53% approval rating in December of 1995. 
Recent presidents have been governing with difficulty when partisan politics trump the nation’s needs. President Obama has been hampered by partisan politics in Congress since Republicans took over the House in 2010. The Senate Republicans have made the filibuster a normal part of everyday business, refusing to allow the president’s proposals to come to the floor for a vote. The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell vowed to make President Obama a “one-term president,” a vow that failed in 2012 when Obama was elected to a second term.
Among his more recent efforts, the president has urged Congress to present legislation that he believes would address gun violence. Obama would like to see universal background checks performed for any transactions involving guns, a limit on the size of magazines and a ban on certain types of assault rifles. The president has acknowledged that this would be a very difficult fight for Congress. Obama would also like to see Congress overhaul the nation’s immigration system.
Obama inherited a mess from the previous government, mired in two costly wars and drastically suffering deficit spending after beginning the decade with a budget surplus in 2000. The economic downturn that culminated in 2008 has been called the “Great Recession” by pundits and economists alike. The financial sector’s creative bundling of assets into derivative securities with too much leverage for debt left the economy vulnerable when the housing bubble burst. A meltdown of our financial systems and a host of greedy sell-off and unsecured, subprime mortgage investments threatened to plunge the country into yet another severe recession. Some economists feared a repeat of the Great Depression of the early 1930s.
President Obama moved to stop the recession and stimulate economic growth by promoting The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed by a Democratic-held Congress on February 13, 2009. The Act invested about $747 billion in borrowed government money to create a new infrastructure and jobs for millions of Americans. The Act is designed to help soften the economic hardships for the most vulnerable families and stimulate much needed economic activity within the private sector. It provided some tax relief, assisted poor families, generated new jobs in infrastructure repairs, and expand the unemployment insurance system when unemployment reached double digit highs.
Another contentious decision President Obama made involved a government-funded bailout of the nation’s automobile companies. With GM and Chrysler facing bankruptcy and possible liquidation proceedings, the Obama administration injected some $80 billion into the industry, most of which has been paid back. 
President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010 adding much-needed regulations to the financial sector. This law tightens capital requirements for large financial institutions, regulates how derivatives are sold, requires large banks to protect themselves from bankruptcies, mandates reforms for how financial institutions can use investors’ money to trade for their own profit and created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to police abusive lending organizations. 
President Obama has made progressive strides regarding social issues. Obama repealed the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gays, allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the armed forces for the first time. He ordered federal anti-drug agents to stand down on prosecuting small-time growers of medical marijuana in states that have approved medical marijuana initiatives. He is the first sitting president to support legalizing gay marriage. He supports a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. He removed banks from the student loan process, ending the decade’s old practice of subsidizing these institutions to provide college loans. Obama appointed two female liberal judges to the Supreme Court, maintaining the close distribution of liberals to moderates on the bench. He raised fleet mileage requirements for vehicles and prompted the EPA to tighten fuel emission standards, showing a strong interest in environmental issues. He instituted a moratorium on offshore drilling after the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico to ascertain the causes and tighten standards for offshore rigs. He has also pushed for a carbon tax and other incentives to clean up the environment. 
Obama signed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act of 2009 into law, which prevents credit card issuers from raising rates without advance notification, requires a grace period on increasing interest rates and strictly limits what may be charged for overdraft and other service fees.
Many pundits credit Obama for improving America’s image abroad after the bellicose invasions and saber rattling of the Bush administration had tarnished it. He ended the torture policies promoted by Dick Cheney, et al and tried to formulate a plan to close the terrorist prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Political influences and circumstances prevented him from fulfilling this campaign promise.
But perhaps President Obama’s greatest achievement has been the overhaul of the nation’s health care system, derisively dubbed “Obama Care” by his political rivals. Yet, on March 23, 2010, President Obama did what no other president was able to accomplish despite efforts made over the last one hundred Years. The president signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and then penned the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act into law on March 30, 2010. This action was accomplished without any Republican support in Congress and with the country split about in half on the issue in national polls. This was a momentous decision and a historic legislative victory for President Obama.
There is a basic difference in values that comes into play when comparing the two parties’ approaches to health care: Republicans advocate for the individualistic model of American politics and see an opportunity for business to provide services for profit through the private sector while the Democrats seek a community-based approach and some hope to socialize medicine and ultimately introduce a Medicare for all, single-pay plan as a public option. Those features never had a chance in the debate over reform. Morally, the high ground should go to the democrats as they seem to view health care as a human right rather than a product to be purchased on the open market. There has been some movement toward changing the manner in which health care providers receive compensation by the new law.
Regardless of ideological position, both candidates (and political parties) must face an inconvenient truth: Medicare is not on fiscally sustainable ground. The CMS Office of the Comptroller’s 2012 report stated that without dramatic changes in how the program is financed, it would be insolvent by the year 2024.  While in this case of government accounting “insolvent” is not synonymous with “bankrupt”, the report focused politicians’ attention on Medicare’s future fiscal troubles.
President Obama has been painted as a liberal by his critics on the right. This is a continuation of the nation’s culture wars dating back to at least the 1960s. The Viet Nam war, affirmative action, marijuana use, civil rights, music choices and even hair length divided people into two political camps that exist to this day. Today’s conservatives generally supported the Iraq War and still want to secure the nation’s borders from illegal aliens. Liberals are still wary of the federal government’s domestic spying and curtailing of civil rights.
President Obama has always vowed to reach across the aisle to his Republican rivals in Congress. George W. Bush promised to be a “uniter not a divider,” yet appointed one of the most politically charged administration in history. Bill Clinton sought to portray himself as the man standing on the middle ground but managed to infuriate conservatives with his political appointments, allowing gays to serve in the military and by allowing his wife to work on a national health care policy.
While each administration has its unique problems with which they must deal, priorities are determined in large part by those organizations that sponsor the candidates in political campaigns. Obama made good use of the traditional Democratic financial support from labor unions, trial lawyers, Hollywood and minority special interest groups. Campaign finance reform has been talked about and hashed around for decades.
Sometimes a bill actually becomes law, like the Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002, which has been amended and modified by the legislature and the courts until its purpose has become a diluted farce of what began as a real reform measure. Money, like water seeking level, always finds its way into election campaigns and eventually into public policy.
Extremists on both sides of political issues – those labeled as either conservative or liberal – have sought to portray the other side as out of touch and anti-American. The ideologues of talk radio, predominantly right-wing, hammered the Clintons over the Whitewater Development scandal and the Monica Lewinsky tryst. A large part of the printed media and the movie and TV industry regularly blasted the Bush administration’s policies as favoring corporations over people and profiting from wars.
Yet neither position is entirely accurate. Bill Clinton reached across the aisle and worked with conservatives to enact welfare reform and managed to create a surplus in the federal budget. George W. Bush worked with Ted Kennedy – the lion of the liberals – to pass the No Child Left Behind law and oversaw the enactment of a vastly expensive prescription drug benefit and a massive Homeland Security Department that created record budget deficits. Yet, Democrats are portrayed as “tax and spend,” while Republicans are generally seen as fiscally conservative. The evidence offered by the Clinton and Bush administrations would suggest the opposite, suggesting the old political stereotypes are outdated and just plain inaccurate. Barack Obama is seen by conservatives as an extremely liberal president, yet his policies and proposals portray him as a moderate.
Obama and Health Care
Health care reform has come up in the Congress and been defeated for a hundred years. Teddy Roosevelt and his Progressive Party sought to provide national health care in 1909 but a string of conservatives followed Roosevelt and nothing was accomplished. In 1915, the American Association of Labor Legislation (AALL) drafted a bill offering coverage to workers making less than $1,200 a year but the bill died with the onset of World War I.
When President Clinton tried to reform the system back in 1993, a powerful coalition of Congressional Republicans, the insurance industry, drug companies, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the Business Roundtable and even the Christian Coalition united to spend over $100 million to defeat health care reform.  Using the conservative radio talk show network with a network of field operatives and lobbyists, these groups ran a tightly controlled campaign to keep the profits flowing from an expensive, unwieldy and broken health care system.
The decision to reform health care was an easy one for President Obama. He had championed the cause of health care while in the Senate and worked closely with Senator Ted Kennedy to bring about meaningful health care reform amid a storm of opposition from entrenched interests in the insurance and medical fields. The problem is that the health care system in the United States is the most expensive in the world without providing quality results for the majority of citizens. As the cost of health care rises, fewer people have coverage and the quality of life deteriorates. This problem is indeed a pressing one.
The most controversial part of the new law is the mandate that everyone buys health insurance or face a tax penalty. This issue was settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012. The main case for the government’s role is the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce, but the court ruled that the power to affect taxation is also a factor in the government’s authority to compel insurance coverage. From this constitutional authority, the government is now empowered to force consumer purchasing decisions.
We spend a fortune on health care and its costs rise at twice the rate of inflation. Total health care spending in 2007 was $2.4 trillion, or about $7,900 per person and 17 percent of the gross domestic product. By 2017, health care spending is expected to reach $4.3 trillion or 20 percent of GDP. 
The American health care industry is a massive business that makes up about 15.2% of the entire U.S. economy. Health insurance premium costs have doubled in the past eight years, rising nearly four times faster than wages. Nearly one-fourth of all medical spending goes to administrative and overhead costs.  The high cost of prescription medications is a powerful contributor to the increasing costs of health care.
The Medicare prescription drug benefit program passed with a Republican administration and a Republican Congress is so mired in garbage information involving a choice among myriad drug makers that most people can’t figure it out, let alone make the health care provider choices conservatives insist we need so badly. The Congress was more concerned with padding drug companies’ profits than in seriously helping people afford them. Drug company profits soared by over $8 billion in the six months after the plan was passed. 
While the taxpaying nation struggled to deal with acute medical situations arising from the millions of people who had no health insurance, huge profits kept pouring in for drug manufacturers and wealthy practitioners in the medical business. The pharmaceutical industry actually spends nearly twice as much on advertising than they do on developing new drugs.  Every television station, every magazine you pick up and even on the radio you hear these drug merchants hawking their wares. That advertising is expensive and it goes into the cost of every pill. Small wonder to me that our system is such a mess with people in control more worried about maintaining the status quo than in making any actual reforms.
Out of pocket health care expenses are expected to rise ten percent again in 2013, which means that workers’ share of out of pocket expenses have tripled since 2001. Health insurance premiums have risen 131 percent in the past ten years. By the year 2019, health insurance is estimated to cost over $30,000 a year for a family of four. This is an increase of 166 percent over today’s premium averages.
Often, people have medical emergencies and no financial means to pay for treatment. This is particularly true of young people. It is estimated that one-third of all 21 to 29 year-olds (about 13,000,000 of them) do not have any health insurance coverage.
The drug industry alone is big business. About half of Americans take at least one prescription drug every day. IMS Health Reports that U.S. Prescriptions sales grew 1.3 percent in 2008 to $291 Billion. In the United States, we spend 16 percent of gross domestic product on health care, or about double what most major industrialized nations spend that spend 8 to 10 percent. The U.S. spent $6,280 per capita on health care in 2004 – more than double the amount spent in other major countries. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimate that health care spending will continue to grow faster than GDP over the next ten years.
Efforts to reign in health care costs have historically been hampered by partisan political bickering. Conservatives claim the fear and expenses of defending litigation drive up health care costs because doctors and therapists are forced to conduct unnecessary tests and procedures to provide legal cover for their actions in the event of a lawsuit. High-end estimates of the amount patients spend on unnecessary testing and procedures have surpassed $1.1 trillion.
Even if it were instituted, tort reform would have a very minor effect on the cost of medical care; as little as one-half of one percent of health care costs. The total cost of settlements and judgments nationwide is $4.4 billion per year with legal costs of $27,000 per claim. Malpractice insurance premiums and expenses total $700 million, leading to a total cost of malpractice of $6.5 billion or .46% of aggregate health care costs. As Ezra Klein posts on the American prospect, “They’re just not a significant factor in rising health prices, and those who say different are lying.”
Without health care reform, clients who rely on public services and public funding would likely see changes in the type and availability of care they will receive. With a deepening recession and the resulting economic hardships, people are finding it difficult to pay for housing, gas, heat and public health programs are going to be more relied upon than ever. Loss of employment usually means a loss of health insurance coverage and that translates into additional uninsured children to add to the country’s estimated 47 million citizens who lack health care coverage.
A Democratic Congress, at President Obama’s urging, passed an expansion of the SCHIP in 2009 to provide health care coverage for an additional 4 million low-income children. The new law, which expands the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by about $35 billion over the next five years, passed a bitterly divided House of Representatives strictly along party lines, with almost every Democrat voting in favor of the expansion and most Republicans opposing it.
Given the rising costs of health care and insurance premiums, the Obama Administration believes that the high cost of health care is hampering the national economy. Many small businesses can no longer afford to offer health care as a benefit and more and more people are losing their health insurance every day. Even those who have health insurance are not spared from the damages of high costs. Co-payments are rising, deductibles are growing and patients instead of insurance companies are paying more out-of-pocket expenses. The cost of maintaining the status quo is seen by nearly everyone as unsustainable. This decision would have to cut costs and make health care available to nearly everyone in the country to be considered meaningful change.
Conservative Republicans in Congress and at the state level are still seeking to have the law repealed. Besides its high initial costs, the law has been analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office and their conclusions do not coincide with Republican objections and their conclusion was that the law would cut the national deficit by $138 billion over the next ten years. Not everyone accepts this analysis and Republicans call the bill a $500 billion new tax burden and a huge new addition to the nation’s budget deficit.
As this law becomes enacted, there are already fourteen states’ attorneys general who have filed lawsuit seeking to stop the terms of the new law. The primary objection is the mandate that almost all citizens have health insurance. The law budgets money to help lower and middle income people pay for premiums but subjects individuals and businesses to tax penalties if they refuse to buy insurance coverage in the newly created free-market exchange. 
The law recently enacted is not even close to a perfect solution. Republicans insisted on involving the private sector and this law does that – by forcing millions of customers into their market. The low cost of healthy people’s insurance is expected to offset the mandates in the law that requires insurance companies to cover the sick, injured and the elderly. It is certainly better than the largely unregulated mess the president inherited and in utilitarian terms, would offer the greatest good for the greatest number of people involved.
Obama and Foreign Affairs
President Obama ended the unnecessary war in Iraq and is drawing down the country’s involvement in Afghanistan. He organized an international coalition with our allies to get rid of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, unlike the Iraq war, which has been very unpopular internationally and not supported by all of our allies.
Obama shifted the country’s Middle Eastern military resources to Afghanistan, where the Taliban provided a safe haven for terrorists including those who attacked the USA in September of 2001. In addition to its military presence, the Obama administration seeks to win the hearts and minds of the people when developing counterterrorism strategies for the Middle East. Traditional counterinsurgency military tactics have proven costly and marginally effective, as more and younger people seek identification with Middle Eastern groups that the U.S. deems as terrorists. Constricting foreign aid and military budgets will hamper President Obama’s efforts to apply smart power in these areas.
Hillary Clinton, working in conjunction with Obama as Secretary of State, has sought to employ the use of “smart power” instead of pure military muscle. Smart power is the use of economic aid, diplomacy and military options as synergistic efforts to promote our national interest while helping other countries develop the rule of democratic law and enable economic prosperity. These efforts require substantial funding not only for military occupations but also for helping these nations get on their feet and leaving them friendly and somewhat dependent on Americans economic ties.
The Pentagon still spends 20 times as much money as the State Department on non-military affairs. Budget cuts in this department will powerfully impact America’s ability to apply smart power in troubled areas that represent our national interests. Our perception of benevolence is directly tied to how much money we spend in these foreign endeavors. As our budgets shrink and both the State and Defense Departments limit their soft power interventions, our reputation and our credibility abroad will have to suffer.
Perhaps the biggest recent change in American counterterrorism tactics in the Afghan war is the strategic decision to transition from counterinsurgency to counterterrorism efforts. The new strategy involves a scaling back of nation-building efforts and lowering strategic expectations while preparing to withdraw militarily. The new strategy also implies that the U.S. will maintain a long-term anti-terrorism campaign on the global scale using the Afghan strategy as a model. Future efforts may include short-term mop-up efforts in Yemen and Somalia. A revitalized effort in intelligence gathering and a new deployment of ground level tactics are necessary for a new future U.S. involvement in the area. 
The Obama administration has sought to realign American efforts at the strategic approach. The administration seeks to undermine the appeal of al-Qaeda’s call to violence. The U.S. seeks to shrink the pool of available recruits by countering al-Qaeda’s rhetoric with a message of peace and prosperity and with funding to back it. The administration has greatly increased the amount of foreign aid to Pakistan, Yemen and other Middle Eastern nations dealing with increases in violent extremism.  This policy is now threatened, as cutting costs at the federal level will trump the administration’s foreign policy goals. The future ability of our diplomatic ties to curtail terrorist recruitments and financing in these troubled areas will have to suffer.
President Obama has overseen tighter sanctions on Iran, seeking to get the Islamic government to abandon its nuclear enrichment program. He has also worked with our allies to foster an environment ripe for revolution among historic Middle Eastern dictatorships, like Mubarak in Egypt and Gadhafi in Libya. The Arab Spring is a series of revolutionary political events and their aftermath has yet to be determined. Whatever types of governments that emerge from this era of upheaval will determine the United States’ response to that area. This has been our policy toward dictators in the Arab World for decades. While many leaders in Arab countries worry about being invaded from the West, ala Iraq and Afghanistan, people here now fear another terrorist attack from radical Islamic factions in the Middle East.
The Egyptian revolt has forced President Mubarak out and the country now faces economic hardships and escalating civil violence between Christians and Muslims. Crime is rampant as disorder fills the power vacuum of the former regime and the new government and military struggles to gain control. Throughout the Middle East, mostly younger Arabs marched through water cannons and tear gas demanding political and economic reforms that provide the best opportunities for all. This year, civil violence broke out in Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Pakistan and even Saudi Arabia as moderates and radicals combine to resist the oppressive power structures that have kept the people poor in the face exploitative government policies.
Obama and the Environment
President Obama inherited a national energy policy largely written by Dick Cheney and his connections in the oil industry. While President Obama has actually expanded offshore drilling for oil, he has also pushed hard for expanding renewable energy sources, offering tax credits and other incentives for electric cars and for expanding wind and solar power.
Apparently, the disastrous spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 wasn’t enough to start a serious movement to end offshore drilling for oil. Daily images of uncontrolled oil roaring out of the sea bottom into the bright blue waters of the Gulf and soggy wildlife crawling from the brown glop saturated American news coverage, yet people in Congress refuse to seriously end this environmental gamble that could forever ruin our environment.
President Obama has had to deal with a hostile Congress, some of which actually defended the oil business in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico spill. Representative Joe Barton (R-Texas) actually apologized to BP after the Obama administration secured twenty billion dollars from them to cover damages resulting from their horrific oil spill. “Drill, baby, drill” was a common Republican rephrase during the presidential campaign of 2008. High gas and oil prices encourage these sentiments, as we grow more and more dependent upon fossil fuels to sustain our lifestyle in the West. This is the economic and political reality with which President Obama has had to contend.
There are powerful interests worldwide who would seek to discredit the risks of offshore drilling and deny the realities of a changing world climate. The oil and gas industry is at the epicenter of these geopolitical and economic events including the “debate” on whether climate change is the result of burning fossil fuels in our industries, homes and cars. The industry sponsors their own cadre of pseudo-scientists and coerces them financially into disavowing human involvement in the planet’s warming. The petroleum industry is faced with increasing competition from foreign, nationalized oil enterprises, hostile foreign governments, bad public relations and a growing effort in the federal government to tax profits and reign in offshore domestic drilling. A substantial part of the industry’s marketing efforts are geared toward easing the public’s hostile attitudes toward the oil business and the seemingly exorbitant profits they reap while charging consumers record prices. Part of this effort includes promoting a false premise that offshore drilling is safe due to new technologies and a denial of climate changes and their industry’s responsibility for it and an appeal to people paying high prices for gasoline and home heating to increase offshore drilling.
Those in favor of continuing and even expanding offshore drilling claim this will ease our dependence upon imported oil from trouble areas like the Middle East and Africa. But oil is bought and sold on a global market and what little we produce from offshore wells is not enough to greatly impact the price. We only have a small percentage of the world’s petroleum within our borders yet we are by far its biggest users.
Obama is correct to move the country away from fossil fuels and to expand our use of alternative energy sources. Smaller and more difficult oil fields along with an increase in offshore drilling will be the wave of the future, prompting higher prices and greater costs. More risky drilling practices from offshore facilities will happen as corporate greed fosters short cuts and the use of substandard equipment. It is increasingly likely that some forms of renewable energy sources will replace petroleum in the near future. It is advisable to plan for that contingency and to assume the lead in developing new energy sources to continue to provide a high standard of living for Americans. Ending offshore drilling will not only save the environment and help to mitigate the rapidly changing climate; it will move our country toward the types of energy we will need in the future when we finally and completely run out of oil.
The Obama administration has increased tax breaks and investment funding grants for two renewable energy sources that are making inroads into the nation’s power usage: solar and wind energy. Solar photovoltaic (PV), wind energy, concentrated solar thermal power, solar water heating systems and biofuels all showed strong investment growth rates from 15% to almost 50% annually. Biomass and geothermal energy exploration also showed strong potential. Wind power added the most new generating capacity with hydropower and solar PV following respectively. 
Whether President Obama has been an effective president is largely determined by the political perspective of who is rating him. He has had to battle a stubborn Congress that has largely disrespected him and his efforts to change the course of the country. He has been unable to legislate most of his priorities but he has made some very important and powerful contributions to the future direction of this country.
President Obama’s position on Medicare draws on the historical version of Medicare as a social insurance program for seniors with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) serving as the main reform template. While President Obama doesn’t necessarily follow in either the political or ideological tradition of Lyndon B. Johnson, he continues the Democratic Party’s focus on programs such as Medicare and Social Security as the main fixtures of the state’s safety net for the elderly. Indeed, although Obama’s policies might not back up that statement, rhetorically he has continued to lend support to Medicare as the backbone of the nation’s health care system. He has also vowed to keep Social Security a viable retirement income source for future generations.
The final chapter of President Obama’s legacy is yet to be written and a lot will depend upon the outcome of the 2014 elections. With a more cooperative Congress, Obama could accomplish much more toward improving the nation’s economy while setting us on a course of energy independence and economic opportunity for everyone.
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