Is There Room For President Obama On Mount Rushmore?
Presidential greatness is made when a president successfully responds to a crisis or crises. Abraham Lincoln’s greatness was forged in the American Civil War. Franklin Roosevelt faced not one but two crises during his twelve years in the White House. He inherited the Great Depression from Hoover in 1933 and was the commander-in-chief during World War II.
Conversely, presidential failure can be found in an incompetent response to a crisis. George W. Bush will go down in history as one our worst presidents — in part — due to his failed response to the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Bush let Osama Bin Laden get away at the battle of Tora Bora in 2001 and invaded Iraq in 2003 — with disastrous consequences.
It was President Obama who inherited multiple crises from Bush in January 2009. Bush passed onto Obama probably the worst situation any incoming American president had faced since the dark days of the Great Depression in March 1933. When Obama took office, the world economy was in free fall due to the collapse of Wall Street in the fall of 2008. The economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month, GDP had shrunk 8.9% in the fourth quarter of 2008, the banking industry was on the verge of disintegration and the U.S. auto industry hung by a thread. On top of all that, there were 180,000 U.S. combat troops stationed in seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Despite this national crisis, the Republicans in Congress settled on a strategy of all out obstruction before Obama was even inaugurated. Vice President Joe Biden reported that during the transition, several GOP Senators privately told him that GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell had given them orders that there was to be no cooperation with the incoming administration — because McConnell had decided that “we can’t let you succeed.” Moreover, a group of House GOP leaders met at an upscale D.C. restaurant on the night of the inauguration and determined there was to be no Republican support for any legislation introduced by President Obama.
President Obama made the collapsing economy his top priority by introducing the Recovery Act shortly after he took office. This landmark legislation consisted of $831 billion for infrastructure investments, the largest middle class tax cut in history and record investments in renewable energy. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the Recovery Act saved 1 to 3 million jobs and ended the deepest recession since the Great Depression. In addition, a panel of distinguished economists at the University of Chicago overwhelmingly agreed that the Recovery Act boosted the economy and reduced unemployment.
The Obama Administration gave the economy a needed boost by taking the then unpopular step of rescuing the U.S. auto industry. At the time, the Rust Belt states faced Depression levels of unemployment and the U.S. would lose its only domestic manufacturers of armored fighting vehicles. This wasn’t just an economic issue of great importance to millions of Americans — it was also a national security issue. We can’t count on foreign countries to provide tanks and jeeps to our heroes in the armed forces.
Every Republican predicted that the auto rescue would be a failure. Mitt Romney declared that Detroit should be allowed to “go bankrupt” and that we could “kiss the American automotive industry goodbye” if the administration’s policy was implemented. John Boehner said: “Does anyone really believe that politicians and bureaucrats in Washington can successfully steer a multi-national corporation to economic viability?”
As it turned out, the Republican predictions of doom turned out to be spectacularly wrong. According to the Obama Administration, the taxpayers actually made money on the auto rescue. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said: “It is important to note we recovered more than we disbursed.” What’s more, the auto industry has returned to profitability and experienced record sales in 2016.
President Obama didn’t only inherit a collapsing auto industry from the Republicans, he also had to deal with a health care system in crisis. During the Bush Administration, health care inflation was at record levels and 8 million Americans lost health care coverage. During the six years the GOP had control of both the White House and the Congress, they did nothing to expand insurance coverage or control health care costs.
The Democrats in Congress and President Obama took on the complex health care issue and passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) over fierce and deeply mendacious Republican opposition. At the time the ACA passed, John Bohner predicted that the ACA would cause “Armageddon” and “ruin our country.” Just about every other prominent Republican joined Boehner in apocalyptic predictions of doom. Here in Nebraska, then Senate hopeful Ben Sasse prognosticated in 2013 that the ACA would cause America to “cease to exist.”
As have grown to expect, all of the Republican predictions of disaster were proven wrong. Since the ACA has been implemented, 20 million formerly uninsured Americans now have insurance. The uninsured rate has been reduced from 18% to a record low of 8.6%. Lifetime limits in policies have been abolished and insurance companies can no longer discriminate against the sick and the injured.
One of the many erroneous arguments the Republicans made about the ACA was that it would be a “job killer.” Once again, the GOP predictions of some kind of “Armageddon” were embarrassingly wrong. (Why do they have any credibility?) Since the passage of the ACA in 2010, the economy has added jobs every month. As a matter of fact, the economy has added more jobs every month for a record 75 months in a row.
Since the end of the Bush recession, the unemployment rate has been reduced from 10% to 4.7%. In 2016 alone, the economy added 2.15 million jobs. Moreover, since the end of the Bush recession, the economy has added 15.6 million jobs. That is the best record of job creation since Bill Clinton’s second term. In contrast, a net 3 million jobs were added during the eight years of the Bush Administration.
Beginning in 2015, the economy began to create good jobs and working families experienced real wage growth for the first time since the Clinton Administration. According to the Census Bureau, real median household income increased by 5.2% between 2014 and 2015, while the official poverty rate dropped from 15% to 13.5%. The 5.2% growth was the largest, in percentage terms, since the 1960s. In 2016, hourly pay increased 2.9% from a year earlier, the biggest increase since 2007.
We have seen similar progress on the international front. Under President Obama, we have reduced our troop presence from 180,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2009 down to 15,000 at the present time. Moreover, Osama Bin Laden was brought to justice in a raid in 2011. President Obama succeeded where Bush failed.
I believe that history will treat President Obama very well. He faced vicious and dishonest opposition even before he was sworn into office. Nevertheless, he presided over the country for eight years with class and grace. We should all be thankful to President Obama and Michelle Obama for their dignity and service. They have proven to be excellent role models for all Americans.
Unfortunately, the tainted and controversial election results of 2016 have given the GOP control of both the White House and the Congress. We will have to remain active in our opposition to the extreme agenda of the radical right. We will only have to flip three Senators to stop their regressive agenda. Already, the GOP is growing wobbly over the prospect of repealing the ACA and kicking 20 million Americans off insurance coverage.
Let’s pledge to stay engaged and to constantly contact our Congressional representatives. The recent failed attempt by Jeff Fortenberry and the House Republicans to gut the House ethics rules shows that members of Congress respond to a deluge of phone calls and emails. This proves that we have a good chance to prevent the GOP from wrecking all of the progress of the last eight years. Let’s keep that up! We can do it!
P.S. — You’re going to want to save this post for when Trump and his propaganda machine try to rewrite history.