As the presidential election of 2012 approaches, Americans will be looking back over President Obama’s first term in office in an attempt to determine whether he is worthy of a second term. Obama’s first term began with high hopes that he would be able to heal the partisan rift that split the nation, heal the wounds left by the recession and restore the image of America abroad that was tarnished by the wars against the terrorists.
President Obama entered office with a strong mandate and high approval ratings. Almost immediately he began to expend his political capital on the stimulus law of February 2009 that he said would keep unemployment rates from rising above eight percent and help put America back to work. While the stimulus did include some “shovel-ready” public works projects and minor tax cuts, much of the nearly $821 billion was wasted on a laundry list of long-time liberal wishes. The CBO estimates the cost of each stimulus job created or saved at $228,055.
The other landmark legislation of his first term, the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare,” ignored the priority of the American people that the government foster job creation and instead introduced a host of new taxes and regulatory requirements. The net effect of Obamacare will be to stifle job creation as it makes it more expensive for employers to hire new workers. Much of the damage is being postponed by the host of waivers issued by the federal government that allow companies to delay complying with the law’s provisions. These waivers will run out in 2014. Tellingly, the law itself does not give the government authority to issue these waivers.
Despite the enactment of these and numerous other smaller stimulus laws, from the expansion of unemployment to raising the minimum wage to mortgage modifications to cash-for-clunkers, there has been no appreciable change in the economy since President Obama took office in January 2009. Unemployment is still significantly higher than the president promised. In Georgia, it has consistently been higher than the national average. Real estate prices are still depressed and Atlanta has one of the worst housing markets in the nation. The growth rate for the economy is anemic at best and is far below that of other industrialized nations.
In exchange for the near stagnant economy, the federal government has increased its debt by 34 percent according to debt statistics from treasurydirect.gov. Since President Obama took office, the federal debt has increased from $10.69 trillion in December 2008 to $14.34 trillion at the end of July 2011. Government spending as a percentage of GDP is approaching levels that have not been seen since World War II. In those days, the money went to arm the U.S. and its allies in the fight against Hitler and Imperial Japan. It was understood that spending would decrease when the war was over and the U.S. would pay off its debts. Today, the largest part of the money goes to entitlement programs and nonmilitary discretionary spending that have no end in sight short of the government losing its ability to borrow.
Perhaps the largest tragedy of the Obama Administration is the lost opportunity of the Arab Spring. For years, liberals have criticized the Arab dictatorships that were supported by American foreign aid and revenues funneled from American consumers through the oil companies. In the prelude to the Iraq War, many liberals said that the fight against Saddam was the fight of the Iraqi people and that U.S. troops should not be used to free a people who would not fight for themselves.
Yet, during President Obama’s administration, when Arab and Iranian (who are of Persian descent and are not Arabs) protestors rose against authoritarian governments to throw off their shackles the U.S. stood idly by. Even in the case of Iran, a nation solidly linked to terrorism and nuclear proliferation, where it is decidedly within U.S. interests to undermine the ruling theocracy, President Obama failed to take any action to support the Green Revolution in the wake of rigged elections that returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office for another term. Instead, President Obama’s response to the uprising and the crackdown that followed was muted.
This missed chance means that Iran’s nuclear weapons program is unlikely to be stopped without military action by either the U.S. or Israel. An Iranian nuclear warhead could conceivably be launched from a ship in international waters to strike American coastal cities. Iranian missiles could even reach as far inland as Atlanta. The development of Iranian ICBMs means that a warhead exploded high over the central United States could shut down electrical power grids across the country.
Similarly, President Obama sat on the sidelines of the Egyptian revolution until it became apparent that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had lost the support of both the people and the military. Ironically, it was in Cairo, that Obama delivered a speech proclaiming a new era in U.S.-Muslim relations. In Libya, he dithered until Gadhafi loyalists had almost crushed the rebellion and even after ordering air strikes at the behest of our European allies his support for the rebels was lukewarm at best. The situation is the same in Syria where the Syrian army is currently using tanks to crack down on protesters, killing thousands and detaining tens of thousands. The Obama Administration has yet to even recall the U.S. ambassador in protest.
There is one nation on which the Obama Administration has taken a hard line. That is the nation of Israel. First, Obama demanded that Israel stop construction of homes in what Arabs call the “Occupied Territories,” including the West Bank, where Israel’s capitol, Jerusalem, is located. More recently, Obama changed longstanding U.S. policy when he insisted that Israel should return to national boundaries that pre-date the Six Day War of 1967 and that would be indefensible today.
Israel is the lone democracy in the Middle East and has long been an ally of the United States. It is constantly bombarded by rockets fired from Gaza and Lebanon by Hamas and Hezbollah, terrorist groups funded by Iran. Israel is surrounded by hostile nations and has been attacked by its neighbors numerous times throughout its short modern existence.
While well-intentioned, President Obama’s policy failures have disappointed both liberals and conservatives. His decision to ram unpopular bills through Congress confirmed the fears of conservatives and obliterated any chance of bringing both parties together. Americans might have excused this partisan tack if his policies had been effective, but they were not. Instead, billions of dollars have been spent to no effect and a valuable chance to expand freedom and democracy in the Middle East is being lost.
Photo credit: Wikimedia/Matthias.kötter