Business Times - 22 Dec 2009
Obama is doing all right; grade him well
His admirers-turned-bashers should remember that he didn't promise to lead a revolution
By LEON HADAR
IF YOU have been surfing American television news channels this past week, there is a good chance that in addition to commercials inviting you to take part in the shopping spree of the holiday season, you would have encountered another of those pompous pundits 'grading' US President Barack Obama's first year in office.
In fact, Mr Obama himself was asked to grade his performance during an interview with television host Oprah Winfrey. Mr Obama graded himself a 'good, solid B+' and maybe an A- if his healthcare reform bill ended up being approved by Congress.
'I think that we have inherited the biggest set of challenges of any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt,' Mr Obama explained. He was assigning himself only a B+ because of the things that remain undone; but if 'I get healthcare passed, I'll - we'd tip into A-.'
It was not surprising that Mr Obama's self-assigned grades have become a topic for discussion in many other news shows. On ABC talk show The View, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, a conservative pundit suggested, that Mr Obama 'should be getting, like, D for 'delusional' for giving himself a B+ right now with the economy! Talk to someone - he should be. . .'
At the same time, Whoopi Goldberg, the Hollywood comedian, would have given Mr Obama 'a C or C- because there are some things that he said he would do, that he has not'.
Like the rest of the American people, pundits read the results of public opinion polls. And the most recent polls suggest that Mr Obama is continuing to lose popular support. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that for the first time since January 2009, less than half the American population 'approved of the job Obama was doing'.
At the same time, the bipartisan Battleground Poll, sponsored by George Washington University in Washington, DC, reported that favourable opinion of Mr Obama had slipped to 49 per cent, while an ABC News/Washington Post and a CBS News/New York Times survey indicated 50 per cent of respondents supporting the President's efforts.
While conservative and Republicans have been bashing the Democratic president since his first day in office, Mr Obama still enjoyed strong support with Democrats and Independents. But now it seems that he is losing the backing of many Independents - the voters he had won on Election Day last year - and is being harshly criticised by many Democrats and liberal pundits.
The result is that both the right and the left are piling on Mr Obama now.
No one was surprised when Karl Rove, the top political adviser to former president George W Bush and a long-time critic of the Democratic president, told Bill O'Reilly on Fox News television that he would give Mr Obama's a C- for his management of economic and foreign policies.
What was astonishing had to do with the large number of critics on the political left who were hitting the President.
For example, Ralph Nader, former Green Party presidential candidate, told The Hill, a newspaper on Congressional affairs, that he remained steadfastly dissatisfied with the administration's performance, and suggested that Mr Obama had basically 'flunked' his first year in office, in part because he was too conciliatory to businesses, interest groups and political opponents.
'Flunking' was below 'hanging in there' and 'prevailing', was the way Mr Nader explained of his grading scale to The Hill.
Indeed, it won't be an exaggeration to say that many of Mr Obama's Democratic and liberal fans who had hoped that he would become a 'transformational figure' who would revive the American economy, end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and save the earth from global warning, are clearly devastated and regard him now as a traitor to the cause.
Some lawmakers and activists on the political left who have attacked Mr Obama for sending more troops to Afghanistan and for the many concessions he made over the healthcare reform legislation are even threatening to join the Republicans in opposition to the proposed healthcare bill and to oppose the confirmation of Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.
My suggestion to these and other admirers-turned-bashers: Chill out, guys. As I recall, Mr Obama didn't promise to lead a revolution during his election campaign. In fact, he promoted a centrist and pragmatic agenda on both domestic and foreign policies. And he even called for adopting a more aggressive US policy in Afghanistan; so whether you support it or not, Mr Obama's decision to increase the number of American troops there should not have come as a surprise to anyone.
But the reason that I would give Mr Obama a grade of 'B' is that taking into consideration the almost-economic-depression and the two dead-end wars that he had inherited as well as the political and legislative constraints operating on him (including a divided Democratic Party, Congressional rules, bureaucratic pressures), Mr Obama has been able to achieve quite a lot, by stabilising the economy and by improving US standing in the world. And if he gets the not-so-great healthcare reform bill approved by Congress that would clearly be a historic victory.
After all, Mr Obama is not a Messiah or a King. And as president of economically distressed and politically divided America, he seems to be doing all right.
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