Grading the Obama Presidency

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The final report card, grading the Obama presidency.

Some days it seems like Obama is both the most loved and hated president in American history. In the Senate, you have Republican obstructionists like Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson, and Mitch McConnell fighting against everything on Obama’s agenda, meanwhile, progressives everywhere are calling for four more years.

I’m here to debunk the false claims made by your conservative uncle and liberal college freshman and explain why Obama might have been the most average president yet. Ultimately, this final report card will grade Barack Obama’s performance in several categories from standing for liberty to promoting prosperity in America.

The Good:

LGBT rights

While his position on gay rights has certainly changed in comparison to the 2008 Obama, that opposed marriage equality, this flip-flop is for the better. After years of hearing crazy social conservatives in the GOP fearmonger over the basic human right to marry; Barack Obama left us with a surprise when the gay community scored its biggest victory yet in the legalization of gay marriage.

Of course, much of the credit should go to the Supreme court justices who voted for this, but this wasn’t Obama’s only accomplishment. He also repealed “Don’t ask, don’t tell”, which allowed LGBT people to openly serve in the military. There were a plethora of other achievements as well, such as: using the Department of Education to hold five summits in order to prevent bullying of LGBT students.

Without a doubt, Barack Obama’s presidency has done more for LGBT rights than any other administration in our nation’s history. I won’t bother speculating if he always had these views on gay marriage or truly changed positions on this, but he deserves a pat on the back for it.

Grade: A

International Trade

Another victory for Obama was his capitalist stance when it came to the international economy.

When NAFTA was originally passed, during the Bill Clinton years, 5 million jobs were added to the economy and the inflation rate stayed between 1.3 and 3.3 percent, acting as a price stabilizer.

After the successes of NAFTA and CAFTA, Obama worked hard on the Trans-Pacific Partnership; a trade deal that would cut tariffs, eliminate regulations and increase access to vital pharmaceutical drugs in poorer countries. While the TPP was recently torn up by President Trump, the remarkable trade deal would’ve drastically improved the economies of all countries involved.

President Obama also lifted the embargo on Cuba, which will allow both countries to prosper since tourism and trade between the countries rising. Thus, Obama and Biden were a refreshing voice that advocated against protectionism, tariffs, and regulations in the international economy, things that have failed our country many times.

Grade: A-

Gun Rights

In contrast to what gun activists have portrayed Obama as, he isn’t exactly a gun grabber. In fact, he’s far from it.

Prior to his presidency, he had a very unclear position on guns. He supported concealed carry for police officers in 2007, but also co-sponsored a bill to limit gun purchases to one a month, in 2000.

In fact, during Obama’s tenure, two major gun bills were passed. First, he repealed the law prohibiting Amtrak passengers from keeping guns in checked baggage, a law put in place after the 9/11 attacks. Second, he signed a law (that took effect in February of 2012) which allows gun owners to carry guns in National parks. Sure, Obama criticized the gun lobby and gun violence, but he never attempted to take away people’s guns, or violate the second amendment (despite the NRA propaganda that said otherwise). It’s time to give credit where it’s due and admit that Obama expanded gun rights on the federal level, not limit them.

Grade: B

The Mixed:

Marijuana laws

Barack Obama never really made legalizing marijuana a centerpiece of any campaign or initiative, but he also failed to make progress on this issue. Compared to previous presidents, who spent much more money on the War on Drugs and imprisoned far more non-violent offenders, Obama doesn’t fare too poorly. However, with federal departments such as the DEA at his disposal, he has disappointed progressives and libertarians on this issue.

Chuck Rosenburg, the current head of the DEA (appointed by the Obama administration), classified Marijuana and even Hemp oil, which can serve several medical purposes, as schedule 1 drugs.

However, President Obama also pardoned 78 non-violent drug offenders. It is a miniscule amount compared to the actual number of incarcerated citizens, but a step in the right direction. In addition, he allowed states like Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Colorado to use the tenth amendment to legalize the recreational use of the drug without federal interference.

Grade: C

Immigration

On a good day, Obama’s position on immigration was confusing.

Barack Obama has deported more undocumented immigrants than any other President in American history with a grand total of 2.5 million. In addition, he has also issued 15.5 times more fines against employers hiring illegal workers than his predecessor: which is actually a much more effective way of dealing with illegal immigration than an expensive wall.

However, he is also known for his executive order aimed at giving citizenship to 5 million undocumented immigrants; and for his first Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) which could shield just under 2 million migrants from deportation. His legacy on immigration is very contradictory and inconsistent, to say the least. He likely won’t be remembered for deportations or DACA, but it’s still noteworthy.

Grade: C-

The Bad:

Budget and fiscal policy

Conservatives often point out that Barack Obama was the biggest spender in American history, adding $8.3 trillion to the national debt. While that claim is technically true, it is also misleading, since it doesn’t account for the changes in the value of money.

We should be looking at the percentage by which the president increases the debt, not just the numerical value. By this standard, Reagan, Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt vastly outspent Obama. Still, Obama hasn’t been fiscally responsible; his contribution to the debt was roughly 71 percent. Obamacare, welfare, and education have all been massive expenditures for the president, and like most government programs, they showed no improvement despite the spending hikes.

To be fair, I’ll also point out that Obama took office during a recession, and he also extended the Bush tax cuts in 2010. However, that still doesn’t explain the trillions of dollars in debt added under his presidency, for ineffective programs like Obamacare, Common Core, and increased military spending.

Finally, President Obama and Congressional Democrats passed several tax hikes, including an increase in the capital gains tax, increase in the highest tax bracket and the flexible spending account tax. While I think it’s hypocritical for Republicans to criticize Obama for his fiscal record (considering that most Republican Presidents were also fiscally irresponsible), the fact remains that Barack Obama and Joe Biden have yet to figure out a way to balance a budget, despite their numerous tax hikes.

Grade: D+

Foreign Policy

Barack Obama won the hearts of many Americans in 2008 by opposing the Iraq war and promising to bring our loved ones back home (after the region was destabilized, trillions of dollars were wasted, and thousands of American lives lost under President Bush). While it is uncertain whether the warmongering John McCain would’ve been better, President Obama all but bailed on these promises.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner and his cabinet bombed seven countries – Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan – and most of the casualties in these drone strikes have been civilians, not jihadists. Furthermore, the Obama made several disappointing mistakes during his presidency.

First, the arming of the Free Syrian Army during the Syrian civil war, which lead to the weapons ending up in the hands of both the Al-Nusra and ISIS caliphates.

Secondly, he helped Saudi Arabia bomb our former ally, Yemen, by selling arms and giving intelligence. The result of this action is that the terrorist organization, AQAP, has only grown stronger.

Finally, the United States played a critical role in toppling Gaddafi in Libya, leaving the region in virtual chaos. Sure, Obama can also be given some credit for the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, but his lack of knowledge regarding foreign policy, and the manipulation of Warhawks like Hillary Clinton, prevented the American withdrawal and worsened the situation in the Middle East. Grade: D

Welfare

While I, and many Americans, despise corporate welfare more than welfare for the poor; the results from food stamp and unemployment benefits over the Obama administration have been anything but satisfying.

Between 2001-2008, the US government spent roughly $200 billion on SNAP; however, from 2009-2016, the expenditure was about $575 billion, easily outpacing the growth of inflation and population.

You would think that this staggering increase in government spending would have a positive impact on the economy, but that’s where you would be wrong; labor force participation rate fell from 65.8% to 62.7% in November of 2016, reaching its lowest point since the 1970s. Though unemployment eventually dropped over the duration of the Obama administration, the number of recipients on government assistance programs is dramatically higher than it has been in previous years, with similar economic conditions.

Despite the fact that the economy has been improving, the poverty rate (as of 2015) is 13.54%, which is higher than it was when Obama began his tenure in 2008. This will create an even worse fiscal calamity when America encounters another recession.

Ultimately, this created a nation of entitlements, as unlike something like an earned income tax credit, these programs have nearly no incentives to work.

Grade: D-

Healthcare

Let’s dive into the numbers.

From 2008 – 2016, the Healthcare premium for a family rose by $5444, to over $12,000. When you account for inflation, the real growth was $4861. In comparison, the eight years of the Bush administration yielded a real increase of $4994, or virtually the same rate, but Bush didn’t spend trillions of taxpayer dollars in a weak attempt to make it more “affordable”. In addition, this also doesn’t factor in the large increases in consumer spending on prescription medications, since socialized medicine in America has caused prices to skyrocket. From 2012-2015 alone, spending on prescription drugs rose by 24.5% to $457 billion.

Hopefully, America can put to rest the myth that socialized medicine can be successful.

Grade: F

Recap:

  • LGBT rights: A
  • International Trade: A-
  • Gun Rights: B
  • Marijuana laws: C
  • Immigration: C-
  • Budget and Fiscal Policy: D+
  • Foreign Policy: D
  • Welfare: D-
  • Healthcare: F

Note: Of course there are many other issues I didn’t breakdown including the disappointing fact that he continued government surveillance and reauthorized the Patriot Act or the good move to open up combat positions in the military to women.

 

 Final Grade/Thoughts:

Based on all the reasons I mentioned earlier, I will grade Barack Obama’s presidency as a C-. Although the Tea Party painted Obama as a Marxist, Obama was no progressive; I would consider him more of a centrist than anything.

If you were to take his entire record as president into account, I think that having a centrist president taught us many things: the first being that there truly is no shame in the Republican party. Between the false propaganda, repeated attacks, and obstructive Republicans in congress, the GOP continued to move further to the right over Obama’s term in office. Meanwhile, the Democrats seemed to be complete sellouts as they haven’t kept Obama in check for bombing seven countries and deporting millions. Their choice to pick unity and party over purity and principles ultimately made them lose in 2016.

Obama isn’t the politician that polarized America and worsened our political climate, we did it ourselves, and the media played a huge role in causing people to believe Obama was anything but a centrist. We had the opportunity to unify America behind a moderate President that everyone could tolerate but we blew it, which helped cause the atrocity that was the 2016 election.

 

* Jake Dorsch is a college freshman at Drake University double majoring in quantitative economics and political science. Currently, he is the founder and President of Drake’s Young Americans for Liberty chapter and has been politically active before college.

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Jake Dorsch

Jake Dorsch is a libertarian activist, bank teller, investor and aspiring future economist from Green Bay, Wisconsin that is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in both political science and quantitative economics at Drake University. He is currently on track to graduate a year early and will likely continue to obtain a master’s degree in econometrics.