Monday, August 23, 2010

Grading President Obama After 19 Months In Office.

A local saying goes that the two toughest gigs in DC are President Of The United States and Quarterback for the Redskins. Donovan McNabb's still fresh in town and the NFL season hasn't even kicked off yet, so the burgundy & gold bandwagon has yet to turn on him. The same can't be said for Barack Obama, a man who (sometimes unfairly, sometimes fairly) gets critiqued for seemingly everything.

With The Prez on (yet another!) vacation right now, noted Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson paused for reflection and asserts that all things considered, approval ratings be damned, Obama's actually on a roll right now.
Obama campaigned as an early and vocal opponent of the Iraq war, calling it a distraction from the more important conflict in Afghanistan. When he took office, there were about 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq on the heels of George W. Bush's combat surge. Obama said he would bring our combat forces home and he did -- ahead of schedule.

Obama ended up pouring $50 billion into the General Motors, acquiring a 61 percent ownership stake. Critics complained about the advent of "Government Motors" and raised the specter of bureaucrats in Washington holding public hearings to redesign the Corvette. But now, after making more than $2 billion in profits so far this year, the restructured company is confident enough to sell stock on Wall Street -- and begin repaying the government's investment.

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When BP's Deepwater Horizon well went rogue, the Obama administration was criticized for being slow off the mark. Some of the criticism was justified -- the initial response did seem unfocused. But the administration managed to turn things around and quiet any talk of "Obama's Katrina." Obama persuaded BP to put up $20 billion as a guarantee that the Gulf Coast residents whose livelihoods were damaged or destroyed by the spill would be compensated.

Supporting the mosque in Lower Manhattan didn't score any political points. But Obama saw his duty to uphold the values of our Constitution and make clear that our fight is against the terrorists, not against Islam itself. Instead of doing what was popular, he did what was right.
Since we're entering that odd dead period before November elections, this is probably as good a time as ever to step back and evaluate the President's performance to date. Because seriously, he isn't getting anymore substantive legislation passed until the lame duck session begins November 5th. With lots of folks on their way out of office, plenty of stuff we go down then.

I often get taken to task here (and by my mother of all people!) for being too critical of Obama. I suppose I understand that sentiment, but my assertions have always been clear. I agree with 90% of what he's done legislatively. I just think his leadership skills leave a lot to be desired, and are what's separating him from being a merely "average" President and a "good" one. I'm still not sure he's got the ability to be a "great" one, especially if/when he loses control of the House and/or Senate in November.

Still, it's important to give credit where it's due. I'm sure plenty of people will rebut that when unemployment is 9.5%, there's very little credit to be given, and that would be understandable. Still, you have to judge a President in totality, and I give Obama credit for controlling what he can and doing a decent job of containing what he can't. Need I remind anyone that we were losing 700k jobs a month when Obama took office?

It's silly to grade a person's performance after such an arbitrary time period on the job, but then again, it's also silly to take daily snapshots of a person's perceived performance and call it a "Presidential Approval Rating".

Let's get more specific and revisit a post I wrote the day after Obama took office for some hardcore metrics.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was 7,949.17 pts when Obama took office. That number's definitely improved.

The US Unemployment Rate was 7.6%. That number has gotten worse obviously, but it's definitely better than its peak of %10.1 several months ago. You could certainly argue that recent signs point to it rising again, or that it's not a true measure of "real unemployment". Point taken.

The US National Debt was $10 Trillion Dollars. That number's obviously gotten worse, but it's up to you to determine whether initiatives like the bailouts, the Stimulus Package and emergency unemployment benefits were worth the trouble. Sometimes when you're in debt, you gotta worry about keeping a roof over your head, not your 401k. I happen to think deficit spending is ok given where the money's gone.

The Price Per Crude Oil Barrel was $40.85 and the Price Per Gallon Of Unleaded Gasoline was $1.76. Both numbers have gone back up, but it's important to remember that both had only recently dipped in the months leading up to the election. I believe gas prices plateaued in Summer 2008, bottomed out that Fall, and were already on the way back up when Obama took office. I could obviously be wrong.

The Number Of US Troops In Iraq was 142,000. We know what happened there.

The Number Of US Troops In Afghanistan was 30,000. We also know what happened there.
Obviously this is a mixed bag of results, many of which (troop levels) Obama has influenced, and some (ie: gas prices) that he's got no control over at all. Some of his other signature initiatives like credit card, student loan, health care, and financial reform will obviously take more time to properly evaluate, but I think it's fair to give him credit for doing something. I'm far less enthused about his efforts in the area of public education, where you could argue that his "Race To The Top" initiative is just a nicer way of saying "No Child Left Behind".

The bottom line for me is that although Obama's leadership and communications skill (and team) aren't what I expected, he's done a good job with the sh*t sandwich he inherited. The economy remains a sore spot, and he'll need to work with the GOP (yikes!) to address that moving forward, given the likely reshuffle of power on the Hill that's forthcoming.

With still more than 2 years left in office, I grade his performance to date a C+.

Question: Using an A-F scale, how would you grade President Obama's performance thus far? What's been the most encouraging accomplishment? What's been the most disappointing development? What can he do to raise his grade?

President Obama's winning streak [WashPost]

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