Barack Obama entered the White House as president for the first time on January 20, 2009 after defeating Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.). Ever since then, no other United States president has encountered as much partisan gridlock, controversy, and economic catastrophe all at the same time. The optimistic news is that a recent Rasmussen poll showed the president’s approval rating is 50%. The bad news is that statistically, half the country does not approve of Obama’s performance. The United States is a highly divided country, and therefore, Congress is divided as well.
Republicans in Congress have crafted strong rhetoric to oppose much of Obama’s agenda. Because of this, President Obama’s performance has been mixed with successes and failures. Is there a way to judge his performance overall? The five angles below provide some help. For more interesting statistics, check out FactCheck.org.
1. The Economy
The most important figure associated with the economy is the unemployment rate. When Obama came into office, it stood at 7.8%, but that was in the midst of economic turmoil. Unemployment rose to as high as 10% as a result of bad decisions made years before Obama even campaigned for the presidency.
The recession eliminated 8.7 million jobs and during the past four years, President Obama saw 1.5 million new jobs created — a number that is expected to increase. The problem with using the unemployment rate as a metric is that it leaves out the high number of people who quit looking for work. That figure is not reported in the official unemployment rate. There are more than likely 17 million “unemployed” overall, and the steady decrease over the past few years has been mainly stagnant when taking population growth into account. Again, it is all about perspective, but Obama’s jobs creating bills failed to receive enough Republican support.
2. The Budget
The budget is not the sole responsibility of the Executive Branch. Congress crafts it and the president offers his suggestions and signature upon approval. There must be something wrong in Washington than when four years go by without the Senate passing a budget. That changed in March when the Democrat-controlled upper house passed a massive $3.7 trillion budget along a taut party-line vote, 50-49.
The GOP claims Obama has not shown enough leadership in this matter. The opposition party wants to make government’s wallet a lot smaller, but the past four years have seen near-government shutdowns, the United States’ first credit downgrade, a fiscal cliff, tax hikes, defense cuts, and necessary but hard-fought debt-ceiling increases. Since it is a shared responsibility, both Obama and Congress have performed at sub-par levels, but let’s hope that the Senate passing its first budget in years is a sign of hope.
3. Health Care Reform
Republicans have one thing to say about the Affordable Care Act: “Repeal!” Health care is a perfect place to draw the line between parties. President Obama pushed for more progressive reform, but through compromise the public option was removed from discussion. The president’s logic was to protect the uninsured by making everyone receive insurance. Overall, a sentimental concept, but it requires regulation and may be accompanied by rising costs from insurers.
Premium increases are just the beginning, according to the GOP. Conservatives have insinuated that health care reform will lead to “death panels” and other scary ideas. If insurance companies are mandated to provide insurance to people with pre-existing conditions, they will begin to worry about how much it will cost them, given the industry’s own inflation rate. Uncertainty breeds worry and the GOP already capitalized on it in the 2010 midterm elections. Some could argue that was a referendum on President Obama’s performance.
4. Foreign Policy
The so-called Obama Doctrine has remained ambiguous, but appears to rely heavily on intelligence-gathering, drone strikes, and timetables. Obama inherited the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his “timetable” approach has garnered little success. Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which still remain hot spots, have been replaced by Syria and Iran. North Korea also must sporadically be keeping Obama up at night as well. The Arab Spring was a democratizing event, but conflicts are still expensive and the United States does not have unlimited resources to involve itself with every uprising.
True, Obama can claim to have eliminated Osama Bin Laden, and the No-Fly Zone in Libya helped rid the world of Muammar Gaddafi, but Al-Qaeda and Libya still remain contentious issues. The rest of Obama’s second term and beyond will likely see more troops continuing to fight the War on Terror. As commander-in-chief, Obama’s actions now could have repercussions after he leaves office, so diplomacy is the safest doctrine to follow.
5. Domestic Policy
Domestically, President Obama has seen his policies be challenged through legislative and legal actions. There are three main focal points to Obama’s domestic agenda: the environment, immigration, and social equality.
A strategy for sustainable energy has seen some successes, such as delaying the Keystone XL pipeline, and some failures, i.e. the Solyndra scandal. Going up against the powerful oil and natural gas industries poses challenges to Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy. It also shows Obama’s long-term hopes. According to the FactCheck.org list, new car MPGs and domestic crude oil production are up 17% and 29%, respectively, showing that both sides could come out as winners. Wind and solar power are up 157%, so it could be a smart idea for the Koch Brothers to delve into greener R&D.
The immigration issue, specifically Arizona’s law SB1070, was challenged at the Supreme Court, where several of the controversial provisions were struck down. President Obama urged Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform now and the result will determine how successful Obama has been on the issue. However the bill ends up, President Obama has shown he will fight for equality.
Social equality also goes for women and LGBT groups. The President has vocally supported gay marriage and challenged the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Prop 8. The first bill he signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act for women. As a result of these actions, President Obama easily won more than 55% of the women’s vote in both presidential elections and reinforced the Democrats' positions on these issues in 2016.
In the end, partisanship has affected everything about President Obama’s performance. With the economy, the longer the recovery takes, the more the GOP will blame Obama for slowing it down. The budget and health care reform create uncertainty. How can you plan for the future when you don’t know how much you’ll have to pay in taxes next year? How can insurance companies prepare for Obamacare when it isn’t even fully implemented yet?
The United States could not pay for two wars abroad and handle an economic crisis at home, but claiming that stopping both wars means that money could be better spent on the deficit is a fiscal gimmick. Even if the wars went on, the money would have been added to the debt. Since Afghanistan and Iraq no longer take up as much space on the budgetary pie chart, the savings are still imaginary.
If Obama’s domestic agenda is continually challenged in the Supreme Court, it will delay progress on those and other important issues. Obamacare and Obama’s stance on Arizona’s SB1070 were blasted in Republican talking points, but the Supreme Court sided with Obama. There is always going to be a struggle for equality, and at least Obama is pursuing the progressive path forward.
A stinging effect of poor relations between Democrats and Republicans is the fact that not a lot is accomplished. This suppresses future expectations and that hampers business’s plans for the future. According to a recent Gallup poll, Congress has a 16% approval rating. Compared to Obama’s 50%, there are a lot of people who have low expectations.