Several weeks ago, I wrote a column stating that I was underwhelmed by President Barack Obama's first 18 months in office. A handful of people responded positively to the column, with most of those comments along the lines of, "By questioning the leader of your own party, at least you're not like most Republicans, who never questioned anything that George W. Bush did."
However, the majority of responses came from Obama supporters, in the outraged vein of: "How dare you?!"
I was excoriated by a longtime friend and colleague to whom I will refer as "Jim." He took me to task over a number of points, foremost among them the smart-alecky remark I made about the only visible local sign of the $750 billion federal stimulus package being a reclamation project by the freeway.
I thought that the stimulus should have been at least twice as large as it was, an opinion shared by many, including Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman. The depth of the economic disaster we faced demanded a response of unprecedented scope.
There is a phenomenon involving fighting forest fires. If an aircraft drops a load of water over a raging blaze, the heat and updraft from the fire pulverize the water droplets into a fine mist, which, in most cases, never actually reaches the ground. The much-smaller particles of water are either held aloft by the powerful updraft, or they simply become part of the atmosphere—and this more-humid layer can make it more difficult for the next water drop to get through to the ground. (That is why forest fires are generally fought from above with slurry and other forms of heavier-than-water fire retardant.)
Now think back to when President Obama took office, inheriting the worst economy since the Great Depression. He had both houses of Congress and a lot of momentum. He probably could have passed just about any stimulus amount he wanted. But the Dems in Congress were wary of that "trillion" word. This is hilarious, considering that the money squandered in the Bush tax cuts and the U.S. misadventure in Iraq easily dwarfed any amount that Obama might have put into a stimulus package to get the economy going again. Plus, the Republicans had already settled on their obstructionist "strategy," so the president could have said, "At least we're doing something."
Unfortunately, precious few of those stimulus droplets actually reached the ground. Most were pulverized into a mist that went to plug suddenly gaping holes in state budgets throughout the country. Among other things, here in Arizona, it kept our slash-happy state Legislature from gutting education ever further (although rigid ideologues like state Sen. Al Melvin gave serious consideration to turning down the federal money). However, as we have learned, jobs created and jobs saved are not viewed in the same positive light by many Americans. A lot of people see that original stimulus package as having gone—if you'll pardon yet another fire reference—up in smoke. At best, it's an invisible layer of humidity above the still-raging fire of recession, serving only to make the very thought of a second stimulus package little more than political suicide.
"Jim" pointed out a website that listed where some of the stimulus money went in Arizona, and chided me for not finding that website on my own. In doing so, he pretty much made my point for me: If President Obama is the Great Communicator for a New Generation, I shouldn't have to go to a website to find out where $750 billion went. He and his administration did a crappy job of informing the American people what was being done on their behalf.
There is an old saying that things turned out "not as well as I had hoped, not as bad as I had feared." I think my problem was that I didn't fear much at all. I thought that President Obama would take to governance as smoothly and easily as he had mastered running for the office in the first place. I expected him to be out in front selling health-care reform instead of allowing the shouters to set the tone. I had hoped that he would extricate America from its money-burning, soul-damaging entanglement in Iraq in a more-expeditious manner. And I am dismayed that he doesn't have a clearer vision on education, opting instead to be distracted by the glittery disco ball that is the charter-school "movement."
The Obama administration accomplished some things, but even then ...
After the economic meltdown, a financial-reform bill should have been a slam dunk. But the president allowed the unholy tandem of bank-whores Barney Frank and Chris Dodd—who are supposed to be on our side—to produce a 2,500-page, loophole-riddled monstrosity, much of which was written by lobbyists.
I believe that we're substantially better off than we would have been had John McCain been elected. A B-minus is better than a D. I hope my fellow Democrats will join me in realizing that it's OK to like the president and still demand more from him.