Measuring Obama’s Record

It seems Campaign 2012 will turn more on how Americans view President Obama and what he has done than how they view his likely Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who comes across as a conservative cipher. So, Beverly Bandler says Americans should make a fair and clear-headed assessment of Obama’s record.

By Beverly Bandler

Change we could believe in has not come easily since Jan. 20, 2009.

Many progressives believe that President Barack Obama does not stand steadfast on progressive core principles. They protest what they consider his caving in over taxes, the deficit, the debt ceiling, and even Social Security. They compare his presidency to moderate Republican governance.

President Barack Obama as drawn by Robbie Conal at

But progressives would do well to recognize that Obama can boast a substantial number of triumphs. Some backers even say Obama has “a record of astounding accomplishments.” And it’s important to note that Obama’s accomplishments have been achieved in the face of an almost impossible set of challenges.

When Obama took office, he faced “the largest financial shock since the Great Depression,” according to the International Monetary Fund. In the winter of 2008, before his administration began, the economy was shrinking at an annualized rate of nearly 9 percent and losing 700,000 jobs a month, symptoms of an incipient depression.

Neil Irwin reminds us that there was zero net job creation in the “lost decade” following December 1999. Another brutal conclusion: “In some fundamental ways, the American economy has stopped working,” wrote David Leonhardt in the New York Times Magazine as Wall Street unraveled in 2008.

In addition, Obama has been confronted by a ruthless obdurate obstructionism from a regressive Republican Party, one that has evolved into radical right-wing extremism and embraced a brazen determination to destroy the Obama presidency. The judgment that the country could be governed in a “post partisan” era proved unrealistic.

Today’s GOP has rejected all moderation. It has no interest in compromise or bipartisan cooperation, or what is known as “the common good.” The Republicans are bolstered by a disciplined Right-Wing Noise Machine that manufactures distortions, half-truths and blatant lies for political  gain.

A sizeable segment of the American public has bought into this misinformation out of fear and gullibility, compounded by a startling basic ignorance of the issues, not to mention the processes of government and U.S. history. The American public has become, generally speaking, poorly educated and dependent on sound bites. Thus, it is vulnerable  to manipulation through skillful propaganda.

In addition, President Obama has had to tread through the competing and powerful forces of what amounts to a corporate minefield. The extent to which the corporate community is willing  to go to, in effect, takeover the government and the nation became chillingly clear following the January 2010  Citizens United decision. William Greider has warned of a “corporate coup.”

Commenting on Obama, Suzanne Mettler noted that “once elected, the young president held to his word and pursued transformations in  American social policy, healthcare reform, new tax breaks, and enhanced aid to college students, that vast majorities of Americans had long told pollsters they favored.”

But, she says:“Obama’s policy agenda, in the current political context, requires him to engage in a struggle more akin to that undertaken by Progressive Era reformers, who had to destroy or reconstitute deeply entrenched  relationships if they were to achieve change. He could not follow the path of Roosevelt, finding a way around political obstacles or merely building on top of what existed; rather, he had to find ways to work through  them, by either obliterating them or restructuring  them.”

Obama, she  writes, “given his policy agenda, had  steered directly into the looming  precipice of the submerged  state: existing policies that lay beneath the surface of U.S.  market institutions and within the federal tax system.

“Contrary to opponents’ charges that his agenda involved the encroachment of the  federal government into private matters, Obama was actually attempting to restructure a dense thicket of long-established public policies, but  ones that  are largely invisible to most Americans, and that are extremely resistant to change.”

Mettler defines the submerged state  as “a conglomeration of federal  policies that function by providing incentives, subsidies or payments to  private organizations or households to encourage or reimburse them for conducting activities deemed to serve a public purpose. Yet despite their growing size, scope and tendency to channel government benefits toward the wealthy, the policies of the submerged state remain largely invisible to ordinary Americans.” [emphasis added]

Some questionable and debatable judgments notwithstanding, it is important to assess President Obama’s accomplishments against a turbulent and treacherous political environment. Some suggest that these challenges were unprecedented.

Not the least of his achievements was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (February 2009). While the Obama administration has been criticized for having “fumbled” the recovery, and even though the stimulus package was too small and  inadequate in its structure to restore the economy to something resembling its pre-crisis vitality, the legislation still represented “heroic efforts” that helped avert  catastrophe, a second Great Depression. Much of the public and the corporate media seem completely oblivious to this undeniable fact.

Obama’s chief policy goal was healthcare reform, which was finally passed as The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (March 2010). Dubbed “Obamacare,” it was the biggest expansion of the safety net in 40 years. It also represented a remarkable Democratic victory and a culmination of a health care reform quest that began in the early 20th Century, one in which seven presidents tried and failed.

This comprehensive landmark law is far from perfect, but it expands insurance coverage largely for middle-class and poor families facing serious health-care problems. Many Americans do not have a clear understanding of the complexity of health care in the United States, so Obamacare continues to be misunderstood. The fact that opponents deliberately misrepresented what it would do is not surprising, although that effort turned out to be extremely destructive.

Progressives, liberals and independents would do well to reflect carefully on the Obama presidency as we head into the 2012 election. We certainly can debate some of Barack Obama’s decisions, but we also need to be mindful of factors beyond any president’s control, in  addition to those with which Obama has had to cope.

These are extraordinarily complex and fast-moving times. That Americans respond maturely and thoughtfully will be crucial.

America does need to “come home,” as William Greider pleads. In spite of disappointments, he writes, the 2008 election could still eventually be seen as “a historic turning point.”

Greider wrote in 2009: “Barack Obama provided fresh evidence for the redeeming promise of our nation and persuaded an energetic majority to believe that Americans can still remake the country anew.”

The rational majority will simply have to accept that renewal and change cannot be accomplished overnight. It may even take a couple of generations. It will certainly take energy and effort. All  Americans should shudder at the alternative.

Beverly Bandler is a retired public affairs professional who writes from Mexico.

For more information on Barack Obama’s record, here are some sources:

The Truth Team.  A  network of supporters of President Obama  who are committed to responded to  unfounding attacks and defending  the President’s record.  and <>  <>


The Obameter: Tracking  Obama’s Campaign  Promises.


The Rational Majority. Snap-Facts: over 160 daily snap-facts with supporting documentation. Join the Snap-Fact email list. Snap-Dragons:   will address “the lies and misinformation intentionally perpetuated by the radical right wing of the GOP/Tea Party.”    Find The Rational Majority on Facebook.

Watson, Dr. Robert P., Ph.D. The Obama Record.    This website will provide you with a comprehensive list of the   accomplishments and activities of President Obama since he was  inaugurated in  January of 2009. Accomplishments accessible in  categories.

White House.

Annenberg Political Fact Check

Columbia Journalism  Review

Open Secrets

Real Clear Politics


Truth Fights Back

Urban  Legends

See  also:   

“How to Fight the Smears Online” by Will  Bunnett,  Trilogy Interactive.    The number one rule of smear fighting is don’t let a bad  narrative about  your candidate settle in.

“The Debunking  Handbook.” By John Cook  and Stephan Lewandowsky. Global  Change Institute, University of  Queensland. .pdf 1st ed.  November 2011. Version 2 published 2012-January.

Jon  Perr’s  Perrspectives <>   <>  

Greider, William. Come  Home, America: The Rise and Fall (and Redeeming  Promise) of Our Country.  Rodale Books (February 2, 2010).

“A Scary Corporate Coup Is  Under Way — We’ve Got  to Stop It.” Alternet, 2009-03-31.–_we%27ve_got_to_stop_it/

Irwin, Neil.   “Aughts were a lost decade for U.S. economy, workers.” The  Washington Post, 2010-01-02.

Leonhardt, David. “Judging Stimulus by Job  Data Reveals Success.” The New York Times, 2010-2-16.

“Obamanomics.” The New York Times,  2008-08-24.

Mettler,  Suzanne. “Obama’s Forgotten Triumphs.”  Salon, 2011-10-15.  His presidency actually attacked deeply unfair  policies. Too bad few  Americans even know they exist.

The  Submerged  State: How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American  Democracy (Chicago Studies in American Politics). University Of  Chicago  Press (October 1, 2011).

“Our Hidden Government  Benefits.” The  New York Times, 2011-09-19.

“20,000 Leagues Under the State.” The Washington  Monthly,  2011 July/August

Ross, Sherwood. “Well-To-Do Americans Getting More Benefits than the Poor.”  The Smirking Chimp, 2011-08-07.

Saperstein, Guy. “What Obama’s Willingness to  Deal with  the Tea Party Right Means for Progressive Politics.”  Alternet,  2012-04-04.

Scheiber,  Noam.  The Escape  Artists: How Obama’s Team Fumbled the Recovery.  Simon &  Schuster; Reprint edition (February 28,   2012).

Time Magazine.  “Barack Obama’s First  100  days.” Special Report.,28804,1889908_1889909,00.html

12 comments for “Measuring Obama’s Record

  1. Jeff T
    May 1, 2012 at 15:45

    The article above is insulting to well meaning progressives and it is itself, totally lacking in any hard analysis or real reflective value. Writers that are obviously so wowed by Obama or so dreadful of a Republican winning – would do well to include more truth and to broaden their perspectives a’bit.

    The progressives that are critical of Obama, can handle a little in depth analysis. Many, like myself, who voted for Obama and are now actively looking for ways to support him, would be better served by an honest explanation of how Obama’s healthcare reform (which was crafted by the insurance lobby, tempered by the pharmaceutical industry and in the end forces poor, working Americans to pay premiums for sub-standard coverage)is any real improvement for actual workers. It went from the campaign promised – Single Payer, to the Public Option to Nothing … really. We can tout the one good feature, that it forces insurers to cover people regardless of their pre-existing conditions, over and over again. And, that is quite nice. But, I was already covered by a crappy plan and experiencing downward pressure on my wage – and I still am. Where the rubber meets the road, my actual coverage is not improved at all and my costs are only going up. It is not a victory. Kaiser Permanente (and the other giant, middlemen, HMO’s) is still completely in control. My employer is using the high cost of the premiums that they pay on my behalf as leverage against paying me an actual living wage. And, even after it all goes into effect in 2014, his reform is going to offer me no net gains. My out of pocket expenses, (i.e. things that are not covered by the insurance or that require co-pays and so on) are not going down one bit. They talk about my total annual deductible is only 1,000 dollars. But, then, they just invented a new category, “the maximum out-of-pocket” expense, and this is now $3,000. And, there are a lot of things that are not covered. My “DHMO” plan is so sub-par that I am treated like someone standing in a long line at McDonald’s – not like a patient who actually has a regular doctor and so forth. They never want me to come in for anything and they always refer me to an “advice nurse” who spouts a bunch of platitudes at me. It’s an expensive and ill-planned scam. Nothing about my coverage is going to improve because of “Obamacare” and in fact, once the required mandate kicks in, my employer may try to force me to also pay the premium for the substandard coverage. And, dental? forget it. My overall health is not really improving because there a still way too many dental procedures that I cannot afford in America. Obamacare did nothing to improve this. So, the vapid, fact free praise of writers that insult progressives with a critique of what came out of Obama’s healthcare reform effort, are actually undermining support for Obama by maintaining that, “hey, the healthcare crisis fixed, chalk one up for Obama,” while the actual terms, quality of care and super high expense has changed very little for the working class. Any partisan propagandists can claim victories all up and down, but, every worker knows that their coverage hasn’t really improved and they are still paying way too much for healthcare. It may be nice for the higher end liberals with nice incomes and/or actual good plans. They maybe don’t mind paying huge premiums for care because it is such a smaller portion of their income. And, they are getting better care than the working poor. Obamacare does nothing to reduce the costs (profits for HMO’s) that are foisted on the working class in the form of all these middle men fees. Simply saying that you have insurance does not necessarily mean that you have access to affordable or quality healthcare. So, at this point, Obamacare is a disappointment and a failure. We got no Single Payer, no Public Option – and I got not real improvement in care or reduction in costs. Hence, if the writer wants to insult critics, they need to get down in the trenches and argue with some facts. They need to explain to me why Obamacare is so great, if it means my actual healthcare situation has gone down in quality and up in expense. And, continuing to tout this as a huge victory by Obama, when most peoples’ conditions have improved very little, or actually worsened – only reveals that these partisans are so eager to support Obama that they are border delusional. They are revisionist and fact-free cheerleaders.

    Moving on to the much touted “stimulus” package that has failed to create any long term job growth or to have an upward pressure on actual wages. Again, there is very little, or none at all, improvement for real working people – despite the rhetoric to the contrary. All they have is what the Republicans had – fear. “Think how much worse it would have been had we not handed out a huge bailout to our banker friends … ” (gasp) … But, seriously, Bush handed out the first half of the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program)as directed by his cabinet members from Goldman Sachs. The American tax payers got nothing … no promises fulfilled … no easing of credit, restructuring of bad mortgages, spending on public works programs … nada. Obama promised that when it came time for him to hand out the second half of TARP, that he was going to get something from those bankers before he just handed them the money. But, what happened? He walked behind closed doors with the 13 bankers and came out with … guess what? … nothing. So, this and then, the so-called stimulus (which marginally lowered some end-of-the-year taxes for some workers) did little to help. Obama’s Goldman Sachs cabinet has made sure that there are still no real regulations on hedge-fund management, derivatives trading … nothing. We got nothing. The financial industry is still mostly unregulated and it is still making huge profits betting against us (the workers) and/or charging us unheard of interest rates on pre-existing loans. Nothing was really changed. Europe is plunging into a debt-related crisis and no one from any of our recent administrations has had the guts to stand up and say, “Hey, we bailed you bankers out, we need to restructure and write off some of that debt. We need for you to pony up the bail out money and invest that in infrastructural improvements that will actually create living wage jobs.” … This hasn’t happened yet. A jobless recovery is no recovery at all. So, anyone who tells me to blindly support Obama, or that the evil Republicans may win, needs to actually show me the money. My actual tax rate has only gone up. As has the amount I spend on food. My income has remained stagnant. And, schools in my neighborhood are closing, libraries are reducing their staff and hours that they operate. I don’t see any solar panels going up anywhere and Van Jones actually got fired by Obama. So, nothing really positive is happening on a community level for me. Where is a State or Federal park that is actually expanding instead of closing? Where is a jobs creation program that is actually leading to real, available jobs that pay living wages? Hmm, how come the only thing that is increasing are police powers and prison populations? And, Obama’s people have spent untold millions prosecuting medical marijuana dispensaries!? His Administration is a farce so far. His voting for NDAA (the indefinite detention of Americans without a trial) and the signing of SB 347 – should also have all of asking a little more of Obama. He’s gone along with the undermining of Posse Comitatus and the Constitution. That alone should have us asking questions instead of heaping on the praise or getting lost in superficial qualities that we like.

    If you want me to support Obama, it’s time for you to adjust your Paxil dosage, and to provide me with some real reasons why. Maybe we all need to hold Obama’s feet to the fire until we actually do get something valuable for us – not the multinational corporations and trans-national bankers … every time. If all you have is empty rhetoric, divisive words and fear – this is not very much in the way of real change or actual hope.

  2. Paul
    April 24, 2012 at 04:40

    One more comment, my analysis of Obama’s negotiating style: He belongs to the Neville Chamberlain school of political negotiation.

  3. dahoit
    April 23, 2012 at 11:50

    Give me a real Republican than a Democrat in drag anyday.Other than Sotomayor,his policies suck,from backing our bane Israel,to his expansion of our police state,to his anti drug legalization and decriminalization,to his obysmal healthcare fraud,his drill baby drill,nuke expansion,expansion of more wars,from a to z,a complete fraud and turncoat of his promise of change,which of course is the change in our pants pocket of diminishing return.
    And is he still puffin on dem Kools?Sheesh,a real man would quit.This guy is the emptiest suit portrayed as enlightened since man has started voting.

  4. Carax
    April 21, 2012 at 15:43

    What nonsense this article is. If Bandler is going to tell a story about Obama then she should tell the entire story. Obama went further in many of the polices Democrats hated Bush II for; no one forced him to modify and sign the NDAA on New Year’s eve while the nation’s attention was diverted elsewhere. Obama is no different than any other American politician. They are not to be trusted. No matter who is elected. It is part of the American political culture; there’s only a fawning mainstream media ready to support the lies of the industrial-military-political-financial complex, part of a web of cartels that rig the system. The game is over and if the people ever fully wake up, there’s going to be a bloody fight.

  5. oudiva
    April 21, 2012 at 10:57

    While it’s true that the President has faced enormous challenges, mostly in the form of a truly thuggish Republican party, it’s also true that he has gone even further down the road to a police state than even G.W. Bush. In ’08, I caucused for the President, I gave him money, and I voted for him. Not this time. The NDAA was the last straw. I cannot countenance the shredding of the Constitution.

  6. John Puma
    April 21, 2012 at 01:51

    In addition to the tragically accurate assessment of Obama in comments above, I will add the yet unmentioned “crown jewel” of his tenure: declaration of the monarchal power to assassinate US citizens without due process but solely on the order of the president.

    Yes, for now, this applies only to citizens outside the US, but for the hopemeister, who was elected to pull us back from the abyss of the Cheney/Bush regime, it’s simply slopping of LOTS of grease onto the slippery slope.

  7. RadWriter
    April 20, 2012 at 21:38

    This president has been a deep and bitter disappointment. Yes, he did get some token accomplishments. But they were completely inadequate in face of the challenges we still face over three years later. His ACA is a joke and will be a welfare program for Phrma and the health ins companies. His stimulus was inadequate on so many grounds that it is not much to brag about. His civil liberties record is about the equal of W’s or possibly worse. The Dodd-Frank bill will nibble around the edges of the problem and then give back the nibbles. He bought into the specious argument that we have a debt problem (as opposed to a revenue problem) that must be remedied on the backs of those who did not create it while exempting those who did. He has constantly put Social Security and Medicare on the table to solve problems they did not create. He has negotiated with himself to the point of giving the GOP just about everything they asked for and nothing of what we asked for.

    Yet, he will likely be better than Romney. How much better? Probably not much.

    When are we going to get a candidate worthy of being called an American president?

    That may be a question we should ask ourselves. When are we going to work for and support a candidate at the primary stage that is worthy of becoming the President of the United States of America? Instead of supporting the candidates promoted by the media or the party hacks, when are we going to work to get the vote out for the candidates who will actually work for the American people? We had two potential candidates four years ago. Neither one got serious support. I wonder why that was.

  8. Paul
    April 20, 2012 at 16:39

    I am speechless that Consortium would run this puff piece after other articles delineating his perfidy. OK, he is better than McCain, who would have bombed Iran by now, and he’s better than Romney, but those are pretty low standards to be compared to. It seems the Presidential race is a race to the bottom.

    Just a few of Obama’s accomplishments: extensive prosecution of whistle blowers; potential indefinite detention, sans trial, for Americans; selling out the public option for the private hospital lobby; the most massive redistribution of wealth upward, since Reagan, i.e. the bankster bailout; increasing the “too big to fail” power of the financial sector that wrecked our economy; letting the Bushies off the hook for war crimes and outing a CIA agent; hiring Larry Summers, the de-regulator, to inadequately fix the economy; a failure to significantly prosecute the perveyors of the most extensive frauds in US history; the most abysmally wimpy negotiating tactics I have ever seen in a President-remember he had a majority of both House and Senate when he started;running the US military to exhaustion in perpetual wars. The list could go on and on ad-nauseam.
    Obamascam is the biggest Democratic con man since LBJ ran against Goldwater and promised not to send combat troops to Vietnam.

  9. David Tuttelman
    April 20, 2012 at 15:38

    Ms. Bandler overlooks a crucial point. Obama really won the election on his rhetorical skills, which are profound. Yet, once in office, it seemed he put those skills in the closet and focused only on “making nice” with the savage opposition. Not once, when faced with political adversity, did he stand before the American people and lay out his position and vision, ask Americans for their help in realizing that vision, and describe the obstacles he was facing, including naming those who were obstructing, so-called “Blue Dog” Dems, as well as savage Republicans. Not once did he ever put up the “good fight.” Instead, Obama’s “SOP” has been to glad hand his enemies, while giving the back of his hand to those who put him in office. The reason we never realized “change we could believe in” is that Obama abdicated his role as a leader. I, for one, am thoroughly disgusted with his cowardice and continuing betrayals of the millions who put him into office. I refuse to vote for him, even as I shudder at the prospect of a Romney presidency.

  10. Hillary
    April 19, 2012 at 20:09

    (American public) “is vulnerable to manipulation through skillful propaganda”.

    1. —-Hardly any difference between the Republican & Democratic candidates.

    2.–Made in Israel Diebold computer voting machines will elect the appropriate candidate.—diebold-whistleblower-speaks-out/question-2587257/

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