Open Thread: How Do We Evaluate Barack Obama?

by Latoya Peterson

I’m not really a huge fan of politics, especially not the horserace thing that’s popular this time of year. I was planning to do an update to a 2008 post, where I asked:

Ask yourselves: what is your candidate going to do with the rising class gap in America? How do they propose to fix the problems (housing, retirement problems, education, wages) that contribute to the ever widening class divide?

Pathways Magazine, a Stanford University based publication dedicated to exploring poverty, inequality, and social policy, recently provided takes from the three major democratic front runners on their plans to alleviate poverty in America. (Hat tip to the Education and Class blog.)

Back in the day, Obama promised this:

Barack Obama – “Tackling Poverty and Inequality in America”
(p. 14-16; PDF p. 16-18)

1. Replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone model and create Promise Neighborhoods in 20 cities across the country. (Sites will be selected by the government – cities and private entities will be required to pay 50% of costs to ensure involvement)
2. Expand early childhood education, federal grants and school loans
3. Sponsor Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Legislation – providing financial support to fathers who pay their child support, cracking down on fathers who don’t; initiatives to stop the cycle of domestic violence that takes a toll on families
4. Expand the Nurse Family Partnership program which offers home visits to low income expectant mothers
5. Double funding for the Federal Jobs Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) program that helps low income individuals get to their jobs and day care services
6. Add $1 billion in funding for innovative transitional jobs and career pathway programs over five years
7. Triple the EITC for full time workers who make minimum wage; increase EITC benefits for families with three or more children; expand EITC benefits for childless workers
8. Create a universal healthcare plan which mandates child coverage and provides adults with an optional, low cost high quality plan
9. Fund $250 million per year to create a national network of public-private business incubators (to assist with start up advice and costs)
10. Earmark more SBA funds to minority businesses; direct more venture capital funding to untapped communities
11. Closing the digital divide; increasing internet access in urban/rural areas
12. Affordable housing trust fund to add 112,000 new affordable units in mixed income neighborhoods.
13. Roll back cuts to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) which provides housing assistance to inner cities
14. Sponsor Stop Fraud Legislation to create a definition of mortgage fraud, strengthen lender penalties, and mandate mortgage companies to provide accurate info about options to reveal the true cost of the mortgage

But before I could squeeze the time in to do that, this MHP vs. Cornel West thing bubbled up. Tami has already stated why West and Watson’s arguments are so problematic. But we haven’t really opened up a space to talk about the core disagreement. Has Barack Obama turned his back on Americans of Color, and the poor more broadly? Is he any different than any other President? Is he being held to an unfair, higher standard than his predecessors?

What do we need to talk about here, going into election season?

(Image via Shutterstock)

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    Right now I’m most concerned about what’s happening with the housing market. The Financial Times is reporting that US taxpayers will be subsidizing part of the $26 billion settlement owed by the five leading banks over the faulty foreclosures lawsuit! As if they this $26 billion is that much of a load off of their backs! I’ve also read elsewhere that once this settlement is taken care of, the banks will offload more properties from their “shadow inventory”, thereby flooding the real estate market with more foreclosed properties and driving down the real estate market values. This will of course adversely affect homeowners whose properties are already worth less than when they first purchased them. But there’s not much talk about providing massive bailouts to homeowners from either party…as far as the list of promises given above, I know that the Promise Neighborhood grants have already been given out. I’ve written here about a local NYC non-profit that was eligible to receive them:

  • Kelsey Vaughn

    Honestly, I don’t think Barack Obama can be held as solely responsible for failing to meet certain promises due to our ingenious checks and balances system. As a human being, he probably would have liked to do many things for our country that the house and senate simply wouldn’t allow him to do. I feel strongly that the public puts entirely too much pressure on the president to keep their promises when they are not totally in control of a lot of those decisions.

  • PatrickInBeijing

        How to evaluate President Obama?  For me, it is simple.  Who are my choices?  The various Republicans are so disgusting to me, that the President wins my vote.  I don’t want to criticize him, I want to criticize Romney et. al.  Yeah, there is a lot I don’t like (but you should hear me trash President Clinton!).  When it comes to politics, we don’t need another hero.  We need to organize the people, then they will tell the politicians what to do and think.  That is as it should be. 

       I think we should avoid the trap of attacking Obama for being less than perfect, and concentrate on who the real enemies are.  If people can’t stand to work for him, work for local candidates who suit you better.  But when you go to vote, consider the alternatives.  Simple, he wins.

  • Anonymous

    I think progressives should absolutely hold Obama’s feet to the fire! The greatest American civil rights achievements have occurred after activists from the left pressured the government to change (Nixon wasn’t going to establish the EPA on his own).

    That being said, I think that Obama has basically been the same politician since 2004 (check out his debates against Alan Keyes on YouTube – they’re fascinating). He’s center-left, and big on bipartisanship (and I genuinely believe that he didn’t anticipate the rise of the racist, mouth-breathing Tea Partiers bent on compromising his presidency at every turn). The healthcare debacle was ugly, but there were tangible solutions that emerged from it – for example, young people can stay on their parents’ plans until age 26. And regarding foreign policy: he ended the war in Iraq, which he has opposed since was a Senator. His administration has also protected the voting rights on people of color in SC.

    Obama’s presidency has definitely not been flawless, but I think his administration has stood on the correct side of the issues when it counts.

  • Penni Brown

    Before I go through Obama’s list of promises and evaluate his performance, I’d like to see similar lists of promises of the past 3 Presidents that were elected for a second term. Did they promise anything? How did their performance measure up? Did this President promise more than anybody else in the past? 
    We should absolutely rate this President’s performance, but it feels like with THIS President, everyone wants to get extra technical and ‘quantitative’. I don’t remember this being done with anyone else. Folks just went on what they ‘felt’. It seems like people want to ‘justify’ how they feel about Obama with some ‘facts’. 

    That just rings a little bullshiggidy to me. 

  • Mark Sadler

    I think the election of Obama was definitely a historic occasion but if you look at his track record since he was elected his priority appears to be helping the upper echelon of society, not the poor. Who did the bank bailouts help exactly? It seems like it was just a large transfer of wealth from regular working people to the richest people in the country, who then started awarding themselves obscene bonuses.

    I noticed that point 8 refers to the creation of a universal healthcare plan, which obviously didn’t get passed. People still have to purchase their own healthcare and millions of people don’t have access to quality medical services. The single payer (government-run) option was barely discussed at all.

    One of the big reasons a lot of people voted for Obama was to end the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. Well that obviously hasn’t happened either, if anything the military actions have increased (Libya, Pakistan etc) and now we seem to be getting ready to bomb Iran. We have spent over a trillion dollars on war since 2001. When are we going to start using those resources for education, healthcare, housing etc?

    Some of the biggest contributor’s to Obama’s campaign in 2008 were investment banks like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan. The same organizations that helped cause the economic crisis. So its not really that surprising that they were the first ones to be helped by the Obama administration.    

    Honestly i think people need to start looking at the actual system itself and asking themselves can we really change anything by voting for the same parties again and again. The change needs come from the bottom not the top. 

    • Anonymous

      Folks, the bank bailouts (TARP) happened under Bush, not Obama. And they were necessary to prevent our economy from completely imploding. A fair critique of the president’s track record should begin with accuracy.

  • ChrisLittle

    Aren’t progressives in the same boat as the tea party? They want someone really conservative, but are going to have to settle for Mitt because they HATE Obama. We are going to have to settle for Obama, even though his record on immigration, foreign policy, and education has been a bust.  It has been an insane congress to deal with, and he has moved ahead in many areas, but hasn’t been able to fulfill our dreams for change.  I think what we should focus on is 
    1) What has he been able to do well that we like?
    2) What is he planning to do differently from Mitt?
    That will give us positive ammunition for this electoral cycle, instead of wishing we had been able to do more in the past.

  • Grace

    What we need to talk about going into any election is practicality. Obama is one person, one person who is part of a larger system that is broken. And on top of that, there are approximately 300 MILLION people in this country, and not all of them desire a progressive agenda, whether regular citizen or elected official. If we want to see real change 1) we need to change our stragety to bring more folks to understand (and agree with) our politics, and 2) we need to start small–local elections need to be a focus. Occupy is about dreaming big, but in all those (good) lofty ideas, we can’t forget that we must begin by taking baby steps if we’re really going to make an impact. I mean, people are already talking about it in the pst tense

  • Keith

    He’s a Neo liberal President who sold out to big business, destabilized nations  without legit reasons assassinated people, failed to veto a bill that would make it legal to arrest and detain anyone deemed an enemy of the state without a fair trial which includes American citizens,  and went out of his WAY to throw black people especially black men under the bus. I wouldn’t take that shit from Reagen, Bush, Clinton, and Bush part II why would I take it from him? I have no interest in voting for the Democrats, Republicans or any other party that’s pro business, pro government deregulation, and anti social justice.

    • Anonymous

      I disagree with most of your interpretations but can at least see where the first three grievances you list are coming from. But how has President Obama gone out of his way to “throw black people, especially black men, under the bus”?

  • darksidecat

    This has been a terrible president for the poor and for immigrants.  A lot of programs have been cut, the health care bill is a sordid right wing mess at best, deportations and detentions have gone up (yes, up, by a lot, even compared to Bush), more police departments are required by law to enforce and police immigration issues, student aide for low income students has been reduced, and that’s just the beginning of the list.

    The one good thing for the poor from this administration was expansion of unemployment benefits, and it seems that Congress pushed that more.

    I get sick and tired of Democrats whining about being held to a higher standard by progressives than republicans, no one should have as low of expectations from elected officials than most of the progressives I know have of most republicans.    A lot of progressives though they were getting a progressive, active candidate (though there were signs otherwise even during the campaign that most overlooked) and what they got was a weak centrist one, disappointment is to be expected.  When Bush was “elected”, progressives knew they had lost and acted accordingly, the fact that they felt they had one when Obama was elected and then discovered otherwise in so many arenas was bound to create a feeling of being let down.  

  • Sanoe

    I definitely think he was held to higher standards than his predecessor, George W. Bush.  He’s a charismatic guy and got the support of younger, liberal voters who thought electing one dude into office would change the political system. Unrealistic expectations? Yes, but understandable.

  • Derek Vandivere

    Some interesting points in this article about evaluating a Presidential administration during the administration: 

    I’m still in the middle of it, but he does talk specifically about keeping or breaking campaign promises.