I have always been troubled by those so pure or on the left politically that in the most recent presidential election they could vote for the Green Party candidate or abstain altogether. These are intelligent people who constantly harp on their disappointment with this or that aspect of Obama’s first term.
Their disappointments are too lengthy to fully list. But some of the prime ones are the too-small stimulus in the administration’s first year, the unwillingness to rein in the behavior of the banks with more powerful regulatory legislation, the continued use of torture, and the extension of the surveillance society. They have also felt that the president has been too passive, the compromises he was willing to make were too great, and his bargaining skills limited.
I concur with some of these criticisms, but in the scheme of things, it neglects many of Obama’s achievements. I’ll list a few of them: the landmark, imperfect Affordable Care Act, which extends coverage to 30-50 million Americans excluded from or unable to afford health insurance; Pell Grants for low-income college students; endorsement of gay marriage; a modest move by executive fiat towards dealing with illegal immigration by granting deportation waivers for young “illegals” if they can prove strong ties and a clean criminal record; the auto-bailout; and extending the social safety net (e.g., food stamps, unemployment insurance).
So, Obama accomplished more then any one of us thought possible while facing an opposition that was committed to subverting any legislation he proposed. Yes, there are things he probably should have done differently, and he could have espoused more radical positions that would make some of us feel better, but, at the same time, fail. It’s hard to imagine anyone who would have done better, given a polarized Congress and nation, and the power of the filibuster. I know that nobody meets our exacting standards politically, but it seems commonsensical to support a politician like Obama whose balance sheet has more accomplishments than wrongheaded actions and outright failures.
The political world is just no place for purity; little can be accomplished by decree. Obama must struggle with critics in his own party, the Republicans, the Supreme Court, and public opinion to get anything done. Yes, no radical social transformation will be achieved in Obama's second term, but I have faith that he will be a stronger and more capable politician and President, and that more of his liberal agenda ultimately will be passed.
Of course, I may be deluding myself, but my belief no longer feels quixotic.