National Commentary

In Defense of President Obama

nfbentonpicWatching critics taunting Democrats for their zealous denial of association with President Obama generates specially-queasy feelings akin to what one gets from the horror flicks so popular this time of year, recognizing that one case is fantasy and the other all too real. Among them, Kentucky senatorial candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes’ refusal to acknowledge whether she even voted for Obama in a live TV interview rates as a low point in my book, but she’s not the only one.

What is the frame of mind that one acquires by such denials? Clearly, empty headed “pragmatic” campaign advisers are encouraging their candidates to yield to such self-deprecating defensiveness in hopes of deflecting the “Obama factor” from soiling their campaigns. But in fact it constitutes a special form of mendacity and fear that makes a voting public even less trusting of the candidate who engages in it.

Admittedly, it’s hard to make headway in an uphill battle by Democrats to retain control of the U.S. Senate when the cards are stacked against them, in particular this fall. But when we compare the grace and steadfastness of Democratic Senator Mark Warner’s re-election campaign in Virginia, even in the face of some of the worst, most distorted attack ads from his opponent, with what’s unfolding in some other states, I’m convinced there simply has to be a better way.

This tasteless Democratic stampede from Obama wreaks of cowardice, which as we know only incites bullies and thugs the more. Its roots are in the landscape, which once again Wall Street, the Republicans and the major media have successfully framed to the disadvantage of any Democrat, including Obama, who wants significant change.

The prevailing narrative now is that Obama’s administration has been a failure, and low popularity ratings are cited to prove it. Even some of my most staunchly progressive friends are echoing the refrain, all the more to dampen, even if unintentionally, voter turnout among Democrats and to throw more fresh meat to the opposition.

When Obama’s achievements, or lack of them, are delineated, it must always be done in context. By comparison with what? This is the relevant question. By comparison with an ideal world? You get one answer that way. By comparison with what John McCain or Mitt Romney would have done if they’d won? That gives you a quite different answer.

I concur with Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, writing the cover story in Rolling Stone magazine this month entitled, “In Defense of Obama.”

Readers of Krugman’s frequent columns in the New York Times and here know that he has been anything but a cheerleader for Obama. He’s been especially critical of Obama’s seeming unwillingness to follow on his economic stimulus efforts undertaken when he first took office to forestall the Great Recession.

But Krugman is an honest man, and his article puts things in perspective by contrasting Obama’s performance with potential alternatives. In most matters, he concedes that Obama could have done more, but that what he has done has made a huge difference to the good.

In fact, he argues, “Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history.”

He adds, “His health reform is imperfect but still a huge step forward – and it’s working better than anyone expected. Financial reform fell far short of what should have happened, but it’s much more effective than you’d think. Economic management has been half-crippled by Republican obstruction, but has nontheless been much better than in other advanced countries. And environmental policy is starting to look like it could be a major legacy.”

On national security, where many progressives criticize him the most, Krugman writes, “Even if Obama is just an ordinary president on national security issues, that’s a huge improvement over what came before and what we would have had if John McCain or Mitt Romney had won. It’s hard to get excited about a policy of not going to war gratuitously, but it’s a big deal compared with the alternative.”

Make no mistake, Obama is frustrating the neoconservative “military industrial complex” agenda of perpetual war more than meets the eye, and it’s working.