Why We Should Be Proud

This is a broad topic, and one that I will surely re-visit many times, so I will be as brief as possible.  


As an intern for Organizing for America – Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign – I sit down with a lot of people who actively supported the President in 2008.  Attitudes towards the President’s first term accomplishments vary from very pleased to extremely disappointed.  Generally, I have a vague idea of where on this spectrum these people sit before I meet them, and regardless of that information, I always make sure to say one thing during my meetings:  I will not make a “lesser of two evils” argument.  


Bachmann, Romney, Perry, or Palin – the Republicans could nominate the sasquatch and I wouldn’t care – I do not need to fall back on a comparative argument because I have something better:  The legislative and executive resume of the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama.  Allow me to run through a brief list: 


1 million young adults have retained insurance through the Affordable Care Act; by 2014 (if the law withstands attacks from Republicans in Congress) the law will extend coverage to 32 million of America’s least fortunate individuals.  


Greatly increased regulation and oversight of commercial and investment banks in order to promote long-term financial stability and investor safety.   Put an end to predatory lending practices, like ballooning mortgage rates.  Took steps to empower borrowers and investors and increase corporate transparency by mandating firm-client information sharing.  (NOTE:  This is an extremely brief and simplified description of the Dodd-Frank Finance Reform and Consumer Protection Act, with which I am intimately familiar; for more detailed information please feel free to e-mail me at eric.harris.bernstein@gmail.com).  


Has pledged to bring troops home from Iraq by the holidays.  


Oversaw the execution of Osama Bin Laden.  (If you think Presidents do not play a role in covert operations like the one in Pakistan that resulted in the elimination of OBL, then I refer you to Groupthink, by Irving L. Janis, which documents the decision-making processes behind the Bay of Pigs, Carter’s failed hostage rescue mission in Iran, and a number of other U.S. foreign policy debacles.  Another covert operation as seamless and effective as Osama Bin Laden’s assassination may not exist in United States history.)


Waged a cost-effective and minimally invasive campaign in Libya that toppled Muammar Gaddafi, a long-ruling and brutal dictator, hopefully paving the way for a more equitable and free society.  (Important thought on this topic:  Yes, I am glad Gadaffi is gone, but I am still greatly concerned for the future of the Libyan people and I sincerely hope that President Obama takes diplomatic steps to ensure that a progressive and peaceful regime is formed.  I have full faith that he will and I would not work for him if I did not.)


Took a logistic and symbolic step towards achieving equal protections for gay Americans by repealing the homophobic don’t ask, don’t tell policy in the military.  


Ok.  Now that I have spelled out a few things that make me glad we elected Barack Obama president in 2008, allow me to make a few concessions:


The Affordable Care Act did not go far enough; the reality that we have yet to get down to brass tacks on reducing costs, and that the law’s best case scenario leaves 23 million Americans uninsured, concerns me greatly.  I’m not thrilled with the President’s altered stance on the Clean Air Act.  I agree with many liberals who feel that Obama has wasted some energy reaching across the aisle when he should have been Johnsoning his agenda through Congress while he had the votes.  Also, some little things I have heard, like that the press has found Obama to be one of the less forthcoming Presidents when it comes to information sharing, do not please me.  But let us not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. 


Any liberal-minded person who does not believe there is cause to celebrate this presidency and actively support Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012 should take a moment to think about the American legislative system and the example of Civil Rights.  


The American government is designed to move slowly.  We should all remember the phrase “checks and balances” from middle school.  Well, there are consequences to these safety measures.  The British system, for example, is inherently different; in Britain, the party that controls the legislature, controls the executive office, and the opposition is left to grumble a great deal and ask questions on Fridays.  Sure, I am occasionally envious at the speed with which agendas can be passed in the UK, but that is not what the founding fathers intended, so we will all be remiss if we do not appreciate the stability and continuity that our slower legislating pace provides.  Those who are disappointed with the progress the Obama administration has made must come to terms with the fact that legislative change in America has always, and probably will always, occur over long periods of time.


Every step is essential and I will leave you with an example of just how piecemeal progress can be.  


Civil Rights legislation began, most would say, with the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments during reconstruction, continued with the 19th Amendment in 1920, Johnson’s Civil Rights Act in 1964, and has been augmented more recently with affirmative action legislation, and other legal measures that extended equal protections to marginalized groups (repealing don’t ask don’t tell, for example).  It has been almost one hundred and fifty years since that first step towards equal rights.  But do we condemn Lincoln for failing on the first try?  I won’t bother to answer my own question.


It is always right to want and to push for more and better reforms, but every liberal should understand the importance of protecting and building on the progress we have made.  It is my belief that the best way to do this is to ensure the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012.  It’s not about avoiding a disaster; it’s about recognizing a succe

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