Monday, July 20, 2009

President Barack Obama at Six Months: A Jeffersonian Perspective

Today marks six months since Barack Obama took the oath of office as President of the United States. It certainly has been an eventful half-year, although opinions of President Obama's performance are largely dependent upon the party affiliation of the person venturing the opinion. Democrats are likely to declare Obama the greatest President in the history of the United States, while Republicans are equally likely to condemn him as the Antichrist.

But how does Obama stand up to an analysis from a 21st Century Jeffersonian perspective? His record is decidedly mixed. He has done some excellent things, but he has also made serious mistakes.

Let's list a few of the positive actions of the Obama Presidency first.
  1. President Obama, on his very first day in office, issued an executive order prohibiting American agents from engaging in torture. Americans should be shocked and dismayed that our government ever acted in such a dishonorable and barbaric manner, which is unworthy of a civilized nation. President Obama's decision helps to correct a great wrong.
  2. President Obama has done a lot to rebuild American credibility in terms of its foreign relations. By dropping the unwise and unethical notion of unilateralism, President Obama has begun to restore the moral authority America once held throughout the world and, by so doing, greatly improved our strategic security situation.
  3. President Obama has dropped the use of such nonsensical terms as "War on Terror". Rationally-speaking, one cannot wage war against an abstract noun, and the use of such terminology only muddles the situation and implies the Orwellian specter of a never-ending conflict. Unlike his predecessor, President Obama seems to clearly understand that the effort to defeat Al-Qaeda should never be used to further domestic partisan political goals.
  4. President Obama has made an admirable effort to work with Republicans, only to be rebuffed. Rather than take the seat at the table that President Obama offered them, the Republicans have become the "Party of No." They are not acting like a responsible opposition party, but rather like petulant children.
  5. President Obama downplayed the so-called National Day of Prayer, signing the proclamation but declining to have a formal service. While it would have been better for him to ignore the event altogether, the downplaying of it is an important step.
  6. President Obama has begun the process of drawing down our forces in Iraq and shifted our military focus toward the more important campaign in Afghanistan.
So, in many ways, President Obama has acted in a manner that 21st Century Jeffersonians should approve. But that's far from the whole story, as President Obama has also done many things of which we must disapprove.
  1. President Obama has ballooned the size of the federal budget deficit, and therefore the national debt, in a massive spending package the likes of which America has never seen. President Obama inherited an already disastrous fiscal situation, but his policies have made it much worse.
  2. President Obama has further undermined federalism by consolidating more power to the federal government, including unprecedented interventions in the national auto industry.
  3. President Obama has broken a campaign promise to always allow a five day period of public comment before signing non-emergency bills sent to him by Congress.
  4. President Obama has, despite promises to stand up to Congress on pork barrel spending, signed into a law a budget and stimulus package that were both jam-packed with congressional earmarks.
There is one final problem with President Obama from a Jeffersonian perspective. It lies not with the man himself, but rather with his most zealous supporters. Any elected official, from dog-catcher to President of the United States, is simply a public servant, yet many of Obama's supporters seem to consider him as some sort of man of destiny- a quintessential leader on a white horse. This form of hero-worship is extremely dangerous when it is directed towards political figures. The long story of human political history, from the age of the Roman Republic down to our own time, teaches the lesson that no one individual should be the deposit of all of society's hopes.

(Note: the preceding paragraph also applies to a large number of Republican supporters of Sarah Palin.)

21st Century Jeffersonian should give President Obama a lot of credit for the good he has done, but should also be concerned at many of his other actions. As good citizens, we must maintain a careful vigilance as we observe his policies, to support him in those with which we agree and oppose him on those with which we disagree.

Most importantly, though, we need to step back and look at the whole picture from a rational perspective, and not succumb to the partisan trap in which Democrats claim Obama is a messiah and in which Republicans claim he is the devil. These false caricatures serve no purpose and only cloud the real issues.

1 comment:

Three said...

I agree that false caricatures serve no purpose. What is valuable, however, is to look at what a man has said and done in the past. There is no doubt, at least in my mind, that Barack Obama sides with Alexander Hamilton in his view of government's role in our society. His actions so far, outlined in your article, as well as his proposals for future actions clearly show his vision of a much more powerful central government. He has also show the typical politician's disregard for campaign promises. We all hoped for a change. I predict that 21st Century Jeffersonians will have an increasingly difficult time supporting Mr. Obama.