I doubt many would question my liberal credentials, probably best defined by epithets from those right of center who object to my writings and background. To them I am a liberal elitist, left-wing extremist, godless sinner and, one of my favorites, "nothing but an immoral pointy head atheist" who "hates America" among other transgressions. Fan mail at its best. A common technique to express disdain in letters to me is to put in quotes my qualifications as a "neurobiologist" and "senior White House Policy advisor" in the Clinton administration.
I wear with great pride this scorn from the right and consider the label of liberal a badge of honor. But during this election cycle, I find myself becoming increasingly annoyed with my left-leaning colleagues and friends. Many seem to have forgotten or wish to deny the deep truth that idealism is not a foundation for governance. This growing disconnect from reality manifests itself in expressing "disappointment" in President Obama and self-destructive vows to deny support to the Democratic nominee should it be Hillary for those feeling the Bern, or to a lesser extent should it be Bernie for Clinton supporters. For my fellow liberals still willing to read on, let's look at why we need to gain a little perspective.
By any objective measure, we are better off after nearly 8 years of Obama. He has made important progress in tackling issues of health care, crime, racism, immigration, environmental protection, energy, trade and national security. Of course more needs to be done, and he did not do all he wanted. That is the reality of democracy. But given what he inherited, and the opposition he faced, his accomplishments border on the miraculous. We now have the longest streak of job growth in history, adding 14.4 million private sector jobs over 73 straight months, with lower unemployment than under Ronald Reagan, about half of what he inherited from Bush. Obama has reduced the deficit by over $1 trillion. Even if you look at total debt, which obviously goes up because there is an annual deficit, Obama added less debt as a percent change in public debt than either George Bush, or that paragon of fiscal conservativism, Ronald Reagan. With Obamacare he brought the number of uninsured to below 10% for the first time in our history. He saved the auto industry, which sold 17 million cars in 2015, the most in our history. The stock market has soared to record heights during Obama's tenure, and gas prices are the cheapest in over a decade. Obama saved the housing industry from collapse, prevented the banking industry from imploding, and kept the stock market from sliding into depression-era territory. These are historic accomplishments.
In spite of early impatience in the LGBT community, Obama has done more to protect LGBT rights than any other president by repealing Don't Ask , Don't Tell, ending the legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), signing historic hate crime legislation, ensuring hospital visitation rights for LGBT patients and partners, expanding access to health care without worries of pre-existing conditions, ensuring equality for LGBT federal government employees, and taking steps to ensure LGBT equality in housing and crime prevention.
On foreign policy, the Nation rightly concludes that "Barak Obama is a Foreign Policy Grandmaster." He withdrew troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, decimated al-Qaeda, thwarted Iran's nuclear program, removed chemical weapons from Syria, toppled Gadhafi, halved the number of Russian and American nuclear missile launchers, redirected relationships with Cuba, improved ties with India, and signed a climate deal in which China for the first time agreed to participate meaningfully. Yes the world remains a dangerous place, ISIS coming to mind, and any foreign policy is open to legitimate criticism. Any decision on the world stage will have undesirable impacts, and these are naturally the focus of critics. But even the conservative Wall Street Journal says of Obama's foreign policy successes, "Give the president his due here." They add that "Mr. Obama has largely succeeded in what he set out to do." That conclusion is from a publication that is no friend to Obama.
What makes these accomplishments all the more remarkable is that Obama was working against an opposition openly committed to his failure, which is more or less unprecedented in its brazenness. Mitch McConnell said on October 23, 2010 that "my number one priority is making sure Obama's a one-term president." Not making America great, or preventing terrorist attacks, or helping the middle-class, or bringing home our troops - no, the Republican leader has one top goal - to deny Obama any success, at any cost to America. GOP leaders wish for Obama to fail more than they hope America will succeed. They are not alone, having plenty of rank and file support for this treasonous idea. Rush Limbaugh said simply, "I hope he fails." Rep. Michelle Bachmann said, "We're hoping that President Obama's policies don't succeed."
In evaluating Obama's tenure forget not either that the right has painted all that is bad as Obama's fault and denied him credit for anything good. Two glaring examples prove he faces a degree of hypocrisy and cynicism that have taken our national politics into uncharted waters of hatefulness.
When gas prices were rising rapidly, the right was quick to point fingers at Obama, placing blame for the high costs squarely at his door. Rick Santorum said that Democrats "want higher energy prices." On that basis he opined that, "We need a president who is on the side of affordable energy." Hmmm; wouldn't that be Obama? Paul Ryan said, "What's frustrating about the Obama administration's policies are they've gone to great lengths to make oil and gas more expensive." Similar statements were made by Mitt Romney, John Boehner, and a number of Representatives and Senators. Right wing media amplified this echo chamber with Rush Limbaugh asking, "Will the media ignoring the rise in gas prices be able to keep that from becoming a major factor in people's minds over the economy and Obama's role in it?" Isn't he the media? And what major newspaper did not talk about high gas prices? The National Review piped in with the conclusion that "Obama Policies to Blame for High Energy Prices."
None of the above has issued an apology, noting that energy prices have declined under Obama. Remember the accusation was that Obama sought higher prices as a deliberate policy. But we have seen no retraction of that absurd claim: now that we have low prices, Obama's policies are not responsible and nobody mentions his policy of seeking higher prices; no, low prices are due to "oil industry ingenuity." Obama to blame for high prices; Obama has nothing to do with low prices. Costs up, Obama bad; prices down, oil industry smart, with past accusations conveniently forgotten. I wonder how these people sleep at night.
The GOP take on the stock market is even more remarkable than with gas prices, taking hypocrisy to truly new extremes. The DJIA was at 3310 on Bill Clinton's first inaugural day. The market was 6813 when he was next inaugurated. At the end of Clinton's second term, on the day Bush took office, the DJIA was at 10,578; that is the market Bush inherited from Clinton. When Bush left the Oval Office on January 20, 2009, the Dow was at 7,949, a decline of 25% over the eight years Bush was president. By March the DJIA had completed its tumble to bottom out with a 12-year low at just over 6500. Republicans blamed Obama for the continuing decline from 7,900 to 6,500 during his first month in office, but not Bush for the loss from 10,600 to 7,900 in eight years as president. Here is just one example:
Wall Street Journal (March 6): "Obama's Radicalism is Killing the Dow." Author Michael Boskin prognosticated that, "It's hard not to see the continued sell-off on Wall Street and the growing fear on Main Street as a product, at least in part, of the realization that our new president's policies are designed to radically re-engineer the market-based U.S. economy, not just mitigate the recession and financial crisis."
Perhaps most astonishing of all, John Tanny of Real Clear Markets, wrote on November 25, 2008, an article entitled, "This Is Obama's Market, Good and Bad." Obama was not yet president! That did not stop Tanny from writing that, "Lacking clarity, investors can only guess about what's ahead based on Obama's decidedly anti-business rhetoric used during the campaign. Whatever direction he takes, it should be clear that today's stock market is the Obama stock market, so it's up to him to decide its basic direction." Even though Obama was not yet president. So a declining market was Obama's fault even before he took office; but after nearly 8 years in office, we hear...nothing. Where is the talk about Obama's radicalism killing the Dow because he was re-engineering our economy? When the DJIA hit 17,000, did you hear conservatives say "this is Obama's market"? Nothing? Cat got their tongue?
We see this same extraordinary double standard and outrageous hypocrisy with Obamacare, unemployment, national security, and in fact in every area where Obama has had success. When unemployment was 10%, Obama's fault; when 5%, the number is meaningless.
I ask my liberal colleagues to think about this sick, irrational and polarized environment in which Obama must operate when evaluating his amazing accomplishments before becoming "disappointed" with him. He should be evaluated against the possible, not the unachievable ideal. In a perfect world, of course we would like him to have done more. Climate change is a good example. He made extraordinary and unprecedented progress on climate change, but only relative to the limits of international recalcitrance and a wall of opposition in the House and Senate at home. I wish he had done more; but also recognize real world constraints. I just wish my fellow liberals would do the same. We have no reasonable justification to be disappointed with Obama; but plenty of reasons to rejoice in his extraordinary accomplishments. Leave the negative hand-wringing to right wing extremists who simply cannot admit that Obama has been successful.
Bernie and Hillary
Nothing saddens me more than the rift within our liberal ranks caused by passionate support for one of these two great candidates. Let's have the debate; let's have the candidates give us their best. Let us each vigorously support the candidate of our choice. But once the nominee has been selected it is insane to withdraw support if the choice is not your man or woman. Too much is at stake for you to take your marbles and go home because you did not get all you wanted. Once the Democrats have chosen the Party candidate, your choice is no longer between Hillary and Bernie; but between one of those and Cruz or Trump (or whoever the GOP freak show eventually selects). Nobody other than a patient in a padded cell and helmet could possibly say that there is no difference between the Democrats and Republicans. Ralph Nader once made that claim and gave us the nightmare of George Bush. Even with Gore's anemic campaign and loss of his home state, Gore would have been the clear winner absent Nader's siphoning; let us not repeat that historic mistake. The distinction between left and right has never been greater, never starker, never more important.
Celebrities like Susan Sarandon do us no favors by being coy about supporting Hillary if Clinton gets the nomination. I admire Sarandon's dedication to Bernie and to his ideals, and am happy to see her fight for him to win. But we become as nuts as the other side when we withdraw support from either Bernie or Hillary because one side or the other is "very passionate and principled" as Sarandon said of Bernie supporters. Whoever wins the nomination deserves our full backing, no matter who we previously supported in the primaries. We only provoke the crazies by suggesting that only one of our liberal candidates is worthy of fighting the insanity of the right. Withdrawing support for the Democratic nominee, be it Bernie or Hillary, is not an option because not voting is no different than pulling the lever for Trump or Cruz or whatever swamp creature emerges from the GOP morass - and that is political suicide for our country. So fellow liberals, stop moaning about Obama and be grateful for his courage, fortitude, political acumen and steadfast focus on the long game; he achieved the near impossible. And we must stop this ridiculous and I must say childish rant that we won't support the Democratic nominee if he or she is not our first choice. Let idealism guide your heart and realism guide your vote.