December 18, 2011

A President With Great Promise or Just Another Politician? Let’s Look at the Record

by Hal Gershowitz

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With the GOP debates mercifully coming to an end, the nation is getting ready for the 2012 elections starting with the Iowa caucuses in January.  At this point, President Obama appears likely to face Mitt Romney (seemingly no one’s first choice within his own party), former Speaker Newt Gingrich who miraculously resurrected his once moribund campaign or Ron Paul whose libertarian views we highlighted in a prior essay.

Has either party been faithful to a consistent set of principles?  The Republicans frontrunners have fallen all over themselves in internecine warfare accusing each other (not without good reason) of flip‑flopping.  Meanwhile the President has escaped the spotlight on the issue of his own constancy of principle.  In point of fact, as the incumbent, he should be closely monitored on this subject since his principles can translate quickly into active government policy.

The criteria used for making appointments to Administration jobs might be a pretty good measure of presidential principle.  Given that Congress is totally dysfunctional, and that the single-digit approval rating our federal legislature has earned from the American people is overly generous, we might have expected the President to be particularly judicious in his appointments to the various executive branch positions that wield such influence in both domestic and foreign affairs.

While it is not unusual for Presidents to reward campaign donors with prestigious federal appointments, many Obama supporters expected better of this President. They were confident that Obama would be as repulsed as they were by the approximately 200 federal appointments of donors and bundlers Bush had made during his eight years in office. Not so.

According to I-Watch, the on-line publication of the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity, President Obama had, at the mid point of his first term, matched Bush’s eight-year record of doling out Administration jobs to donors and bundlers. Overall, 184 of 556, or about one-third of Obama bundlers or their spouses joined the administration in some role. But the percentages are much higher for the big-dollar bundlers. Nearly 80 percent of those who collected more than $500,000 for Obama took “key administration posts,” as defined by the White House. More than half the 24 ambassador nominees who were bundlers raised $500,000.

The big bundlers had broad access to the White House.  In all, during Obama’s first two years in office, campaign bundlers and their family members account for more than 3,000 White House meetings and visits. Half of them raised $200,000 or more.

Bundlers often have ties to companies that stand to gain financially from the president’s policy agenda, particularly in clean energy and telecommunications.  For example, Level 3 Communications quickly snared $13.8 million in stimulus money.

Two of the President’s top appointees found themselves at loggerheads just two weeks ago when Obama appointee, FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg was over-ruled by Obama appointed HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius.  Commissioner Hamburg approved, following two years of scientific study, making the Plan B One-Step pill available to all females of childbearing age without a prescription. Not so fast, said Secretary Sibelius to the delight of the pro-life movement.  So here we have a faceoff between two top Obama appointees, one taking a position strongly endorsed by the liberal pro-choice community, and the other exercising her veto power to over rule FDA Commissioner Hamburg, to the cheers of the conservative pro-life community. While we understand and are sympathetic to Secretary Sibelius’s position given that about 10% of girls are subject to pregnancy at age eleven, the President’s strongly stated approval of his HHS Secretary’s veto serves to temper his heretofore pro-choice image as the 2012 presidential campaign gets underway. Pro-choice women’s groups were steaming mad.

“We expected this kind of action from the Bush administration, so it’s doubly disheartening and unacceptable that this administration chose to follow this path,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “We had a major opportunity to improve young women’s access to contraception, which is the best way to reduce the need for abortion, and the Obama administration missed the mark.”

Another example, perhaps the most hideous of them all, was the outright extortion of Boeing to restrict it from what should be its right to move some of its production to a right-to- work state.  The Wall Street Journal in its December 7th editorial put it quite succinctly:

“The damage here goes well beyond Boeing, which presumably understands the tradeoffs.  The NLRB is exposed as one more federal agency that can’t be trusted to make honest decisions.  The ability of the 21-right‑to‑work states, which passed such laws under the 1947 Taft‑Hartley Act, to attract businesses from pro‑union states will also be eroded.  The AFL‑CIO may cheer that message, but in practice the result is likely to be that more companies simply send jobs overseas where there’s no NLRB.  Congratulations.”

Even the National Park Service seems to have been enlisted in the president’s desire to play both sides of every controversy. When the police in most major US cities finally concluded, “enough is enough” and moved in to halt what was becoming a public health problem, Mayor Vincent Gray had local Washington, DC police evict “protestors” across from the District Building (city hall).

Lo and behold the next day, the protesters reappeared at, among other places, “Farragut Square” two blocks from the White House, having erected tents (which were almost completely unoccupied). The explanation given to city officials by the National Park Service was that this was federal land, which the city does not control. Several city council members do not believe that explanation and it is difficult for us to accept the explanation that the Park Service wasn’t co-opted for political purposes.

Interestingly the President has been on a campaign swing, which the White House has billed as an attempt to explain his jobs plan.  This bus tour is taking place in battleground southern states.  Apparently people in non‑battleground states don’t need Mr. Obama’s explanation.  We know that incumbents have the advantage of a bully pulpit, but traditionally it isn’t used solely to advance reelection prospects.

Policies that could not pass Congress have been enacted through expansion of the powers of several agencies.  The EPA, the NLRB, the FCC, and the FDA are all usurping the authority of the national legislature in unprecedented power grabs.

Mr. Obama in an effort to find a long‑term resolution to our ballooning debt appointed a bi‑partisan commission headed by former Senator Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles.  The commission recommended a strong pro-growth plan, which included increased tax revenue and spending cuts.  Mr. Obama reviewed the report and never mentioned it again.

The whole tone of this peculiar election year and Mr. Obama’s behavior is best described in Dan Henninger’s December 8th Wall Street Journal column.  He notes that the press described Mr. Obama’s speech in Osawatomie Kansas as “delivered by the President of the United States, but the person really delivering it was actually the [head of the] Democratic Party.”  Mr. Henninger also noted that:

The Osawatomie speech sounded like what you’d expect to hear in Caracas or Buenos Aires.  As in:  “The free market has never been a license to take whatever you can from whomever you can.

It is quite sad that our first African American leader, the man who hopefully would make race irrelevant in selecting our president, so personally appealing and so promising to many, who was going to bring us together once he took the reins of power, has proven to be just another ordinary politician.

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3 responses to “A President With Great Promise or Just Another Politician? Let’s Look at the Record”

  1. Mark J Levick says:

    Obama is no ordinary politician. He’ s an extraordinary politician who has been able to remain likable despite overt arrogance, credible despite manifest ineptitude, a man of the people while living like a potentate, honest while reneging on his promises of transparency, tough on terror while leading from behind, prudent while throwing money around like a drunken sailor and victimized by his predessor’s failures while doing little to correct them. He’s never governed but campaigns so wbrilliantly that he’s likely to continue this act for four more years.

  2. Peggy Jacobs says:

    How naive I must have sounded as I championed Obama. Today those dreams have become nightmares. Sadly you are right.. I am chagrined.

  3. Dan Newell says:

    Your comments about poor and unjust (immoral?) acts of our current elected politicians and appointed officials reminds me of the book review I recently heard. Peter Schweizer’s book “Throw Them All Out” claims that it is legal for a Congressperson to use insider information to line their pockets – like using a committee decision to buy stocks or options in advance of a congressional ruling that favors a particular corporation.

    What am I missing here? We all know that such a thing is illegal for corporations and Wall Streeters in general. It is also illegal for an athlete to bet on the outcome of a game in which he plays. I wonder if our politicians are part of the 1% that the Occupyers feel so distanced from.


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