Of all the traditions followed by the Washington, D.C. press corps during the start of a new president’s time in office, none is more insidious than “The First 100 Days.” There’s an expectation that what the leader of the free world does during that time will define his presidency for good or ill; with this prefab narrative in place, the fourth estate is all too happy to report events within that framework. And while it feels nice to think something as enormous and impactful as the American presidency can be so easily defined, it simply isn’t true. A vastly more accurate portrait can be drawn a few years in, when the hype has died down, victories have emboldened and losses left their sting, and the everyday business of keeping a country of over 300 million running and safe is a weight upon his shoulders.
Since I decided to end Re:Generator, the question of Barack Obama has been foremost on my mind. While we never limited ourselves to politics alone, a great swath of our content has been political in nature. In the 2008 election cycle, Re:Generator tended to have a pro-Obama bias, although cast through the lens of deep political cynicism (Perhaps a better way of putting it is we were even more cynical about Hillary Clinton than we were about Obama, and our cynicism extended further still when it came to the Republican field of candidates.). Before we recede into shadows, I feel it would behoove us to revisit our expectations around him, as well as charting the highs and lows of his actions so far. When I told a friend about my plans, he posed a question he thought deserved answering: Is Obama as bad – or worse – than George W. Bush, considering many of his actions echo his predecessor’s? It’s a controversial question to ask, but we’ve never shied away from controversy. I intend to give my friend his answer. And so it is we take a steely look at the first two-and-a-half years of the 44th president of the United States…
PART TWO: NO, HE DIDN’T
In part one, I revisited my cautious hopes and dreams for the Obama administration, which they exceeded beyond my wildest imaginings – if the phrase “exceeded beyond my wildest imaginings” now means “failed to deliver on many of their campaign promises, and went about things the wrong way much of the time.” In The first two-and-a-half years‘ riveting conclusion, I turn my eye to the specifics of Obama’s record. What has he done? What hasn’t he done? And what does it all mean?
Every president has their apologists and hero worshippers, those for whom their Commander-in-Chief was lovingly sent to earth by God Almighty, His every word and deed a thing of divine grace. If Dear Leader, in His infinite wisdom, did do wrong, it wasn’t His fault. They accentuate the positive and downplay the negative, write glowing biographies and publish websites with ironic titles like What The Fuck Has Obama Done So Far? No apologist is completely off the mark – unless a president spends every moment of his working day pillaging, murdering, consorting with demons and eating human flesh, a good deed here or there is bound to come out of the White House.
In that vein, Barack Obama reversed the global gag rule on foreign family planning services that made US aid contingent on their avoidance of offering or even talking about abortion. In a further show of respect for science and medicine, he repealed the ban on federal funding of stem cell research put in place during the Bush era. The Obama’s have advocated for healthy eating while avoiding the self-righteousness that can turn some Americans off to the message. Under Obama, the FDA has finally been allowed to regulate tobacco; not take it out of smokers hands, as the hysterics would bleat, but to prevent minors from ever getting hooked in the first place.
B-Rock is obsessed with keeping most of us alive, it seems. With his eye to the long term, he negotiated the New START treaty with Russia’s Dmitri Medvedev to reduce the nuclear arsenals of both countries, cutting the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers by half, and establishing a new inspection and verification regime. There’s still a long way to go before the two countries’ stockpiles have been abolished, but some action on this front is better than none, and extends the spirit of “trust but verify” cooperation initiated by president Reagan in the 1980s. Obama has improved veteran services, expanded the children’s health insurance program significantly, and gave the country a small taste of health care reform (but more on that later).