None of Barack Obama’s predecessors ever began his first year in office with his country, indeed the world, mired in an economic meltdown of unprecedented magnitude (with asset loses far greater than those seen during the Great Depression) and not only that, accompanied by not one but two major wars involving hundreds of thousands of U.S. forces in both theaters. To these burdens, add the inheritance of the first trillion dollar plus annual budget deficit, frozen credit markets, record home foreclosures, and a badly tarnished American reputation abroad.
As we come to the end of Barack Obama’s first year in office and the staggering challenges he has confronted (virtually all successfully) however, we find half the American public displaying, at an unprecedented level, the short attention span that is a uniquely American trait. It is the Rip Van Winkle syndrome in the extreme.
Millions of Americans awoke in the summer of 2009 (apparently after sleeping through the many catastrophic events of the winter) to the anti-Obama chants of tea party extremists and right-wing radio and television hosts practicing their tedious demagoguery. Republicans on Capitol Hill were doing their best impressions of Joe McCarthy, Father Coughlin and Jesse Helms, and moneyed special interests (banks and big corporations especially) at full whine.
Yet among this crowd of whimpering, hand-ringing, self-righteous wimps blasting the president in the summer of 2009 were many of the very people who went to President Obama during the winter begging him to bail out mega banks on the verge of implosion. These folks included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Bankers Association, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America and their various Republican supporters on the Hill.
Now, one year later many of these same folks are among President Obama’s detractors today. But they were the same people who insisted, in the winter of 2009, that the president stem the mounting home foreclosure nightmare (virtually every GOP and Democratic member in the House and Senate begged him to do that), by pledging trillions in taxpayer guarantees for Fannie and Freddie. The Chamber of Commerce, (they were especially whiny in the winter and obnoxious in the summer and fall) and the United Auto Workers Union demanded that the government intervene to save the mismanaged GM and Chrysler auto behemoths.
And of course, every interest group, union, business association and elected representative begged President Obama to get the economy moving again and put people back to work. This was a bipartisan demand that included both parties on Capitol Hill, the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL/CIO, minority groups, majority groups, right-wingers and left-wingers. President Obama and the Democratic Congressional leadership acted swiftly and by the end of February passed the largest ($787 billion) stimulus bill in the nation’s history.
Passage of the stimulus required political courage since the price tag would add to an already staggering national debt accumulated by the Bush administration over the past decade. In the Senate, every Democrat and three lonely Republican Senators voted for the stimulus. In the House the vast majority of Democrats voted for the bill, not ONE SINGLE REPUBLICAN supported the stimulus.
Funny how those Republican opponents of the stimulus plan reacted when projects from the plan were begun in their states or districts. The same gutless Republicans who voted against the stimulus package rushed before local cameras to take credit for delivering the federal money. – That’s real courage right there.
Then there was health care reform. For a hundred years the insurance companies profited mightily from predatory and discriminatory health practices by denying coverage to those with preexisting conditions, dropping people from their insurance when they became acutely ill, not to mention 40 million Americans (not illegal immigrants) who had no health care at all. President Obama and Congressional Democrats acted again and, until the Massachusetts special election, were on the verge of final passage of the most extensive overhaul of our health care system ever. ONCE AGAIN, WITHOUT A SINGLE REPUBLICAN VOTE.
Lost amid the sound of misguided discontent fomented by the right wing were the other significant legislative accomplishments of the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats. We’ve seen new laws to protect consumers against credit card company abuses that have cost consumers billions of dollars in the past; we’ve seen new laws protecting women in the workplace; extension of health care coverage for millions of poor children, and much, much more.
So for those of you in the Rip Van Winkle family who apparently (or conveniently) forgot the horrors confronting President Obama when he took office and have listened to the right wing propagandists at their full throated worst last summer and fall I offer you an observation:
When historians, years from now, look back on the first year of the Obama administration they will report he brought the U.S. and the world economy back from the brink of another Great Depression. He began the end of one war and took the fight to the terrorists at unprecedented levels in the other. He worked to reform a dysfunctional health care system, and he protected consumers in myriad ways. In short, I believe historians will record Mr. Obama as among the most consequential presidents of the past 100 years.
Bob Beckel is a Democratic political analyst and Fox News contributor.