A few years ago my wife and I went on a river cruise on the Danube in Europe. The cruise was English speaking so the passengers included people from around the English speaking world: Americans, Canadians, British, Australians and a New Zealander. We'd sit with a different group of people throughout the week at each meal and had some of the most interesting conversations I have ever had. We met a Kiwi widow, an Aussie Episcopalian minister, and an Aussie artist among others. I wasn't expecting to enjoy the cruising portion of our cruise. I was expecting the day trips into Prague, Nuremberg and Vienna etc. to be exciting and the highlights of the trip, but I had no idea how much fun the meals were going to be. The bottomless glasses of wine certainly helped.
This was during the end of George W. Bush administration. I don't think I heard one positive thing from a single non-US citizen about him on that trip. Genuine distaste was the prevailing impression you got whenever the subject came up. The words "buffoon," "privileged," and even "retarded cowboy" were used. My usually response was, "I voted for Gore." Much of the political talk was about Hillary Clinton and whether we thought she would win. At the time it seemed she was going to, but I remember telling some folks about a Senator from Illinois called Barack Obama. I got some blank stares. At the time he was a long shot and his name was out of the ordinary. I must have sounded like a weirdo.
I have to say that I was fairly excited about Obama when he first came on the scene. He had the right message at the right time, but I was not a Pollyannaish about him. I didn't think he'd become president and change everything overnight. In the US the head of our executive branch doesn't have a lot of power. The presidency has gained a lot of power over the years, but still limited. Because of that, change comes in increments, for the most part, this is a good thing. Presidents also have little control over the economy. I wish people would stop blaming him for the bad economy. Clinton didn't deserve praise for our booming economy, Bush didn't deserve blame for our crashing economy and Obama shouldn't get grief for its slow recovery.
I am closer to 50 years of age than I'd like to acknowledge. When you get older your political views sharpen. The broad all reaching idealism of my youth has died. I expect so little of my federal government that I have become a one issue voter. Yet my one issue, the environment, is broad. Environmentalism crosses-over a lot of other parts of our government: education, energy, health care, housing and labor. Government is not the solution to everything, obviously, but the environment is one of those issues where the Federal Government is perfectly suited to resolve. In a two party system, when I have to pick one party over another, the choice is obvious. The Democrats are not perfect on this issue, but certainly win out over Republicans ... no contest. It is difficult even to find a Republican who will even acknowledge that global climate change is being caused by humans, never mind to expect one to find creative solutions.
Before I start complaining about Obama, let me at least talk about his successes. The big success of this presidency is Obamacare (really called The Affordable Health Care for America Act). He spent much of political capital on this very early in his administration. Most presidents, since Nixon, have tried to do something about our screwed up health care system. He is the first to make any progress. For those of you who say that the President should have tackled the economy before health care, you are wrong for three reasons. (1) The first reason is what I already stated, presidents have little affect on the economy. They can help it a little, they can hurt it a little ... but little is the key word here. (2) The second reason is that he had to tackle health care early because he had a Congress that was basically in his favor. Historically, mid-term elections usually work against the incumbent President. Considering how hostile and obstructionist the Republican party is, it is very impressive that he passed anything. (3) Health care is an economic issue. A huge chunk of our economy is related to health care. It affects everyone. As a health care professional, I know how much money health care providers write-off because of the uninsured. Also, you just have to visit an emergency room to see our health care problem in action. People without insurance, those who cannot afford it, know that they will not be turned away from the emergency room. So our ERs are full of people who don't have emergencies or if they had insurance, would have went to see a doctor before they had the emergency. If you don't like paying for other people's health problems, well I got news for you, before Obamacare, you were already paying for them. You were paying for them when the Federal and/or State government bail out of a failing hospital with your tax money and you were paying for them with higher and higher insurance premiums. Obamacare is not perfect, but it would have been closer to perfect if we didn't have one political party obstructing progress.
Obama has had some other successes that I am happy about. He opposed the Tar Sands Pipeline, signed the Lilly Ledbetter law, ended the war in Iraq and has approved of gay marriage. But overall, his administration has been a disappointment. I despised the Bush administration. Obama's administration has been too much like Bush for me to stomach. Like Bush his stimulus package contained too many tax cuts, and we're still in Afghanistan. Obama campaigned on openness but his administration is probably the most secret administration since Nixon. He has the infamous "kill list" which is not only unlawful and immoral but sets an awful precedent for the future. He has not revisited the Patriot Act and hasn't closed Guantánamo . All this being said, I'll be voting for him, but I won't be writing him a check like I did last time. Romney doesn't seem that bad of a guy but the planet can't survive with another Republican in the White House. It doesn't matter what he believes, he has already made it clear that he will cow-tow to the crazy far right wing of his party and nowadays that is most of the GOP. If Romney gets elected we're all screwed.