If you're generally a fan of President Obama, you may be in for some rough Thanksgiving dinner conversation. After all, the president is very unpopular right now. He's spent most his second term juggling scandals, all of his reform bills have withered in Congress, and he's gotten suckered back into the Middle East. But if you do feel compelled to give in to that "screw it, let's talk about politics" feeling over the next few weeks, you should be prepared. Here's how to argue that Obama has been a good president.
Common Argument #1: Obama hasn’t created enough jobs.
Your Response: To speak of a president “creating jobs” suggests that the they can just wave a magic wand and make jobs materialize whenever they please. A lot more goes into job growth than just the president’s wishes. Legislation is one big factor, and it’s worth nothing that back in 2011, the House of Representatives didn’t even hold a vote on the jobs package that Obama proposed.
That being said, a net total of 5 million jobs have been added since Obama took office. That number includes first few months of his term, when none of his policies had yet been enacted and the economy was still losing almost a million jobs every month. That total is also over three times the number of jobs created under George W. Bush, and more than the total jobs created under either of the Bush presidents combined. The unemployment rate has fallen under Obama, from 7.8 percent in the first month of his presidency to 5.8 percent in October 2014.
Granted, Obama’s job growth does lag somewhat behind a few of his predecessors, most notably Bill Clinton, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. But he’s most certainly in the green, and considering the catastrophic economy he inherited, that’s something to be proud of.
Common Argument #2: Obama pulled troops out of Iraq. Now ISIS is taking over and Iraq is in chaos.
Your Response: That’s one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is that even after investing ten years, $800 billion and over 4,000 American lives, the US wasn’t able to fix Iraq’s problems. It’s almost as if the country has centuries-old sectarian divisions that can’t be solved with an American military invasion.
A case can certainly be made that Iraq is worse now than before the war. But Obama opposed the invasion from the get-go; if anything, that’s a knock on Bush, not Obama. In any event, the rise of ISIS in Iraq is ultimately rooted in the history of conflict between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims in the country, and that conflict predates Obama by about a thousand years. Blaming the president for that is absurd.
Common Argument #3: Obamacare! It’s unconstitutional and unpopular, but Obama rammed it through Congress anyway, and now it isn’t working.
Your Response: The suggestion that the ACA was “rammed through” Congress, or that it’s somehow undemocratic, has no bearing in reality. The bill was debated for over a year, far longer than most legislation. It was then passed by a majority in the (democratically-elected) House of Representatives. It was then passed with a supermajority in the (democratically-elected) US Senate. Its constitutionality was then upheld by the Supreme Court.
Is it working? Well, 10 million Americans who didn’t have health insurance before the law now do. That’s a 25% reduction in the national uninsured rate — a remarkable accomplishment. The law also eliminated copays for mammograms, cancer screenings and other preventative care, and banned insurance companies from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions.
The result of all this is that many millions of human beings have significantly better access to health services than they did since Obama took office. That's good thing.
Common Argument #4: Obama has made America less safe by failing to go after terrorists/trying accused terrorists in civilian courts/bowing to the Chinese president/etc. (Also known as the Dick Cheney argument)
Your Response: It’s hard to square this with the fact that there hasn’t been a single terrorist attack on US soil during Obama’s presidency. Obama also ended the war in Iraq and killed Osama bin Laden. In what quantifiable way has he made America less safe?
Common Argument #5: Obama said he would unite Democrats and Republicans, but the country is now as divided as ever.
Your response: That’s true, but it’s hard to argue that this is Obama’s fault. For one, he’s enacted plenty of Republican ideas, most notably the Affordable Care Act. The underlying framework of Obamacare was created by a conservative think tank in the 80s, promoted by Senate Republicans in the 1990s, and put into law by a Republican governor in the 2000s. For a Democratic president to adopt a Republican policy proposal as his signature legislation is hardly a divisive move. He’s done other GOP-friendly things as well, like send additional troops to Afghanistan, extend most of the Bush tax cuts, and sign a ton of spending cuts that he most definitely did not want to sign.
Republicans, on the other hand, pledged to full-heartedly oppose everything Obama did before he even took office. This has been well-documented, both by independent reporting and, occasionally, Republicans themselves. Here’s GOP leader Mitch McConnell explaining his party’s strategy during the health reform negotiations:
[T]he only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan. When you hang the ‘bipartisan’ tag on something, the perception is that differences have been worked out, and there’s a broad agreement that that’s the way forward.
McConnell also admitted in 2010 that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” So yes, the country is divided, but make no mistake: One party is responsible for that division, and it’s not Obama’s.
Common Argument #6: Obama’s executive order on immigration is flatly unlawful and unconstitutional. He’s acting like a king, not a president.
Your Response: That’s not the prevailing opinion from legal experts. The president — any president, not just Obama — has a wide range of discretion when it comes to enforcing laws, and that includes immigration policy. Here’s what ten legal scholars wrote in a letter to the White House:
Both the setting of removal priorities and the use of deferred action are well-established ways in which the executive has excessed discretion in using its removal authority. These means of exercising discretion in the immigration context have been used many times by the executive brand under Presidents of both parties, and Congress has explicitly and implicitly endorsed their use.
In truth, every president since 1956 has issued an executive order on immigration. If Obama is violating the constitution, so has every other president since Dwight Eisenhower.
Common Argument #7: Obama shouldn’t have worn that tan suit to that press conference.
Your Response: Fair point. It wasn't a good look.
Images: The White House, Getty Images