Five things Obama got right in his first term
Published: Sunday, October 28, 2012
Updated: Sunday, October 28, 2012 21:10
For all his faults, President Obama got some things right over the last four years. Today, a week before Election Day, let us look back at five.
Passing the New START Treaty. This treaty with Russia, brokered in part by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was a joint agreement to reduce each nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile by a third. Considering the U.S. and Russia together own and control approximately 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons – a leftover from decades of arsenal buildup during the Cold War – the importance of this treaty cannot be overstated. True, it did not eliminate all nuclear weapons. But by reducing the total number in existence without decreasing our military response capacities, it significantly lessened the possibility of accidental detonation or weapons falling into the hands of rogue actors or terrorist groups. Obama, who received the Nobel Peace Prize the year before the Treaty, arguably deserves the prize more for this than anything else during his presidency.
Mandating increased fuel efficiency on new automobiles. Under an Obama administration directive, carried out by the Department of Transportation and approved by the President, vehicles must increase fuel efficiency to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016 and 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. These rules are critical to the environment and the climate crisis, as fuel exhaust is one of the primary contributors to rising temperatures. (These rules draw a particularly sharp contrast considering the near-unanimity among Republicans denying that human-caused global warming even exists.) To those who counter that such mandates are another example of big intrusive government involving itself in private business: 13 automakers – including American companies Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors – voluntarily accepted and agreed to the rules after negotiations with the administration about the language of the mandates.
Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Under this policy, in place for years, open homosexuals were not allowed to serve in the military. The punishment if you were “caught” was expulsion from the service. As a result, thousands of patriotic Americans were unnecessarily kicked out. Just as importantly, the rules were simply unfair and unreflective of the supposedly-American ideal that “all men are created equal.” Obama, including help from his Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, helped convince Congress to repeal the restrictive law once and for all. The pre-repeal fears from conservatives that this would lead to the downfall of our once-great military proved not to be true. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, who both opposed the repeal in the months leading up the vote, have both separately stated that if elected they will not reinstate “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” This coming from the Republican candidates whose campaign mostly consists of wanting to reverse everything Obama has done, yet even they recognize this was good for the country and the military. (After the fact, of course.)
Preventing an ultra-conservative Supreme Court. Obama has appointed two Supreme Court justices during his first term, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. These two justices both more or less reflect the ideology and jurisprudence of the two justices they replaced, keeping the overall ideology of the Court approximately the same as before Obama took office. In a way, this entry is more Obama “playing defense” than “playing offense,” but it deserves inclusion regardless, because of what the alternative would have entailed. The Court currently has four arch-conservative justices (if you discount John Roberts’ liberal “Obamacare” ruling), and many legal analysts predict that if the bench had a fifth reliably conservative justice, it would be the most conservative Supreme Court in the last 50 years. Don’t forget: a nine-person Court requires five justices to make law. It’s not so much that Sotomayor and Kagan are amazing – it’s more that the nominees under a hypothetical McCain or Romney presidency would likely be terrifying. And Obama prevented that from occurring.
Killing Osama bin Laden. Remember this one? The mastermind behind the deadliest terrorist attack in world history and the cause of death for thousands of innocent Americans finally met his fate. After a few years post-9/11 in which bin Laden had not been captured or killed, most of us seemed resigned to the likelihood that such an outcome would never occur. By pursuing him to the end, without losing the lives of any U.S. forces during the actual raid, Obama delivered justice to the number one person on America’s most wanted list since 1999. Sarah Palin, in a widely-publicized speech the next day, thanked President Bush for bin Laden’s killing but not President Obama. The guy gets no respect.