Barack Obama: A Qualified Wild Duck Endorsement

Check out this February Sequestration update:
Let it occur. But shift tough decisions to Obama

It is with mixed feelings that Wild Ducks endorse Barack Obama for a second term as US president. Here is our armchair analysis of his good points, bad points and a few that are not-too-good/not-too-bad or unclear…

The Good

  • Character: Barack Obama is an ethical man. He is honest, trustworthy and cares about protecting the vulnerable. Despite his ascent into the upper class, he is class-agnostic; a rare quality in politics. “Character Counts”, a catch phrase of past elections, is often twisted by the far right. But as sentiments go, it fits.
  • Pro Choice: No matter how divisive the issue, reproductive decisions should never be fettered by legislation. It is not a communal issue. It is private & personal. Obama understands this.
  • Gay & Lesbian Rights: Barack Obama is the first president willing to recognize the rights of homosexuals (supporting the right to marry, repealing Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell). Sexual orientation is not a conscious choice. Gay citizens are what they are. Even if it involved choice, it is clearly a personal issue and should not be the target of statutory discrimination. We must get past a tendency to project moral and religious beliefs upon our neighbors. Obama has set a new course for tolerance and acceptance in all sectors of society and at great personal risk.
  • Human Rights: Obama falls on the side of human rights and dignity, even when it is difficult (torture, sweatshops, prison labor, etc.)
  • Mixing religion into affairs of state: Obama understands that governments should be agnostic.
  • Consistency: In this area, Obama presents a clear contrast to Mitt Romney.
  • Health / Obamacare: I have never delighted in socializing any aspect of the economy, nor forcing Americans to purchase anything. Let’s face it: Forced health premiums are a tax, no matter how you sugar coat it. But with this life & death issue, I don’t see how we can avoid socialized health care. It works in Massachusetts and it is preposterous that Romney now distances himself from that program.
  • Military: Obama strives for peace, but uses force where necessary. He has not failed us.
  • Military: Obama understands that it cannot be viewed as the driving sector for the entire economy. Romney wants too much military. And he cloaks it with the unfounded fear of a weak America.
  • Environment: Despite assurances that the US will source more oil & coal, Obama certainly understands global warming, erosion, and pollution better than Mitt Romney.
  • Risk: Obama has never been risk averse. (Possible exception: His failure to stand up to teachers unions). He faced great risk taking on the economic stimulus, gay marriage and health care despite the potential for popular backlash.
  • US Stature: I vehemently disagree with Romney’s characterization of Obama’s “Apology Tour”. Obama wasn’t apologizing. He addresses the very accurate perception that America is arrogant and tends to use military might to unilaterally push economic or social policy abroad. He has not yet had much success in this area. But I give him points for moving in this direction.
  • He is as American as apple pie: Donald Trump is downright daffy.  [Scroll down]…

On Donald Trump: “This all dates back to when we were growing up together in Kenya.”

The Bad & The Questionable

Barack Obama has established trust and executive credibility beyond doubt. But, with four years to demonstrate progress and competence, he has been weak in two critical areas: Domestic economy and improved employment. A president wields significant influence regarding the role of government in free markets. As unemployment barely falls back to the same 7.9% of his first-term oath, one wonders if Obama could not have pulled harder to get a rabbit out of the hat. He has failed to show aggressive action on the real, underlying engine of a robust economy: private sector jobs and exports.

Moreover, Wild Ducks disagree with the fundamental basis of his economic doctrine:

  • Government’s role in capital markets: Obama tries to pick winning technologies for public investment and he propped up auto manufacturers and banks. Although some of these ‘bets’ may have paid off, it is not clear that the US economy would have been worse in the absence of direct intervention.
  • Taxes: Obama has acquired a reputation for being a socialist. It is not an unfair label. Wild Ducks are concerned that Obama exhibits a lack of capitalistic perspective. Most citizens accept the obligation of a public safety net for those who are out of a job, out of luck or desperate. It’s one thing to use public funds, but it’s another thing, altogether, to tax disproportionately. He disparages those who build businesses and as a result achieve wealth. He has a penchant to use taxes for redistribution and to tinker with private enterprise and free markets. He unabashedly rallies to his base with fervent cries to soak-the-rich. Just listen to him rail against anyone who owns or flies on an executive jet.
  • Failure to take on the national debt: As the nation moved past the initial economic stimulus, Obama had no grand scheme to address the elephant in the closet. He missed an opportunity for a broad based assault on the biggest threat to prosperity in the new century. This one issue could prematurely stifle a great nation. It is likely to loom over our children’s generation as the most damning setback to lifestyle and financial security.
  • Jobs: In this area, Obama has some progress, but not enough. Despite gradual economic recovery, employment is not rising quick enough to save homes, save marriages, and save nest eggs. Of course, the national debt, a skilled work force and education go hand in hand.
  • Questionable support for Israel: Israel is a critical, strategic ally and a worldwide engine of science, technology and capital growth. The people of Israel share our ideals. Most Americans care that Israel remain safe within its borders.
    In March 2012, Obama assured Benjamin Netanyahu “America will always have Israel’s back.” But the promise rings hollow. Obama’s positive sentiments are countered by callous action. Many mixed signals here… Obama has snubbed Israel on at least two occasions. His public pressure on delicate political and security issues has emboldened Palestinians.
  • Nuclear Iran: Obama is uncertain or unclear in articulating a hard line against a nuclear armed Iran. Regardless of US-Israeli relations or the price of oil, Obama should have drawn a “red line” at the United Nations meeting in September, rather than forcing Benjamin Netanyahu to make things clear.

    US fails to draw a line. Bibi makes it clear.

    Obama concedes that Iran has acquired nuclear technology, has built or refined components of a weapon, and that they have the capacity to assemble these pieces. Yet, he claims that Iran does not present a risk to regional peace, because there is no evidence that they have obtained a delivery vehicle. The reasoning is naïve and reckless. Iran is a led by religious zealots who spew hate and constantly threaten to obliterate their neighbor.

The Not so Bad / Not so Good & The Unknown

  • Education: Too much is unknown. During the Clinton era, this was Hillary’s hot button. But we didn’t see compelling policy directives from Obama during his first term. If it does not surface during a 2nd term, we will be disappointed. One can only hope that Obama pushes for expansion of the charter school model and a “de-fanging” of teachers unions. These unions are pro-Obama. This could be attributed to Romney’s unpopular statement about class size. (He doesn’t feel that it impacts the quality of education). In fact, union agenda is often at odds with a quality education. The good news is based on first-hand experience: An education system does not require wads of fresh cash. It can be built around the provably successful charter school model. Obama may have been reluctant to advocate for charter schools during his first term, because it would gut his union support. In a second term, he needn’t appease a constituency that exists only to secure the jobs of burned out incumbents. It is our hope that Obama musters his Mojo and his well-deserved reputation for standing up to special interests.
  • NASA: A tough one. Under both Bush & Obama, the space agency was severely defunded. Yet, private programs are beginning to fill gaps. We don’t know Obama’s impact on facilitating private efforts or how much the nation can put into NASA. For now, Wild Ducks give Obama a “Pass”, but acknowledge that his broad impact is yet unknown.

What about Romney?

If there is a sufficient demand, AWildDuck will create a similar Pro/Con list for Mitt Romney. But we confess that it will be difficult. Romney’s major “PRO” is the fact that he has business experience and certainly has a more innate belief in unfettered, capitalist market mechanisms. But it would be very hard to ascertain his position on many social and government issues. In our opinion, he waffles like Aunt Jemima. While this may sound biased and trite, consider two striking examples:

  • Mitt Romney claims that he would not limit a woman’s freedom of reproductive choice, yet in the same week, he assured conservative media pundits that he will sign any anti-abortion law that crosses his desk.
  • Romney criticizes a national health care program modeled almost entirely on his own initiative as governor of Massachusetts. A fact made even more absurd by the fact that the program is a success. Why is Romney so against it for other states? How can he take credit for one while disparaging the other with gusto?

In our opinion, Romney distorts Obama’s record to suit his message. Obama does this too, but Romney has elevated the distortion to an art form. Our main problem with Romney is that he is disingenuous.

Ducks side with Barack Obama on 83% of issues and with Mitt Romney on 57% of issues—weighted for each issue by importance to the respondent. With whom do you side? Take this quick, non-partisan survey. The results may surprise you!

I’m Ellery Davies, and I approved this message.

9 thoughts on “Barack Obama: A Qualified Wild Duck Endorsement

  1. Fine article, I can’t really quarrel with your thoughts and opinions, as i am an Obama fan myself. I think he is vastly more presidential than Mr. Romney could ever be, and we need a statesman at the head of our country, not a business executive. ‘Nuff said.
    Warm Regards, Tasha

  2. There are many reliable sources describing the ways in which Obama has been more supportive of Israel’s security than any previous American president. Frankly, I have been amazed to learn that many seemingly intelligent American Jews are being taken in by the distorted right wing Republican propaganda. I believe that if they carefully read these comments by prominent American Jewish and Israeli leaders, they will reconsider their voting decisions.

    Best regards, Arthur

  3. This is the first letter I’ve ever written in the hope that the “social media” winds take it not just to people I know, but also to people I’ve never met and to places I’ll never see.

    I do so because I’m deeply troubled by how the Jewish community is being flooded with inaccurate and sometimes inflammatory attacks on President Obama, claiming that he is not a strong supporter of Israel.

    I do so because as a Jewish senator and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I feel a responsibility to share what I have personally seen and what I know about Barack Obama and Israel.

    As I write this, U.S. and Israeli forces are engaged in a large joint military exercise. We hold these exercises regularly. But this is the largest joint exercise we have held with Israel, involving over 3,500 U.S. troops, about 1/3 of them deployed to Israel for 3 weeks.

    This exercise comes at a critical moment for putting massive pressure on Iran to end any quest for a nuclear weapon.

    The joint exercise will dramatize our joint military capability to defend against an Iranian missile attack. The exercise combines U.S. Patriot batteries and Aegis ship radar with Israel’s Arrow, Iron Dome and David’s Sling missile defenses. These Israeli missile defenses received significant funding by the U.S. and have been strongly supported by President Obama.

    As Iran decides whether to try to build a nuclear weapon, Iranian leaders will now have to factor in more than ever that they will not be able to deter a strike against a nuclear weapon facility by threatening to retaliate with their missiles. Iran’s leaders can’t do so because a retaliatory threat by them or by their allies Hezbollah or Hamas has been degraded by Israel’s and our combined missile defenses, as demonstrated by the current joint exercise.

    I have seen up close how President Obama has acted in many other ways to strengthen Israel’s military capability.

    Ehud Barak, Israel’s current Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, recently put it this way:

    “I should tell you honestly that this Administration, under President Obama, is dong in regard to our security more than anything I can remember in the past.” (July 11, 2012)

    Prime Minister Netanyahu himself told the AIPAC Conference in May of this year:

    “Our security cooperation is unprecedented. And President Obama has backed his words with deeds.”

    President Obama has also made clear that he will not permit Iran to get a nuclear weapon. For instance:

    “It’s my firm belief that an Iran with a nuclear weapon would pose a security threat not only to the region but also to the United States.” (November 14, 2011)

    “My policy here is not going to be one of containment. My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. And as I indicated yesterday in my speech, when I say all options are at the table, I mean it.” (March 5, 2012)

    Iran must know from the record of President Obama, including his use of force in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, that he doesn’t bluff or bluster.

      — He is a serious man.
      — He speaks carefully.
      — He doesn’t flip flop around.
      — He doesn’t throw words around carelessly.
      — Iran has seen him act — his warnings aren’t idle threats.

    President Obama has succeeded in unifying the world against Iran with biting sanctions. Those sanctions have done major damage to Iran’s oil revenues (they are down by 60% over the last year) and to its currency (the value of which is down by 80% over the last year).

    In part because of the respect in which he is held around the world, he has also succeeded in the challenging environment at the UN in preventing unfair damage to Israel at a number of crucial moments, including stopping a UN condemnation of Israel when it prevented a flotilla of ships from forcing itself through its blockade of Gaza.

    President Reagan is rightly remembered as a strong friend of Israel, although he led the world’s condemnation of Israel at the UN when Israel knocked out Iraq’s threatening nuclear facility. I’m amazed how some in our community judge President Obama, who has prevented unfair condemnation of Israel at the UN, by a different standard.

    I have seen President Obama act forcefully to protect Israeli citizens at Israel’s embassy in Cairo when a violent mob recently came within minutes of reaching and attacking them. Here is what Prime Minister Netanyahu said about President Obama’s actions:

    “I requested President Obama’s assistance at a decisive — I would even say fateful — moment. He said he would do everything possible, and this is what he did. He activated all of United States’ means and influence — which are certainly considerable. I believe we owe him a special debt of gratitude.”

    By any standard, fairly and consistently applied, President Obama has been a proven friend of Israel.

    Support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship has been bipartisan, and it is essential it remain so for our security and for Israel’s security. It is harmful to that relationship and to Israel for some in our community to attempt to drive a wedge between the Obama administration and Israel.

    I won’t comment here on the many other reasons I support President Obama. My goal is to simply express my abhorrence at blatantly unfair, inaccurate and sometimes inflammatory claims that President Obama is not a strong supporter of the U.S. — Israel relationship, when that relationship is important to U.S. security and to the goal of Middle East peace.

    I hope that this effort will succeed in utilizing the internet’s ability to have one’s thoughts shared broadly. If you believe they are worthy or interesting, please share them with your friends.

    Thanks. -Senator Carl Levin

  4. Four years ago the economy was on the brink of a severe economic adjustment when Barack Obama took office. U.S. government funds were thrown at the economy and we have been working through a stabilized recession. It has been a well managed recession.

    In 1929 Herbert Hoover became president and eight months later the economy fell over the brink into the Great Depression. Hoover put similar policies in place and they were criticized and became one reason why Franklin D. Roosevelt won the next election. He promised, “Happy Days are Here Again.”

    FDR stopped the spending programs. The result was that the already weak economy began to show signs of another severe downturn. He resumed the spending programs and an orderly recovery followed. The spending programs were phased-out.

    Barack Obama inherited a host of economic problems. He, too, made the decision to boost the economy with government spending and support programs. History seems to show it is effective and appropriate to use government spending to temporarily boost the economy.

    It takes time to pay off the debt, but a rising economy raises all boats, including those floating on tax revenues. Barack Obama deserves credit for good leadership in economic policy, too. These could have been much tougher times.

  5. Overall, I agree with this WildDuck analysis. However, there are two things on which readers could be better informed:

    1. TARP Funds

    I believe that the whole TARP thing is grossly misunderstood. The $750B TARP was crafted and signed by the Bush administration in late 2008. It was then managed down to $475B under the Obama administration by Dodd Frank. [Reference]

    2. ObamaCare

    • Effective Jan 1, 2014, members of Congress and their staffs will be offered health care plans only through the exchange or plans otherwise established by the bill (instead of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program that they currently use). [Reference] This plan is precisely what so many Americans have asked for! (Now, wouldn’t you think this just might be the reason so many in Congress are opposed to such a plan?)
    • ObamaCare forced the health insurance industry to lock their profits at 20%, and rebate anything above. From a capitalist, free market perspective, this might be viewed as socialist. But, when health insurance is made mandatory–forcing me to purchase it (as it was in my own state of Massachusetts, by Governor Mitt Romney), the profits must be capped. This is a great example of Romey devising a plan that the public thinks they want and need–but leaving a few loose ends to feather the nests of his so called “supporters”.

    President Obama is a pretty sharp individual: Intelligent, respectful and strategic. But he is only one man. To accomplish great things, the Democratic party and its candidates must treat off-year elections (those without a presidential race) with the same commitment vigor as on-year.

  6. Kudos to you, Ellery, on this thoughtful piece of analysis. I’m in strong agreement on your conclusion and in fairly close agreement on many of your points. I would like to address your comments about the present administration’s stance regarding public education, however. You are correct that President Obama and the current Congress have given this core American issue short shrift, but I believe you haven’t fully thought through its implications.

    Schools have become our nation’s “orphan” issue over the past dozen years. Ironically, the present disturbing trend was triggered by No Child Left Behind, an initiative that substitutes a slogan and ideology for actual reform and innovation for public school students. Yes of course the teacher’s unions objected – their members serve on the front lines of what was already an underfunded education system and they saw the attempt to influence results by imposing new metrics as a threat to their mission.

    The more radical opponents of excess government see education reform as an opportunity to move toward privatization. Here in Arizona, one of the chief mechanisms for accomplishing this has been the emphasis on charter schools, which are supposed to introduce competitive energy to the education system. Since this trend is spreading across the country, there are several consequences that we should be concerned about now:

    – Diversion of funds from the public school systems. Each student that leaves a local public school to attend a charter school takes his or her state funding along. This seems reasonable on its face, but public school systems are burdened with fixed costs that do not decline in proportion to the head-count – such as building costs and central operations. School systems are forced to cut the costs they can, so payrolls are the obvious target. Low wage staff positions probably go first. Teachers of elective courses like music, art and phys ed go next. Then students are jammed into larger classes of 30 or more, while classrooms down the hall stand empty.
    – “Bright Flight.” When the more motivated parents see the educational environment for their children is diminished due to the downward budget spiral, they naturally seek alternatives at the charter schools. More move every year out of understandable self-interest. The public schools are left to serve those students and families who are left behind, in underfunded, half-empty buildings. The result is a kind of self-segregation – not by race, but based upon the personal values and abilities of families.
    – Consequences on performance. Public school systems face continually increasing performance pressure under the present system. They are charged with raising test scores, yet they are able to spend less per student every year. Raising standards seems commendable on its face, however doing so while resources decline, class sizes increase, and the best performing students are siphoned off to charter schools is a formula that guarantees failure.
    * De-unionization. Regardless of your opinion about labor unions, it’s a fact that Charter Schools aren’t burdened with them, at least not around here. When public school performance declines due to the above mentioned circumstances, it becomes an excuse for intervention. Higher salaried, career teachers, who tend to be union members, wind up on the bubble.

    While it’s easy to point the finger of obstructionism, in fact, committed teachers are desperately frustrated by these circumstances. The fundamental confound is the expectation of higher performance on a narrow instrument (standardized tests in math and reading) while managing larger class sizes with fewer resources and lower per-capita investment per student. Teachers are powerless to meet the imposed standards, so they conclude the game is rigged, with careers in the balance and the children as pawns.

    On this matter of grave concern for the national interest and our future economic well-being we have heard virtually nothing of substance from the Obama administration or from Congress. (Nor from Mr. Romney either!) This is a national shame that sadly has not been even acknowledged in the present election cycle.

  7. Hi James,

    AWildDuck has elicited feedback by thoughtful and articulate individuals, especially on this latest post–our analysis and endorsement of Barak Obama on the eve of his bid for re-election as US president. We are fortunate to have you and others of stature and caliber weigh in with critical commentary. Thank you!

    I am planning a closer look at charter schools later this month. Although I am not an expert on the issue, my own daughter has just entered a radially bold (and controversial) charter school. Our local, public school pales in comparison. One is first-in-state, while the other is constantly in danger of losing accreditation. Despite having an academic staff that receives considerably less than union-scale wages, the teachers are more committed, the students are more seriously interested in learning, and the administration is more fully engaged with parents and with the community.

    The results are downright startling. Even thrilling. And by “results” I am referring to metrics that count: Fraction of graduates admitted to their first choice university (or highest paid salary offers), and of course standardized test scores. Mind you, this charter school does not hand pick students. Yet they consistently graduate the best. How did they do it? Well, you know the score. At least it is the score for my regional charter school: They siphon tax dollars from a few mal-performing, incumbent districts. They charge big tuitions for residents of non-participating towns. They ignore teacher’s contracts and unions (these simply don’t exist in their world). And they are committed to experience, excellence, and metrics. The students matter more than the parents. No one questions the teaching of evolution in Biology class. (After all, they don’t question teaching the Pythagorean theorem in math class!)

    In preparation for what is likely to be high praise for (at least) our local model, I have been engaged in research and analysis. Now, your commentary is hitting all of my assumptions and conclusions at once. (Don’t ya’ just hate it when that happens?!). It raises arguments that I may have dismissed to quickly. While I am not sure that I can be swayed from my religious epiphany (getting close to the opinion “Charter is awesome—it solves everything”), I will do my darndist keep an open minded.

    …And so, my friend, I promise to talk with you at length before writing a focus piece for AWildDuck. If there is one thing that characterizes a Duck, it is a commitment to the truth before forming the characteristic, hard-assed opinions for which we are known.

    I look forward to collaboration on this important perspective. I bet that we can accommodate each other’s conclusions while coming to a common consensus.

    • Brilliant. It’s a conversation I very much look forward to. Your individual considerations are a perfect illustration of the “Bright Flight” syndrome I worry about. Of course you must act in your child’s best interest in guiding her education, but your choice also reflects some larger concerns for our communities worthy of public examination and debate.

      If Senator Levin is following this thread, I’d like to underscore these issues to him and colleagues as a challenge – in the best spirit of American can-do politics. Let’s make real, thoughtful progress on public education in the next term of office. For the children’s sake, let’s drop the slogans and stop substituting soul-killing punishment of teacher failure for enabling of teacher success. I’m no expert – just the son, brother, spouse and grateful product of brilliantly dedicated American public school teachers.

  8. This may be a most frustrating rebuttal, Ellery – At least it will be for you!

    Regarding Obama, I agree with every single Pro/Con on your list. Like you, I don’t want our government to usurp or restrict a fundamentally personal matter like abortion. Obama has the edge on character and respect for woman (In these areas, it’s not even a horse race).

    Although you don’t claim to itemize Romney’s Pros & Cons, I agree with your one negative remark. It is not unfair to say that he is ‘disingenuous’. But apparently, you and I disagree on the weight ascribed to Obama’s short list of negative points.

    In short, “It’s the economy, Stupid!” (I am not calling you stupid. A Wild Duck is arguably the most literate and intelligent Blog to digitize human thought). But I am disappointed that your revelation concerning Romney’s grasp of market economics doesn’t carry down to the bottom line. What is the single most important crisis facing this country? While one could reasonably argue that global warming tops the list, it is a long term problem and a global issue. But what of national economics? How can issues like free enterprise, capital incentives, trade regulation and jobs factor so weakly into your endorsement?

    Obama and Romney are just one man each. I acknowledge that Obama is the more educated, more affable, more scholarly and even the more trustworthy. But you nailed the problem when you said that you have fundamental differences with his economic doctrine and that his failure to declare war on the national debt is the biggest threat to prosperity in the new century. For me and for our children, the 1st term failure to lay a masterful foundation for the economy is a deal breaker. Obama broke a primary covenant and therefore, if presented with a credible alternative, we must move on.

    Romney has a lot of flaws. He is a bit of a male chauvinist, a bit too religious (for my taste), and of course, he flip flops “like Aunt Jemima”. But regarding what really counts, he gets it! During the next four years, we need to get a handle on tightening the belt without killing the goose or stifling the American Dream. Who can kick start our Economy and attack the debt? In this one area, Romney is better qualified than Obama.

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