Thomas Ponniah
Reviewing President Obama's achievements ahead of the U.S. elections

| October 31, 2012
Photo: Pete Souza

The U.S. presidential election will take place on November 6. Despite all of the statistics from at least eight different daily tracking polls, no one can say for certain whether Barack Obama will retain his presidency. The two consistent messages that we have heard are first, "the President has a slim lead in the polls" and second, that Romney "is gaining momentum." The reason for this apparent contradiction is that while the President does have a lead in the polls his support is soft. If an economic or military crisis should occur in the next week, or if the Republicans are able to suppress enough poor people, people of colour and people with disabilities from voting, the President could lose the election even though he does not deserve to be defeated by Mitt Romney on November 6.

Despite the various ways in which the President has frustrated, thwarted and ignored so many of the people who voted for him in 2008, despite his weaknesses in dealing with Republican and corporate opposition, and despite his drone attacks, Obama has assembled a series of achievements that make him a far superior candidate to Mitt Romney. While these feats are not progressive enough for many liberals and leftists they are -- relative to U.S. presidents -- substantial and should not be dismissed when assessing the past four years. Voters in swing states should vote tactically in order to preserve the President's accomplishments while voters in other states should be focused on supporting long-term alternatives that will serve all of the population as opposed to the current form of representative democracy which primarily, though not only, expresses the desires of the top 1 per cent.

The President's best known accomplishment is his health-care bill -- The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed in 2010 -- which constitutes the most extensive form of U.S. social legislation enacted since the 1960s. The Act will ultimately make health coverage available to almost all Americans. According to the economist Paul Krugman, 45 million additional Americans will come to receive essential health care because of the Obama health plan. Mitt Romney has promised, if elected, to repeal the bill and also to make substantial cuts to Medicaid, the largest source of funding for medical care for people with limited incomes in the United States.

A second achievement was The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- a $787-billion stimulus bill passed in February 2009. The legislation halted the economic free fall produced by the 2008 financial crisis, preventing unemployment from climbing to 12 per cent and supporting a modest economic recovery that has brought unemployment down to 8 per cent. Since then, the President has proposed a further $447-billion bill combining tax cuts and government spending but this additional stimulus has been blocked by the Republican-controlled Congress.

A third achievement was the repeal in 2011 of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on lesbian, gays and bisexuals serving openly in the military. A fourth achievement was Obama's decision in May 2012 to support same-sex marriage -- the bravest presidential declaration on behalf of egalitarianism since Lyndon Johnson's support of the Civil Rights Bill in 1964.

As well, there are a number of advances that Obama made in terms of military and diplomatic goals -- for example, the 2010 ratification of the New START treaty with Russia, an arms control agreement that requires the U.S. and Russia to reduce their nuclear arsenal. Another achievement was the formal end in 2011 of the disastrous, expensive and inhumane war in Iraq. Obama's decision, in the face of right-wing pressures, to respect the Status of Forces Agreement effectively ended the Iraq War. As well, the killing of Osama bin Laden -- who had eluded the U.S. and other countries' security forces for a decade -- has strengthened the argument for ending the war in Afghanistan.

Obama's eighth achievement was the first piece of legislation that he signed into law on becoming President: The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act restores basic protections against pay discrimination. The President has continued to push for the passage of The Paycheck Fairness Act, which gives women the tools they need to fight pay discrimination.

The President's ninth achievement was the selection of two liberal Supreme Court justices: Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The former is the first Hispanic judge to be appointed to the highest judicial position in the country. The nomination of Sotomayor and Kagan makes Obama the first President to nominate two women to the Court. In the next four years it is likely that two more openings will appear on the Supreme Court making the Court one of the strongest reasons for progressives to vote for Obama.

Voters in swing states -- especially Ohio, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Arizona and New Hampshire -- should not ignore these accomplishments when they make their decision on November 6th. Progressives in non-battleground states however do not need to vote tactically. They should vote for third-party and independent candidates who in the long run may be able to place much needed pressure on the two mainstream parties in terms of reforming or replacing a political system that is fundamentally unrepresentative.

Thomas Ponniah was a Lecturer on Social Studies and Assistant Director of Studies at Harvard University from 2003-2011. He remains an affiliate of Harvard's David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies and an Associate of the Department of African and African-American Studies.


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