james debate
james debate

Sunday 16 August 2009

It seems like such a long time ago now that Barack Obama was sworn in as our 44th President and charged with the unenviable task of having to clean up the unprecedented mess left by his predecessors.

A collapsed economy, unemployment sky rocketing, a health care system that ranks alongside that of third world countries, mired in two badly run wars, and foreign relations at an all time low, the list can literally go on for hours. In this special political edition, we evaluate the President's performance in his first 200 days in office and cast an eye towards what the future may bring.

president obama

For this very special feature the Ephemeric is proud to unveil our brand new political panel, ensuring you get the most complete picture of the political landscape with views and opinions from all areas of the spectrum.

The Ephemeric Political News Panel::

James Debate:
Aka. "Mr. Ephemeric", politically minded medic who has been an active member of Young Conservatives and the Democratic Party for years. Specializes in healthcare issues but as a prominent member of his university political society has run presentations on a wide range of issues from the economy to education.

James joins our panel as the ultimate moderate, being a staunch Democrat in American politics, and yet a consistent voting Conservative in Europe. "It seems trite to say, but politics shouldn't be about 'loony liberals' or 'crazy conservatives', it's simply about what makes sense, and can be backed up by sound logic and empirical evidence."

Hates: Extremists on either side, disingenuousness.
In election 2008: Voted for Barack Obama.

Camilla Brown:
Former UK resident who now studies at Brown in the States with a major in political science and a minor in English. Part of Brown's winning political debate team at the State finals in 2007, has since worked as a junior co-ordinator at the Hillary Clinton campaign and with the DNC.

Camilla joins as our liberal panelist, having been a devoted Democrat and member of the Labour party when she lived in the UK. "Progress is inevitable. Those who oppose healthcare and education reform today are cut from the same cloth as those who opposed the civil rights movement 50 years ago. In another 50 years no one will believe someone could have opposed better healthcare."

Hates: Closed minded bigots, sheep who follow the talking heads on tv.
In election 2008: Voted for Hillary Clinton.

Arthur Clarke:
A philosophy, politics and economics graduate from Oxford University, Arthur is now doing an advanced degree in politics and history, also at Oxford. A hotly tipped member of the Young Conservatives who has chaired numerous political groups and activist movements both in and outside of his university life.

Arthur joins as our conservative panelist, having voted and campaigned as a strong conservative and an established opponent of government expansion. "That 'conservative' is synonymous with 'backwards' is just a myth. It's not about resisting progress, it's about making the right kind of progress."

Hates: Big government, stereotypes.
In election 2008: Endorsed Mitt Romney.

So in order to evaluate the first 200 days of Barack Obama's presidency, we will analyze in chronological order what we have agreed by common consensus to be the key issues of his administration so far, followed by an overview of his campaign promises and a final, general summary.


- Selection of Vice President and Cabinet
- America's image and support overseas

James: As a resident of the United Kingdom, the change in attitude towards the United States after the election was especially noticeable. Overnight, the most hated country in the world became highly respected and even cool.

After years of frankly insane Bush policies and a seeming disregard for foreign relations and treaties (most likely because Bush was just not aware of them), electing an 'intellectual' with respect and humility for all people was a big change. And all of a sudden, jokes about how 'stupid Americans' couldn't run their own country dried up.

His cabinet was reasonable, although his administration's all new obsession with tax scrutiny meant that any nominee with an even vaguely iffy history was forced to withdraw. Frankly I never saw the point of appointing Joe Biden as Vice-President. Clearly the idea was to bring someone in with experience, but I'm sure there were equally capable, far less gaffe-prone candidates available; off the top of my head, Tim Kaine, Sam Nunn. He was right not to pick Hillary though, the last thing you need is a massive personality and ego in that job.

Camilla: The numbers speak for themselves. Approval for Obama in other countries is unbelievably high, in the 90s in much of Europe. And even in unfavorable countries in the Middle East, approval has almost doubled this year.

Personally, I think that an awful lot has been made of Joe Biden and his gaffes. I can't say I've ever seen a politician who didn't make the odd slip, and Joe Biden has the charm and noble presence to push through them. You also have to think in terms of congress, Obama didn't want to take someone out of the Senate or House from a state that typically votes Republican, like Virginia. I would have loved to see Hillary get the job, but I can see why she didn't.

Arthur: To be honest, Americans just don't care what people in other country think of them. And as far as a foreign policy boost, you'll be surprised to see how quickly foreign relations come back down to Earth when they get bored and go back to dealing with their own issues.

Obama went on to fill his cabinet posts with frankly obvious 'safe' decisions and ex Clinton officials, apparently hoping that lightning strikes twice... it rarely does.

First 100 Days

- Closure of Guantanamo Bay
- Economic stimulus and budget
- Increased troops in Afghanistan
- Lifted restrictions on stem cell research funding
- Opened relations with China

James: If nothing else, one certainly can't deny the man's ambition. Even with the huge laundry list of issues he has to deal with, Obama has attempted to address everything simultaneously by the looks of it. In just three months he made huge movements in foreign relations, scientific policy and ethics, and of course the economy.

The likes of stem cells, Gitmo and increased priority in Afghanistan were very obvious decisions. The important thing to remember about Gitmo is that these prisoners are not simply being 'turned loose', they are just being transfered to other facilities. One has to wonder, however, if they are just closing 'Gitmo', a symbol of the 'evils' of America's arrogance, and simply moving them to an identical facility by a different, less stigmatized, name.

It was these other movements that are likely to be most significant. Clearly the economy is at the top of everyone's priority list right now, and with unemployment spiraling towards 10%, business and banks going bankrupt before Obama was even sworn into office, major action was required.

The massive costs look imposing at first, but one has only to look at past recessions to see how stimulus spending can fix things. If anything, there should be greater worry over not spending enough. FDR got cold feet, and it was only World War II that finally pulled us out of that depression. So far signs show that it is working ahead of schedule.

Camilla: The biggest success of the Obama administration so far is that they got their economy recovery plan passed. Unemployment is already going down, and now looks like it won't hit 10% as predicted.

Sure the stimulus contained some strange expenditures, like building tunnels for turtles. But people who complain about that clearly don't understand how a stimulus works. The important thing is that money is put into businesses, it doesn't necessarily matter for what end.

With so much focus on deficit and unemployment, it is also easy to miss the other important aspects to this bill. The increased regulations on business and banks will prevent the kind or irresponsible spendthrift excesses and increased risk that caused this crisis. There is also a massive $54 billion in funds towards achieving energy independence, a move which will one day pay for itself many times over, as well as having beneficial environmental consequences.

In short, these early bills, especially the Recovery act have ensured that America's future is secure, and no matter what else happens now, at least that is sorted.

Arthur: I agree with the closure of Gitmo. Despite what some extreme right partisans say now, they would have done the exact same thing had they won the election. John McCain even admitted as much. But as James said, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and so far this just smacks of PR stunt. I could be wrong though.

I am also a big advocate of renewed relations with China. As China continues to grow and become one of the big super powers, relations with them will become more and more crucial. Both economies are deeply dependent on each other now, and strengthening of that relationship will bear fruit for decades.

As for the big bad stimulus, as a conservative I feel sick when I read about the deficit spending and the debts that will ensue. However at the same time, it is undeniable that in recent history, spending of this nature is the most effective way to fix a broken economy. So do I approve? No. But I don't think Obama had any choice on the matter either, he couldn't just let the banks and businesses go bust.

Briefly on the subject of stem cells, I object strongly to the notion that this is a 'left vs right' issue. I am in favor of stem cell research, and the only reason not to be is if you are intensely religious, which I don't necessarily think should be one of the hallmark features of a right wing political party.

Second 100 Days

- Sotomayor Supreme Court Nomination
- North Korean Aggression
- Iran Elections
- Cash for Clunkers
- Gay Rights
- Healthcare Reform

James: After I initially favored a strong response to the Iran crisis, Obama eventually proved his more tempered response to be exactly what was needed. Once violence broke out it would have been all too easy to blame it on 'foreign influence' had he made more noise about it. Obama's first big foreign relations test and he avoided Bush-esque pitfalls and passed with flying colors, walking the fine line between saying too much and too little.

Cash for Clunkers is another very clever idea. It stimulates the economy by getting people to buy cars, it improves the environment by buying fuel efficient cars, and all the scrap metal and spare parts can be recycled. It's brilliant, and analysts are predicting massive profits to result from it.

However the most important of all issues is healthcare reform. I have been very vocal about my displeasure with the Obama plan. Frankly it doesn't go far enough.

The fact of the matter is that Obama's healthcare proposal is NOT radically different to what currently exists, the biggest difference is that there will be a new insurance company that will prevent the private insurance companies from running riot as they are now.

That being said, his proposal is without a doubt an improvement on what currently exists, it will improve care, prevent escalating costs, and increase coverage to millions more. However, seeing the absurd reaction among the right wing to even this watered down bill just goes to show how absurd American politics is.

Camilla: I was very proud to see Sotomayor sworn in as a new justice of the Supreme Court. It was an inspired decision and she is a lady of the absolute highest qualifications who has shown great wisdom in the past. It will bring some balance to the shocking conservative bias that has existed until now in the Supreme Court, maybe incidents like the 2000 election won't be repeated.

Of course, healthcare reform is the big issue now. I am, frankly, embarrassed as an American to hear some of the things protesters are saying out there, about death panels and euthanasia, and the downright odious lies about government sponsored healthcare in other countries (forgetting, of course, that much of American healthcare is already government funded!).

US healthcare currently alongside Costa Rica and Slovenia in terms of infant mortality, life expectancy, clerical errors and the abysmal lack of preventative medicine. It is absolutely stunning that anyone wants to maintain this status quo.

All these protests really show is that the Republican party is utterly without shame as far as staging fake grassroots movements and inciting violence all to score a few cheap political points.

Arthur: I am about the most conservative person out there, but even I am embarrassed by the healthcare reform protesters. Frankly I think something as important as treating sick people should be above politics, but the Republicans are clearly very desperate to gain some political capita.

What upsets me about these protests is that because of the loud and moronic comments being made about fictional aspects of the bill like 'death panels', no one is talking about the REAL conservative concerns with regards to healthcare reform.

Frankly I worry that these protests are hurting conservatives more than helping them. The politicians in congress are not dumb enough to believe the absurd things being said at these protests, and all this hubbub might result in a bill being passed without addressing the more important issues, like cost, and the effects on the private sector.

There is no question that public and private business can co-exist, as it does in most developed nations, and as it does in other industries in America, it is just a question of not giving the public option too much of a monopoly over the industry.

Other Campaign Promises

- Net Neutrality: To be addressed at upcoming cybersecurity conference
- Transparency: Still in the works but red tape taking longer than expected to clear
- Repeal Bush Tax Cuts: Will simply be allowed to expire
- Reduced Wiretapping: Laws will be revisited by the end of the year

James: Much was made of Obama's plans for Government transparency, featuring bills being put up online for public comment before they go to vote, and debates held on C-span.

This hasn't happened yet and Press Secretary Gibbs recently broke the silence to explain how the red tape involved had made the reality of doing this far more complicated than anticipated, but it is still in the works.

Net Neutrality was a hot issue, let's face it, only with the internet geeks. But by taking this stance he clearly knows who his base is.

Camilla: The Bush tax cuts exemplify exactly what is wrong with the old economy. This 'trickle down' approach simply never works, and never has worked. There's no rush to get rid of them, but there is not a doubt that they should not be renewed.

I expect that in the near future there will be higher taxes on the rich. Our economy is in the dumps because of greed and arrogance of this top 1% of wage earners so it only makes sense that they help out in paying to fix it. And let's face it, an extra 2% on a guy who earns hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and millions in bonuses is nothing, whereas that extra tax burden on the poor is crippling the base of our economy, the average consumer.

Arthur: I'll be blunt. I don't give a damn about Net Neutrality. On top of this, I was in favor of wiretapping in the past and I still am now- Obama would be stupid to repeal those laws.

Frankly I don't have anything to hide from the government, and considering these wiretaps are 'content triggered', unless I'm talking about smuggling uranium or buying an AK-47, it's not going to be an issue for me, and if I am, then it deserves to be. To Obama's credit there has been some suggestion that he is having doubts about repealing these laws and I am pleased that he's taking the time to think about it rather than just jumping in.

On the subject of the Bush tax cuts, however, I take serious issue. I know this isn't really a tax hike, just a repeal of tax cuts, but frankly the end result is exactly the same. During an economic climate like this, the last thing you want to be doing is increasing the tax burden by any means. I hope the tax cuts get renewed, and if they don't it will be a problem in the near future.

So now we will each give our final verdict on Obama's Presidency so far and give him our approval rating out of 100.

Final Verdict

James: It's early days yet, but signs so far are very positive. If the economy continues to improve, and healthcare reform gets passed, and education reforms that are scheduled for next year go well, then frankly an awful lot will have been accomplished in a short space of time.

Foreign policy is probably the area where he has impressed most, and the differences in world attitudes towards us between now and a year ago are very noticeable. One English newspaper recently made reference to "America 2.0", and that definitely seems to be the look Obama's administration is going for.

Meanwhile Obama's approval has been steadily in the 60s/high 50s. Considering other factors out there like racism, the increased partisan tone of Republicans, and the fact that he has so many messes to clean up, there is really no reason why his approval should be anywhere near as high as it has been, and I think that says a lot about the job he is doing so far.

It's far too early to say if Obama will go down as a great President, but if all these reforms go as planned then we might look back on him as one of the most important President's since FDR.

Approval Rating: 70

Camilla: American voters are like dogs, spooked by big, sudden movements. The massive changes that Obama is bringing to our country are likely to be difficult to pass, but once they have been they will revolutionize the country and ensure that our nation doesn't become just the latest super power to bite the dust in the annals of history.

Imagine an America with a stable economy, a world class healthcare system, a world class education system, and good relations with the rest of the world. That's the kind of world that will be achieved if Obama and the Democrats have their way, but will never happen if people allow themselves to be taken in by the right wing opposition. Of course it's early days yet, but Obama has yet to give us any reason to doubt him.

The Democrats may lose big in 2010, but as long as all this legislation is passed before then, our future is secure.

Approval Rating: 78

Arthur: "Voters are like dogs" and you wonder why voters don't like Democrat intellectuals, Camilla.

I'll admit, I have been surprised by Obama's first 200 days. I was expecting a whack job liberal to come in and ruin everything.

Of course, Obama is a whack job liberal, but I've been impressed by his restraint. While his party were crying out for completely universal healthcare, he's opted for a more middle of the road approach (until the extremist partisans went on the attack). Similarly his economic policies have a distinctly centrist approach to them, he has afterall cut taxes for 98.6% of the population, something no Democrat would ever have supported in the past.

In short, for the first time I see Obama as being what no President has been for a long time, a real centrist figure to mediate the struggles of the two parties.

But spending is a very real concern, but for the most part I don't think he really has much choice, and I don't think his opposition would have done much differently. It's important to remember that all these conservatives who oppose the stimulus and healthcare reform were gagging for it a little over a year ago.

There also seems to be the danger of increased taxes on the wealthy, both as part of healthcare reform and once the Bush tax cuts expire. This would be very bad for the economy.

Ultimately, I think Obama will be undone by his ambition. The more big and drastic changes a President tries to make, the easier it is for smart opposition leaders to turn the people against him, rightly or wrongly (wrongly on the subject of healthcare). 2010 will be a comeback year for the Republicans, and even though Obama still looks likely to win re-election in 2012, as Clinton did after his healthcare failure, I'm not sure if his popularity will ever hit the heights it once occupied.

Approval Rating: 56

Mean Approval: 68
Well Gallup has Obama's average approval so far at 63%, so we're in the right ballpark.

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