Grading Obama’s First Month

We’re now 1/48th of the way through the first term of the Obama Administration, so it’s time to grade how he’s done so far on the various issues. My hope is to grade them against reality and the expectations he has set for himself, not the utterly unrealistic expectations set by the people that elected him.

President Barack Obama and family arrive back at the White House aboard Marine 1 on President's Day after spending Valentines day in Chicago

Staff Appointments
Grade: C+/B-

While the quality of his appointments has tended to be fair to good, he’s had five withdraw due to various reasons (especially tax problems). It’s not yet clear that those that are left will even be able to get along.

Grade: F

Obama promised the most open White House ever. Yet, his administration continues the Bush doctrine of state secrets, particularly regarding the lawsuit alleging that five men were tortured abroad in U.S.-run prisons.

In addition, we were promised that all legislation sent to Obama for signing would be put online for five days before he signed it. He has broken this promise several times already.

When the website was first launched, they actually blocked it from being indexed by the search engines. Understand that this requires a proactive step to be taken by the site administrators. By default, the search engines will index the site. The Obama administration quickly reversed this stance when people noticed.

Grade: C

Obama campaigned on remaking Washington in a bipartisan manner. He was unable to deliver on that pledge with his largest issue to date, the economic stimulus package (no Republican House members crossed over and only three Senators). He has, however, worked to include Republicans in his administration.

The challenge he faces in working with Congress is demographic. Moderate Republicans in Congress tend to come from relatively evenly split districts. This is where the gains by the Democrats over the last two election cycles have come from, leaving most of the Republicans left in Congress coming from the relatively far right. The are the least likely to work with Obama on any legislation.

U.S. President Obama meets with economic team in Washington.

Banking/Finance System
Grade: F

Tim Geithner and the financial team have shown themselves utterly incapable of fixing the problems in the banking system. Don’t forget that Geithner has actually been pulling the strings for several months now, and the best he can come up with is to throw more money at the banks.

I believe he knows what needs to be done, but either he or Barack Obama (or both) are unwilling to take the political risk.

Economic Recession
Grade: F

Lawrence Summers says, “A stimulus program should be timely, targeted and temporary.” So Obama lets the idiot children in the House of Representatives draft the stimulus package, and gets something that is none of the above.

Even the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office worries that it will do more harm than good. The final spending plans are larger than the New Deal.

Guantanamo Bay
Grade: A

As I’ve stated previously, Guantanamo Bay is quite the quandary. Obama is doing the best he can with a rather difficult subject.

Grade: B

Although the Bush Administration cannot and should not be forgiven for breaking Iraq in the first place, it’s only fair to admit that they had it going to correct direction before they left office. Obama seems to be continuing that direction, which will hopefully result in our being out of Iraq entirely in the not too distant future.

US Army Patrols In Afghanistan's Restive Nuristan Province

Grade: A-

Obama is stepping up our commitment to Afghanistan, which had been allowed to fester by Bush. Sending more troops there is a good idea, but I would like to see it be conditional upon increased commitments from the EU countries.

Free Trade
Grade: Incomplete

There just isn’t enough information to give a grade on free trade yet. The “Buy American” clauses in the stimulus bill were quite worrisome, but they likely came from the House initially, and the Obama Administration disavowed them as quickly as possible.

Drug Policy
Grade: Incomplete

It’s too early to know what direction the Obama administration is going to take on drug policy. On the one hand, he appointed unapologetic drug warrior Eric Holder to be his Attorney General.

On the other, he appointed Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske to be Drug Tzar. Kerlikowske has taken an approach of harm reduction rather than arrest and prosecution when it comes to drugs.

Grade: F

While few in the U.S. media seem to want to cover it, the Obama Administration has quietly, but clearly, indicated that their position on rendition is basically the same as that of the Bush Administration. Leon Panetta has made it clear that rendition will continue.

Overall, I give the Obama Administration a grade of “C” for their first month. Some of this is a reflection of the mountain of problems they faced coming into office, but the team hasn’t done much to inspire confidence or make their job easier.

Obama’s approval ratings have dropped nine points (from 76% to 67%) over the last month, but this may simply be reality settling in for the American people.

2 Comments on “Grading Obama’s First Month

  1. Anthony

    Geez, give the guy a break already. He inherited a huge mess financially, so I think it’s a bit too early to judge him there.

    And the blocking of the website? I highly doubt he gave the directive to throw the old robots.txt in there. After all, he has a Director of Social Media and plans on publishing all of his presidential addresses on YouTube.

  2. Brian Combs

    Actually, I think I was rather fair. Most of the reviews have been exceedingly partisan, judging him either an “A” or a “F”. I’m squarely in the middle of those.

    And, yes, he did inherit a huge financial mess, and I don’t expect him to have fixed it yet. I’d be happier if the directions he was taking didn’t seem likely to make things worse, however.

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