A One Year Obama Scorecard

By Chris Mooney | November 2, 2009 6:17 pm

obamaWho is pleased with our nearly-one-quarter-of-a-term president? Who isn’t?

I was just watching CNN (a rarity these days) and they were talking about what Obama has so far achieved. Here’s my own take:

I think you have to credit the stimulus for pulling us out of some serious doldrums, even if the recovery is still only lackluster at best.

I also think the president has made stellar appointments, particularly in the science infrastructure; and I have been thrilled at the emphasis on science funding and science education.

But I am less pleased with the relative lack of progress on solving the extremely urgent climate problem. Agency-wise, the administration has made all the right moves at places like EPA; but as Copenhagen approaches, we ought to be able to point to a lot more progress than that relatively easy stuff. Alas, we can’t, and Congress isn’t the only party responsible here.

So overall, I give Obama a B.



Comments (20)

  1. B-. If the public option in health care reform dies without him willing to put his face on the line to save it, and meaningful (i.e., severe and radical) regulatory reform doesn’t pass to clear up the scum on Wall Street, then I’d lower it to a C+.

    Bush, of course, was F.

  2. Anthony McCarthy

    How about in Incomplete, since that’s what his first year is.

    There hasn’t been another president in our history who was presented with two wars, the vague “war on terror”, environmental devastation, the second worst collapse of the financial system, the real economy in a tailspin, terrible domestic problems that had either festered or actively been made worse, and numerous other problems.

    There are a number of things I think are enormously important, civil rights for gay people, being one. Perhaps the number one civil right after a habitable environment, national health care, being the most important of all.

    After the futility of making bipartisan gestures to the Republicans, he’s been met with lock-step opposition and problems with the Senate which is hardly in defacto Democratic control. The weak leadership of Harry Reid and the active sabotage of Lieberman, Conrad, Baucus, and several others have made even a majority of the votes not enough. I don’t remember another president having that situation since the worst of the Civil Rights struggles of the 5os and 6os.

    I am more than skeptical about the programs of Summers and Geithner and I don’t trust the FED or the SEC to correct the rampant corruption that they are supposed to exist to stop.

    The conservative majority of the Supreme Court seem to be determined to take a wrecking ball to democracy and representative government, to hand as much to the elite as possible before one of them goes and they are again a minority on the court. The campaign finance case has the potential to make an informed vote next to impossible.

    And then there’s the corporate media which is trying to sabotage him as well, just as they did Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

    I’m not optimistic. Whatever good that gets done will have to be done through President Obama, the congress and the unreliable senate. I would say he’s doing remarkably well under the circumstances.

  3. I basically agree, though I might go a bit lower. A year ago, we all knew there were a number of crises that needed immediate attention. Obama led us to believe that he could address these. Instead, what we’ve seen is a methodical, careful, and essentially admirable approach to these crises, but in a plodding, one at-a-time manner.

    Even Paul Krugman has indicated that he feels climate change is the most pressing of these issues- the one with the most serious consequences if put off too long, or dealt with ineffectively. I wish Obama was more of a leader and less of a poker player.

  4. Erasmussimo

    I give him an A. He has tackled some extremely serious problems with vigor. He has prioritized his tasks quite well. The financial collapse was his first priority, and now health care is at the top of the list. Next should be Iraq and Afghanistan. Sadly, I must confess that climate change should probably come in fourth priority, because this crisis is moving more slowly than the previous ones.

    The one element that most people do not appreciate is how well Mr. Obama has handled foreign policy. Even though it is not his first priority, he has taken big strides in laying the groundwork for future achievements. I must say, the progress he has made on all diplomatic fronts, is excellent, and indeed astounding given the fact that he has had more pressing priorities. The diplomatic climate has shifted dramatically. Mr. Obama is now in a solid position to confront Iran with the backing of both Russia and China. I’m not claiming that they will in fact back the USA against Iran; there’s plenty that can go wrong at any point in the future. But he has made an excellent start. I suppose that it’s rather like a chess game after only six moves. The novice player looks at the board and says, “Nobody has taken any pieces yet” where the chess expert can look at the board and say, “It’s all over for black.”

  5. I agree with the notion of an Incomplete.

    One of those understandable and valid Incompletes, not a “roommate killed himself” Incomplete, or one given grudgingly because of a sob story when in fact the student was playing D&D all semester.

    Obama could easily pull it all off if he got a fucking spine and started treating conservatives and obstructionists with the contempt they deserve.

  6. Sorbet

    I agree. I will also give him a B.

    His achievements are well-recognized. In my opinion his biggest shortcomings so far have been:
    1. Not being more vocal on nuclear power and the climate issue in general
    2. Not providing enough moral support and vocal encouragement when the Iranians were revolting during their elections. I also think he was quite naive about Iran.
    3. Not disengaging himself from Afghanistan and focusing more on Pakistan

  7. I would give him an A for individual achievement, a D for his group project, for a C overall. His congressional partners on the group project all get D’s or F’s.

  8. Liberal Democrat though I am, I’m going D-. Why – simple: Mr. Obama has embraced many of the darkest aspects of Mr. Bush’s Administration. Most notable are the continued use of warrantless domestic apiyng, the continued incarceration of enemy combatants without due process, and the continued use of the States Secrets priviledge to hide both his mis-deeds and the mis-deeds of the lats Administration. All these things erode our civil liberties significantly, and the limited successes in economic disater aversion and science appoitnments do not offset them.

  9. Anthony and Stefan are right. It’s too early to grade the president.

    Right now we’re looking at strategy. Did the president blunder by reaching out too much (or too little) to Republicans? Should he have been more vocal on his support for specific health care legislation? Should he have done climate legislation first? Should he have focused entirely on the economy? We won’t know until his agenda is truly put into practice.

    If health care reform passes and is successful, he’ll be considered a political genius. If it fails he’ll be considered a fool. Likewise if the economy is roaring or crashing in 2012.

  10. ponderingfool

    D- as well. Obama administration is supporting too many of the Bush policies with regards to erosion of civil liberties as noted by Philip. The stimulus was too small thanks to wanting to appear bi-partisan. Health care has been a disaster, basically compromising before even negotiating. Environmental issues have been an improvement but that is not really saying much.

  11. John Kwok

    I respectfully beg to differ with you all, but since I am the resident conservative with very strong libertarian biases, my grade for Obama is F. On crucial issues such as stopping Iran from going forward with its nuclear arms program, Obama has quite literally taken the “back seat” in stark contrast to more forceful rhetoric and potential action being considered by the likes of Sarkozy and Merkel. He has also flunked on economic recovery via the stimulus and is in the midst of failing with regards to his comprehensive healthcare insurance reforms. But worst of all, he is demonstrating his true stripes as an unrepentant radical liberal by going after his critics, by his appointment of “czars” who have assumed responsibilities formerly assigned only to cabinet secretaries, and yes, as a most blatant example of liberal cronyism, appearing before the International Olympic Committee in a ridiculous effort to have his adopted home town of Chicago as the site of the Summer 2016 Olympics. Where Obama gets a passing grade – and this would be A- – from me is in his cabinet level appointments in science and technology, but I remain skeptical that he is doing a better job in listening to his science advisors than, for example, Bill Clinton. I am especially concerned with what Obama may or may not do with regards to ensuring that we have a substantial manned presence in space after the space shuttle fleet is retired.

  12. Erasmussimo

    John Kwok, your criticism of Mr. Obama regarding Iran is misplaced. The core problem here lies in the fact that Russia and China will veto any Security Council actions against Iran. That makes it impossible to impose economic sanctions on Iran — our only real leverage here. So the crucial problem is to recruit Russia and China. That is precisely what Mr. Obama has been concentrating on. You may not have noticed his actions in this regard, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. During the Bush years, I had come to the conclusion that our only option was to prepare for an inevitable nuclear Iran. But Mr. Obama has made remarkable progress with the Russians and the Chinese in exposing Iranian duplicity, and the Russians are already coming around to the idea of some sanctions. The Chinese are a more difficult problem, but Mr. Obama has skillfully isolated them on this issue. His goal, I suspect, is to put China in the uncomfortable position of being the sole supporter of nuclear proliferation. If he can pull this off, then the Chinese will face international opprobrium unless they change their stance. And right now the Chinese are working very hard to gain acceptance as a responsible and trustworthy superpower.

  13. John Kwok


    My criticism of Obama is not misplaced. In fact, I was chuckling tonight after watching the pilot episode of the re-imagined “V”, in which a television journalist asked the leader of the “V” aliens whether their desire to offer humanity universal healthcare was genuine (And no, I’m not one of those who believes that everything you see on television – especially if it is science fiction – is true, but I wonder what the Democrats will make of that comment. BTW, “V” promises to be one of the best new television drama series of the year.).

    As for the People Republic of China – my ancestral homeland – I believe in this Russian proverb, “Trust, but verify”.



  14. Erasmussimo

    John Kwok, you didn’t address what I actually talked about: Mr. Obama’s foreign policy.

  15. John Kwok

    Erasmussimo –

    What foreign policy? Does Obama REALLY HAVE one? I have yet to discern one. Even Clinton – whom I utterly detested – had a foreign policy and one that did make sense, especially in dealing with ethnic strife in the Balkans. But where is THE ONE’s foreign policy? I respectfully submit that if you’re looking for a sound foreign policy, look instead at Sarkozy’s, not Obama’s.

  16. Erasmussimo

    John, apparently you have not been paying attention. I realize that Mr. Obama’s moves are so subtle that few of them make it into the nightly news. But if you follow his diplomatic moves closely, you can see a clear policy that is being pursued doggedly:

    1. Defuse tensions. Mr. Bush left Mr. Obama with a horrid legacy of international disdain for the USA. The Europeans were moderately sympathetic, but the Muslim world had developed a reservoir of intense hatred toward America that made it impossible for us to wield any diplomatic power. Our usual friends in the Arab world, such as Egypt, Morocco, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, dragged their feet every time we asked them to apply diplomatic pressure on other Arab nations. Iran was able to take advantage of the anima towards us to advance their nuclear program, with everybody tacitly understanding that Iran needed some means to defend itself after what the US did to Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Obama has softened this hatred by a number of means:
    a. his speech in Cairo
    b. his congratulatory message on the event of a major Iranian holiday
    c. his promise immediately upon taking office to shut down Guantanamo, a major thorn in the Arab world.
    d. his shift in American policy towards Israel
    e. at the ambassadorial level, we are taking a more positive and proactive stance with Muslim nations.

    2. Offer carrots. He is still working on reducing the hatred towards America, but he has already moved into the second stage, where he offers benefits to those who honor American requests. He has, for example, cancelled the missile defense plan for Eastern Europe; this pleases both Russia and Iran. He has offered Iran a variety of benefits if it terminates its nuclear plan. He has expanded American relations with China, both at the diplomatic level and the economic level. He is accelerating the American pullout from Iraq. Ms. Clinton has been buzzing all over the world, increasing American support for a number of countries, including Pakistan, Indonesia, and Palestine.

    3. Wield sticks. Mr. Obama has threatened Iran with strong sanctions if it does not end its nuclear program. He is working hard to get Russia and China to agree to some economic sanctions. He is also setting up an alternate sanctions regime based on the US and the EU. He has twisted Israel’s arms to live up to its commitments not to expand its settlements.

    The policy is pretty clear: Mr. Obama is pursuing a variety of efforts meant to decrease tensions in the Middle East and move closer to Palestinian statehood, improve our chances of prevailing in Afghanistan, halt the Russian slide into xenophobia, and manage China’s expansion to superpower status.

  17. Erasmussimo

    I should add some more explanatory material: the cancellation of the missile defense plan in Eastern Europe wasn’t a random giveaway; Mr. Obama is using it on the Russians to push them towards supporting us on Iran. “You see, we took a big step towards a safer world by terminating plans for a destabilizing missile defense system; now it is your turn to reciprocate by helping us block the destabilizing effects of a nuclear-armed Iran.”

  18. John Kwok


    Thanks for proving my point. Obama has done a great impersonation of Neville Chamberlain by telling the Russians that there won’t be a US antiballistic missle shield in Eastern Europe in exchange for Russian cooperation in reigning in Iran. So what does Russia do? Blindly ignore the “discovery” of the nuclear processing plant near the Shi’a Islamic holy city of Qom, Iran.

    At least Clinton showed spine by supporting NATO (primarily American) airstrikes against the Serbs. Obama hasn’t done anything remotely close. So much for the Messiah’s understanding of foreigh policy, right?

  19. Erasmussimo

    You think that Russia is “blindly ignoring” the Qom facility? Perhaps you should read find a source of news that is a little more in-depth. Russia has shifted its position and is warning Iran that it will lose Russian support if it doesn’t come clean. Why do you think Iran shifted its position? There’s still plenty of action here, most of it behind the scenes, and the situation is made complicated by the internal politics of the Iranian government. But there is definitely something afoot. Either Iran will make some serious concessions under Russian pressure, or the Russians will acquiesce to stronger measures against Iran. I doubt that Russia will actively support such measures, but they might well abstain from the crucial vote.

    Fox News is not a particularly reliable source of information about foreign policy. You might want to consult some of the better sources. Start with the Economist, then move on to more advanced stuff like the Council on Foreign Relations (http://www.cfr.org/) or Foreign Affairs (http://www.foreignaffairs.com/).

  20. John Kwok


    Hate to disappoint you, but I don’t watch Fox News much. I am more likely to be watching the PBS Lehrer NewsHour. Anyway, I do recall someone else here about a month ago agreeing with me that Obama is doing a great impersonation of Neville Chamberlain. If that’s what we can expect from The One’s “Hope and Change”, then it’s “Hope and Change” I can do without.

    If Russia was serious about controlling Iran’s nuclear arms development then it would have joined forces with Sarkozy and Merkel among others. Instead, it wants to play the game both ways by being a “disinterested” mediator between the West and Iran.

    As for foreign policy think tanks, I have a friend who is the executive director of the World Policy Institute (http://www.worldpolicy.org), and occasionally will read work by her colleagues.

    Respectfully yours,


    P. S. Nor do I watch or listen to Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly (though I have to congratulate O’Reilly for a terse, most stern, interview he had conducted of my cousin, former United States Army chaplain James Yee, on his Fox News program a few years ago). I find Sean Hannity annoyingly shrill and, as for Rush Limbaugh, I’ll listen to him for entertainment value only.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs.For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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