Lame Duck or Prizefighter?

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the White House in WashingtonIn the months leading up to the U.S. midterm elections President Obama seemed to be sitting on the sidelines. Supports looked in vain for any sign of movement on a host of pressing issues including immigration, the XL pipeline, climate change, net neutrality, tax reform and economic policy.

The president recognized the massive wall of opposition from his Republican critics that awaited any action he might pursue on those issues. And so, he waited it out. He held off taking action on these matters until after the midterm elections were over so that Democratic candidates would not get caught in the cross fire.

But now Obama seems to be coming out of his corner – not defeated, but invigorated, saying in effect, “Bring it on.”

Obama - lame duckTonight Obama will inform the nation of his immigration policy to be implemented by executive order. Astonishingly, the major networks have refused to broadcast it – shouldn’t the “liberal” media be jumping at the chance to grant him this exposure? Instead, people will get selected “sound bites” broadcast later on – reflecting someone else’s take on his address.

Impeach ObamaI am sure Obama’s Republican critics will immediately start howling about Obama’s executive orders, demanding his impeachment – even though Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush instituted similar immigration changes by executive order during their administrations. (What? You mean the conservative media isn’t reporting this?)

According to the analysis I have read, Obama has full constitutional authority over deportations and how they shall be carried out. A recent article in the New Republic by Erwin Cherminsky, the Dean of Law at the University of California and Sam Kleiner, a fellow at the Yale Law Information Society Project, state,

One thing is clear: The president has the constitutional authority to decide to not proceed with deportations. It has always been within the president’s discretion to decide whether to have the Department of Justice enforce a particular law.

They explain,

A president may choose to not enforce particular laws when deciding how to allocate scarce resources or based on his view of the best public policy. Few object, for example, when the Department of Justice does not prosecute those who possess small amounts of marijuana, even though they violated the federal Controlled Substance Act. There are countless federal laws that go unenforced. In 1800, then congressman and later Chief Justice John Marshall stated, the president may “direct that the criminal be prosecuted no further” because it is “the exercise of an indubitable and constitutional power.”

They note that, “The president’s broad prosecutorial discretion has been repeatedly recognized by the courts.” Furthermore,

This prosecutorial discretion is even greater in immigration because the treatment of foreign citizens is inextricably intertwined with the nation’s foreign affairs, an area especially under the president’s control.

In fact, they report that

220pxPresident_Reagan_1981[P]residents of both parties have tailored immigration policy to their own goals. In 1987, the Reagan administration took executive action to limit deportations for 200,000 Nicaraguan exiles, even those who had been turned down for asylum. Similarly, President George H.W. Bush in 1990 limited deportations of Chinese students and in 1991 kept hundreds of Kuwait citizens from being deported. President Bill Clinton regularly used his power of prosecutorial discretion to limit deportations; in 1993 he gave 18-month extensions to Salvadoran residents, in 1997 he limited deportations for Haitians, and in 1998 he limited deportations to Central American counties that had been devastated by hurricanes.

220px-George-W-BushPresident George W. Bush also took major steps to limit deportations on humanitarian grounds. In 2001, he limited deportation of Salvadorian citizens at the request of the Salvadorian president who said that their remittances were a key part of their nation’s economy. The Bush administration embraced prosecutorial discretion and ordered the consideration of factors such as whether a mom was nursing a child or whether an undocumented person was a U.S. military veteran in making the determination on whether to order a deportation.

Obama’s conservative opponents will no doubt howl in protest and will dire utter threats over Obama’s actions. They will seek to mobilize their base and bring in a flurry of donations to help “take Obama down.”

But they will lose in the end. And the Latino community will remember who it was that attacked them and who defended them when the next election rolls around.

Obama boxing poseTo use a boxing metaphor, the bell has rung on “Round 1” in the post-election battle. Both parties are moving to the center of the ring poised to do battle, and the sparring has begun. It should be interesting to see who flails in the wind and who ends up landing the decisive blow.

Photo credit: AP

The Worst President since World War II?

Quinnipiac-poll

A lot of media attention has been given this past week to a Quinnipiac Poll (released on July 2) that ranks Obama as the worst President since World War II. It’s the kind of headline grabber that conservatives love to latch on to. But if one examines the polling data closely, a rather different picture emerges.

The Quinnipiac Poll listed the last 12 U.S. presidents beginning with Harry Truman (1945-1953), and asked respondents to say which of the 12 they considered to be the worst.

33% picked Barack Obama. The next choice was George W. Bush at 28%.

What do these poll results tell us? It may be simply this: As one of my fellow bloggers has observed,

Whoever is President at the time wins this [distinction]. When this poll was done in 2006, George W. Bush won it. It’s kind of expected and comes with the territory; the current President is always the worst, and then the longer they are away from office, the better they get.

We can see how this is so by placing the 2006 and 2014 polling results side by side:

                             July 2006                                                             July 2014

  1. George W. Bush (34 percent)             1.   Barack Obama (33 percent)
  2. Richard Nixon (17 percent)                2.  George W. Bush (28 percent)
  3. Bill Clinton (16 percent)                     3.   Richard Nixon (13 percent)
  4. Jimmy Carter (13 percent)                  4.   Jimmy Carter (8 percent)

In the most recent poll Barack Obama has (barely) pushed George W. Bush aside as the worst ranked president, followed by Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. One also notes that in the years between these two polls the number of people rating each of these past presidents as worst actually declined. (Bush from 34% to 28%; Nixon from 17% to 13%; Carter from 13% to 8%) Bill Clinton seems to have been rehabilitated the most, as he now disappears from the list.

Generally speaking, the passage of time seems to soften people’s negative judgments of past administrations. As the New York Post reports,

The survey itself appears prone to let people vent their opposition to a current White House occupant.

Thus, Obama

can take solace in the fact that presidents usually see their numbers rise after they leave office.

In capitalizing on the headline of Obama being the worst president, most media accounts have neglected to add that the Quinnipiac Poll also asked the respondents to say which of these 12 presidents they considered to be the best.

As the best president, Obama ranks 4th behind Ronald Reagan (35%), Bill Clinton (18%) and John Kennedy (15%) receiving 8% of the vote. George W. Bush, by comparison, receives only 1%. Reagan, Clinton and Kennedy received similar votes of approval in the 2006 survey (with 28%, 25% and 18% respectively) while George W. Bush was ranked best by only 3%. (Oops! Confidence in Bush’s presidency actually went down after he left office.)

What this seems to imply is that for all of the present criticism of Barack Obama, he ranks much better in people’s minds than George W. Bush. And that is something the conservative media would rather not report. So don’t expect to see that reported in their coverage.

When the Quinnipiac data is broken down by political affiliation, we find that the results are strongly polarized. 66% of Republican respondents view Reagan as the best president since World War II while only 6% if Democrats do. 34% of Democrats rate Bill Clinton as the best president while only 4% of Republicans do. And 18% of Democrats view Obama as the best president while only 4% of Republicans do. On the negative side, 54% of Democrats see George W. Bush as the worst president since World War II while only 5% of Republicans do, and 63% of Republicans view Obama as the worst president while only 4% of Democrats do. The highly partisan responses are plainly evident.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the White House in WashingtonThe Quinnipiac Poll also rates perceptions of Barack Obama’s handling of various key issues. 55% give him a negative rating for his handling of the economy, 57% rate him negatively on foreign policy, 58% on health care, 40% on the environment, and 51% on his handling of terrorism.

This is not surprising as

the conservative media constantly sends out negative criticisms of the president’s performance on every conceivable issue and rarely has anything good to say about him. Faced with an unrelenting barrage of negative new feeds most people will conclude that the reports must to some degree be correct.

But Barack Obama actually has a long list of accomplishments to his credit. We should not overlook the fact that he brought the American economy out of its greatest financial crisis in 80 years. He has slashed the annual deficit he inherited by over 50%. During his time in office he has also overseen the creation of over 4.5 million jobs. And with the passage of the Affordable Care Act he has accomplished what no other president has been able to do since the goal of providing universal health coverage was introduced by Richard Nixon over 40 years ago.

In commenting on why the Obama administration doesn’t get more credit for delivering such good news, Michael Tomasky of The Daily Beast says that it is largely because

Liberals don’t speak as one big fat propagandistic voice on this subject in remotely the same way conservatives do when a Republican president is in power. …

Imagine that a Republican president produced 45 straight months of job growth coming off the worst financial crisis since the Depression. Lord, we’d never hear the end of it from Fox and Limbaugh and even from CNBC.

I can’t argue with that. Obama clearly is not getting the credit he deserves.