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Jonathan Kraut: Looking ahead with hindsight

Posted: January 11, 2010 3:56 p.m.
Updated: January 12, 2010 4:55 a.m.
To all of you I wish a very healthy, happy, prosperous new year. 2009 was clearly a year of political change, but there were no dramatic upheavals or surprises, just a president doing what he said he would do.

President Barack Obama is reshaping the political landscape, not with aggressive strokes but with deliberation, focus and purpose.

Our new president has abandoned the "ready, fire, aim" approach to governance under George W. Bush. Unlike President Bush, who would "go into his gut" to decide what to do, and then ask his staff to prove he was right, Obama has been measured and thoughtful.

The Bush style was one of blow-hard incompetency, while Obama has led with maturity and attentiveness. Bush went wild with purpose when he led us into Iraq for all the wrong reasons. Then he took 60 months before he seriously started to considere how to disengage. Of course, Bush never figured out how to disengage. That probably would have taken another 60 months.

Obama, in only six months, not only has reduced the conditions that put our troops in harm's way, but Iraqis are finally governing themselves.

Bush deferred his power to military commanders, despite being less-than-effective for seven years. Bush's "listening to the generals in the field" showed obedience, not leadership.

Obama's Afghanistan approach was characterized recently by eight separate high-level staff meetings to assess strategy. Each time strategic goals were in doubt, Obama asked participants to go back and work on other options.

Maybe Obama did not get it right, but at least every effort was applied to come up with the best possible solution.

Obama has been efficient. Under Obama there are only 18 "czars" - directly appointed federal department heads - cutting bureaucracy. Bush had 38.

Obama has already led us to the doorstep of comprehensive medical reform, and government spending is now with a national purpose and not solely for a private sector beneficiary like Halliburton.

No more "no-bid contracts." No more handing out briefcases stashed with hundred-dollar bills to Iraqis pretending to support U.S. Iraqi presence. No more putting off big moves for the next commander-in-chief.

Bush had not only been wasteful - responsible for $3.414 trillion of spending in 2009 - but his policies were also ineffective. Bush doled out a reported $154 billion for TARP and $91 billion for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, with no strings attached, no repayment, and made taxpayers fund billions in executive bonuses. Yet all this did not abate the free-fall of our economy.

Spending in Bush's first year (fiscal year 2001) was $1.863 trillion. He presided over an 83 percent increase in overall federal spending. Even without TARP, spending was up a huge 70 percent under Bush over his eight years.

Under Obama, TARP money has preconditions for acceptance and tight regulations on spending. Obama has already precipitated the hasty repayment of $45 billion by Bank of America, and billions more by JP Morgan, Citigroup and others.

How much TARP money came back from Bush? None.

Obama's policies have, in fact, stabilized the economy, with unemployment leveling out, home sales on the rise again and gross domestic product finally on the plus side.

If conservatives want to complain about unmanaged, wanton waste and skyrocketing deficits, they'd better take issue with the Republican legacy that brought our economy to its knees.

There is a big difference in spending versus lending. Bush threw money at problems, while Obama made loans with a purpose and wants that money back.

Bush and conservatives clamored for a free, unregulated market. Enabling unbridled greed created the Great Depression and this latest Great Recession. Democrats have just passed reform bills mandating ethical and transparent standards needed to end these abuses.

While Bush abandoned international treaties, Obama got his way with leaders from China, India, Brazil and South Africa to not only vow to decrease carbon dioxide emissions and greenhouse gases and provide $30 billion of emergency aid over the next three years to help poorer nations do the same, but to submit to independent verification.

So what a year 2009 was. Under the Democratic helm, we have seriously addressed resolutions to: the war in Iraq; the war in Afghanistan; wasteful government spending; our national recession; health industry abuses; unethical investment and banking practices; and global climate change.

All these difficulties, magnified under Bush, have been taken head-on in just 11 Democratic months.

I can't wait for the changes we see in this Democratic year.

Jonathan Kraut is a Fair Oaks Ranch resident and serves in the Democratic Party of the SCV, on the SCV Human Relations Forum and the SCV Interfaith Council. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or other organizations.


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