Man of His Word: Obama Likely to Deliver on His Inaugural Promises (Again)

If the past four years are any guide, listen closely to what Obama says he plans to do. It'll probably happen.

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Shawn Thew / Pool / Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama listens as First Lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks at the Inaugural Reception at the National Building Museum on Jan. 20, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

Unlike most inaugural addresses, President Obama’s first was kind of a bummer. The media expected him to focus on the feel-good story of his racially historic election, but instead he dwelled on national drift and economic collapse, “a sapping of confidence across our land.” And unlike most inaugural addresses, Obama’s first detailed his immediate policy plans for the troubled country:

            We will act not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its costs. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.

My insta-response on TIME’s live-blog was: “This is the weak part of the speech. It’s a lovely laundry list, but it’s a laundry list. Save it for the State of the Union.” But as I later explained in my book about change in the Obama era, the State of the Union would’ve been too late.

(LIST: Obama’s Inauguration: Who’s Who in the Ceremony)

That’s because Obama and his transition team were already putting together an $800 billion stimulus bill that would keep all those promises during his first month in office. It did create jobs at a time when the U.S. was shedding 800,000 a month, triggering the biggest quarterly employment improvement in 30 years in the spring of 2009, and it did begin to lay that new foundation for growth, the Change We Can Believe In that Obama had talked about on the campaign trail. It included America’s largest infrastructure investments—not only roads and bridges but a smarter electric grid and digital broadband lines—since Eisenhower. It included unprecedented federal investments in scientific research. It poured an astonishing $27 billion into health information technology that is dragging our medical system into the electronic era. It jump-started a clean energy revolution that has doubled U.S. wind power, increased solar power more than 1000%, financed the nation’s first advanced biofuels refineries, and created a domestic battery industry for electric vehicles from scratch. It launched Race to the Top, arguably the most ambitious education reform initiative of the postwar era. Not to mention its quiet modernization of the New Deal unemployment insurance system, or its dramatically successful new effort to prevent homelessness, or a variety of other reforms.

Admittedly, none of these transformative policies were too original. Obama cares deeply about policy, but he’s not really a policy entrepreneur, and his 2008 campaign was not really about new ideas. It was about change, and the sense that maybe he’d follow through on familiar old ideas that never went anywhere. And he has. I’m sorry to bury the lede, but the story of his first term is that he basically tried to do what he said he would do, and he mostly succeeded. As I’ve written, Obama’s critics often dismissed him as a words guy; he turned out to be a deeds guy.

As Obama prepares to deliver his second inaugural address today, it’s worth recounting some of those deeds. He saved the U.S. auto industry from the brink of extinction. He achieved the Democratic dream of overhauling health care, providing near-universal coverage and insurance protections while starting to rein in costs. He passed the most sweeping financial reforms since the Depression. He got rid of Osama bin Laden, ended the war in Iraq, and is on his way to ending the war in Afghanistan. He allowed gays to serve openly in the military. He raised taxes on the rich and cut taxes for everyone else. His administration has avoided serious scandals, and has ramped up transparency in government operations.

(MORE: A New Report Says Change Happens From the Outside. But in the Obama Era, It’s Happened on the Inside)

That was basically the 2008 Obama campaign agenda. The reality-deficient right has attacked him as a lawless socialist, while the utopian left has attacked him as a spineless sellout, but very little in his White House record should have been a surprise to anyone who listened to his priorities.

Obama didn’t get everything he wanted. He didn’t get a cap-and-trade bill, although he did pass historic fuel-efficiency and appliance-efficiency standards that will dramatically reduce energy use, in addition to his groundbreaking investments in clean energy. He didn’t pass a comprehensive immigration bill either. And he didn’t keep his promises to end the pettiness and nastiness of Washington politics, to “set aside childish things,” as he put it in his inaugural. Republicans realized that they could make him a promise-breaker by refusing to cooperate, at a time when their increasingly reactionary base was pushing them towards non-cooperation anyway. So Washington is still a political Toys R Us. Obama has only changed its policies, a heavy lift given the relentless obstructionism of his opposition.

So what does Obama do for an encore? Congress already passed most of his 2008 agenda. And let’s face it: He didn’t have much of a 2012 agenda. “Forward” was a nice slogan, but all it meant was “Don’t let Romney and the GOP undo everything I did and restore the Bush era.”

Obama’s first priority in his second term, as in his first term, will be avoiding economic disaster. Unless he can work out a fiscal deal with surly Republicans, they could force the U.S. into an unthinkable default on its obligations. The negotiations could also end in a government shutdown, or drastic short-term spending cuts that could produce a double-dip recession, as they did in austerity-battered Spain and Great Britain. That said, the talks could also produce a bipartisan deal that makes additional progress on the long-term budget deficit while protecting the economic recovery, which would burnish Obama’s legacy. He could even make good on his promise in his first inaugural to end inefficient government programs; except for the F-22 fighter jet, he hasn’t ended much in his first term.

(MORE: What the Current Economic Outlook Means for American Families)

Otherwise, major legislation might be a heavy lift as long as the GOP controls the House and can filibuster Democratic legislation in the Senate. Immigration could be an exception, thanks to Republican eagerness to make nice with Latinos; Senator Marco Rubio is pushing a plan similar to Obama’s, and if the president can pretend he doesn’t like it for awhile it just might become law. Obama’s passionate push for gun control after Sandy Hook could produce some modest bipartisan efforts to expand background checks. There is also some bipartisan interest in tax reforms that could limit inefficient deductions and close egregious loopholes while lowering rates. And it’s at least conceivable that the threat of the EPA regulating carbon pollution could build momentum for some kind of climate bill, the hole in Obama’s Change We Can Believe In policy doughnut.

More likely, though, the lasting policy work of Obama’s second term will be conducted behind the scenes, where bureaucrats will be implementing Obamacare, financial reform, Race to the Top, and other legacy projects from the first term. It’s not sexy. But after some massive achievements in his first term, Obama is well positioned to take advantage of natural forces in his second. If the economy continues to rebound, the deficit should shrink and Obama’s reputation as a turnaround artist should grow; Obama used to tell his advisers it would be very annoying if a President Romney got to claim credit for the recovery. And if the U.S. military continues to reduce its global footprint, the U.S. reputation in the world should continue to revive from the abyss of the Bush years.

Of course, there’s no way to know what surprises the next four years will bring at home or abroad. But if his first four years are any guide, it will make sense to listen to what Obama says he plans to do today. He’ll probably do it.

MORE: What Should Obama Say in His Second Inaugural Address?

102 comments
LenSimpson
LenSimpson

BO's prayer-----" Lord, or somebody, please deliver me from greedy & small minded people.

PishawBro
PishawBro

Again? Did I miss something? Guantanamo is still open. Young people are still dying in Afghanistan. And the Justice Department is still run by the same idiots Bush put in charge.

In fact, we are headed into the 13th. year of the Bush administration. The only reason Obama still has the job is the republicans couldn't find anyone who is NOT insane, unintelligent, or both.

Is it any wonder things are so bad?

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

Promises I hear, in addition to the recent previous commitment to do something about mass murder by gun, are to implement policies on global warming, equal pay, marriage equality, voting rights, and immigration reform. Along with creating more jobs and keeping the Republicans from further damaging the economic recovery, it's a pretty full plate. This decidedly non-utopian leftist wishes him luck.

UMMLocal12
UMMLocal12

M Grunwald makes a better case for re-electing Obama than the Obama campaign did.  That was even true before the election, when he published his book.  Even if you don't agree with his opinions, at least he presents them in a coherent argument and references facts. 

That is a very disturbing comment on the poverty of our political discourse and the general media coverage of it.

fitty_three
fitty_three

It was an excellent speech.

Oh, BTW, he ripped into the GOP in a beautifully indirect way.

Bravo!

markcurry7
markcurry7

It would be great if they would put the greed down and work together things would be great for everyone.

hjpreston
hjpreston

Yes he's competent.  And fair-minded, morally sound, extremely intelligent (admit it) and just a plain cool dude.

What's not to like?  Oh, yeah...

HeEsa
HeEsa

ALL HUMANS    THINK., STOP FIGHTING FOR GREED + UN WANTED BAD  DESIRE = EVERY ONE CAN LIVE HAPPY. MAKE THIS EARTH OR WORLD MOST PEACEFUL PLACE TO LIVE AND MAKE IT A HUMAN HEAVEN.... AS ONE DAY WE ALL HAVE TO GO.........DEATH IS REALITY OF LIFE  AS LONG AS YOU LIVE .LIVE WITH LOVE RESPECT AND  DIGNITY.......AT THIS AGE WHEN I SEE HUMANS FIGHTING IN NAME OF RELIGION I FEEL SAD.   WHY NOT LIVE IN PEACE AND LOVE & HELP LESS BLESSED HUMANS....WARS AND FIGHTING LEADS TO ONLY SUFFERING..ESA.

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

"The reality-deficient right has attacked him as a lawless socialist...."

 This from someone who wears knee pads emblazoned with the Obama logo and believes the failed stimulus plan worked. 

"Republicans realized that they could make him a promise-breaker by refusing to cooperate..."

How did the GOP force Obama to break his promise on Gitmo? His promise to open up all the Obamacare negotiations to C-SPAN? His promise to allow five days of public comment before signing bills? The reality is that the vast majority of the dozens and dozens of promises Obama has failed to keep had nothing to do with the opposition.

Grunwald demonstrates why Newsweek and Time are struggling news magazines. Their former readers simply grew tired of the BS they are peddling.


AlistairCookie
AlistairCookie

@53_3 I just read the transcript.  A very well written speech; the speech writer(s) should be very proud of themselves.  I will have to catch Obama's delivery later on the internet when I have a chance.  

Waiting for the fault finders in 3...2...

PishawBro
PishawBro

@KevinGroenhagen  

 Ladies and gentlemen, the republican party 2013! Uninformed, unintelligent, and deceived.

 When do the Death Camps open, Kevin?

BobJan
BobJan

@KevinGroenhagen so just how do we pay for 2 wars, 2 tax cuts, big drug giveaway, TSA and Homeland Security. These were all instituted under a Republican President with a Republican Congress. I'm not saying it was good, wrong or indifferent. When GW left office the country was collapsing. 800,000 jobs a month were being lost. That in itself is a ton of lost revenue $$$$$$. The two wars were eating the country alive in terms of revenue $$$$$$$ going into the war machine. So just how was the next president supposed to pay for this debt that was already rang up. It was brought on by both sides too. You don't like Obama, that's already a given. Then I ask you how to work with a person like McConnell that goes around boasting that his only goal in life is to make Obama a one term president. Then back in December of 2012 McConnell brings up a bill and Reid allows it to be brought to the floor for a vote and McConnell himself filibusters his own bill. If I were President I'd go on national TV and tell the American people that they've got one dumb person in Senator McConnell. But that's not what politicians do. So just tell me how do we pay for all that I've mentioned. And get off the "I hate Obama kick", it's really old.

Tero
Tero

@KevinGroenhagen

"Grunwald demonstrates why...blah blah blah"

You consistently demonstrate your irrelevance, your hatred, and your childishness with every post you make. You are a sad old, bigoted, pathetic excuse for a man. Honour your bet and leave Swampland. No one is buying what your selling, loser.

MementoMori
MementoMori

@mantisdragon91@KevinGroenhagenIt'd be nice if we could all stop using gay innuendo as an insult. I expect that from Greonhagen, who calls everyone he disagrees with 'effeminate' or 'skippy'. We should use Greonhagen as an example of how not to behave like an adult, and dispense with the schoolyard-level insults.

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

@BobJan@KevinGroenhagenFirst, both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were authorized by a Democrat-controlled Senate, so you have your facts wrong on that. As I noted earlier, the deficit for FY 2007 was just $160 billion, and that was when both wars were taking place. So what's the excuse for Obama's trillion-dollar deficits?

"You don't like Obama, that's already a given. Then I ask you how to work with a person like McConnell that goes around boasting that his only goal in life is to make Obama a one term president."

 He never said that that was his only goal, so you're wrong about that as well. And it's always the goal of the opposition party to make the president a one-term president. There's nothing new about that.

I hate socialism. Why would you want me to love Obama when he is a socialist who promotes socialism? Socialism runs counter to our founding principles.

raidx259
raidx259

@Tero @KevinGroenhagenBigot. That's a really choice word for you liberals isn't it?


Anyone that doesn't see things your way is a bigot and a hater. 

outsider
outsider

@Tero @KevinGroenhagen 


Have you ever noticed he stays away from high traffic posts? Once the count goes up, he just stops. 

Almost as though he can't handle the onslaught of dissenting opinions. It's like he can't argue, and name calling doesn't seem effective - so he just puts his tail between his legs, and leaves. 

MementoMori
MementoMori

@KevinGroenhagen @MementoMori @mantisdragon91Kevin, I've been here long enough to have heard your broken record sloganeering and nigh-constant questioning of people's manhood. And when I say 'people' I mean every single male liberal you disagree with. You behave like a ten year old, then complain when people treat you like a ten year old.

No apology from me. Grow up.

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

@mantisdragon91 @KevinGroenhagen Actually, I shared my DD 214 and proved that I served in the Marines (upper case). That's why I know that you did not serve. No true veteran would every contemplate inserting their dog tags into someone's rectum.

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

Then that would make Obama's trillion-dollar deficits six-trillion-dollar deficits.

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

@BobJan@KevinGroenhagenThanks for admitting that you were wrong when you said the wars were " instituted under a Republican President with a Republican Congress." Few liberals acknowledge their errors.

BobJan
BobJan

@KevinGroenhagen@Tero@BobJan  

The real 2007 federal budget deficit was $4 trillion, not a previously reported $163 billion, an economist contends, based on data from the Treasury Department’s annual financial report.

“The federal government’s fiscal woes continue to careen wildly out of control,” said economist John Williams, who publishes the Internet website Shadow Government Statistics.

Williams explained that the difference between the official budget deficit and his number is that the official figure is calculated on a cash basis, where all tax receipts, including Social Security receipts, are used to pay government liabilities as they occur.

Williams bases his figure on the Treasury Department’s “2007 Financial Report of the United States Government,” released Dec. 15.

The calculations in the annual report are calculated on a GAAP basis – Generally Accepted Accounting Practices – that includes year-for-year changes in the net present value of unfunded liabilities in social insurance programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

Under cash accounting, the government makes no provision for future Social Security and Medicare benefits in the year in which those benefits accrue.

“Truthfully, there is no Social Security ‘lock-box.’ There are no funds held in reserve today for Social Security and Medicare obligations that are earned each year,” Williams pointed out.

“It’s only a matter of time until the public realizes that the government is truly bankrupt and no taxes are being held in reserve to pay in the future the Social Security and Medicare benefits taxpayers are earning today.”

Calculations from the 2007 report also show that the GAAP negative net worth of the federal government has increased to $54.3 trillion, while the total federal obligations under GAAP accounting now total $59.8 trillion.

“Social Security and Medicare must be shown as liabilities on the federal balance sheet in the year they accrue,” Williams argued. “To do otherwise is irresponsible, nothing more than an attempt to hide the painful truth from the American public.

“The public has a right to know just how bad off the federal government budget deficit situation really is, especially since the situation is rapidly spinning out of control,” he said.

Williams explained to WND the federal government is “bankrupt.”

“In a post-Enron world, if the federal government were a corporation such as General Motors, the president and senior Treasury officers would be in federal penitentiary,” he said.

Williams noted that the 2007 report utilized several one-time accounting adjustments calculated to make the numbers look less severe.

In his subscription newsletter, Williams reported the government’s figures according to the standards previously used, discounting the one-time adjustments.

In a letter included in the 2007 Financial Report of the United States Government, David M. Walker, the U.S. comptroller general, once again refused to certify or render an opinion on the consolidated financial statements contained in the report, noting “the federal government’s inability to demonstrate the reliability of significant portions of the U.S. government’s accompanying accrual basis consolidated financial statements for fiscal years 2007 and 2006.”

In his letter, Walker also noted the first wave of the baby boom generation has begun to leave the work force and file for retirement benefits.

Walker observed the budget and economic implications “will only intensify as the baby boomers age,” resulting in the dire consequence “that our nation is on an imprudent and unsustainable long-term fiscal path that is getting worse with the passage of time.”

“That’s an understatement,” Williams said. “What the comptroller of the United States is telling us is that as bad as a $4 trillion federal budget deficit and a $54.3 trillion GAAP negative net worth is, the situation with the federal budget deficit is only going to get worse as the baby boomers retire and demand retirement services, including Social Security and Medicare payments.”


Read more at http://www.wnd.com/2008/01/45430/#AV4CZeRvrtYFcWzw.99

BobJan
BobJan

@KevinGroenhagen@BobJan

2001 107th Congress  Pres. GW Bush   Senate  D*       House  R 221

2003 108th Congress  Pres. GW Bush   Senate  R51     House  R 229

2005 109th Congress  Pres. GW Bush   Senate  R55     House  R 232

2007 110th Congress  Pres. GW Bush   Senate  D51** House  D 233

2009 111th Congress  Pres. Obama        Senate D55***House  D 256 


* There were 50 Ds and 50 Rs until May 24, 2001, when Sen. James Jeffords (R-VT) switched to Independent status, effective June 6, 2001; he announced that he would caucus with the Democrats, giving the Democrats a one-seat advantage.

** Independent Sen. Bernard Sanders (VT) gives the Democrats a one-seat majority.

*** Two Independents and two vacancies (IL and MN) 

 Apparently everyone forgot the President needed 60 votes in the Senate to pass legislation.  I heard a Latino news reporter say they felt if the President could pass healthcare, he could have passed immigration reform.  Newsflash!!  The healthcare bill was passed using "reconciliation", because there were not 60 Democrats in the Senate.


S_Deemer
S_Deemer

@KevinGroenhagen : "[McConnell] never said that that was his only goal,..."

McConnell said this: ""the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." For most speakers of English, "single" is a synonym for "only".

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

@Tero @KevinGroenhagen @BobJan All of Obama's mentors were socialists, Obama attended socialist conferences while at Columbia, he adopted the community organizing tactics of socialists, he ran Project Vote! with socialists in Chicago, he ran as a Democrat Party and New Party, which was affiliated with Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), fusion candidate in 1996, he appointed DSA members and relatives of DSA members to positions in his administration, he awarded a DSA honorary chair with a Medal of Freedom, and his promotes socialist policies. Yet you claim that he is not a socialist and then call me a moron? Hilarious.

Tero
Tero

@KevinGroenhagen @BobJan 

*Obama is not a socialist. No matter how many times you (incorrectly) state it. 

You are a moron.

raidx259
raidx259

@Tero @raidx259 @KevinGroenhagen 

No just stopped to call you out. Because your manners are unbecoming and diminish whatever it is you stand for. What, you own this board? 

Tero
Tero

@raidx259 @Tero @KevinGroenhagen 

I can carry on a conversation with reasonable adults. Kevy just happens to not fit that category, so I call him out on his lies, bigotry, and homophobia. Who are you anyways? Just stopped by to whine?

Tero
Tero

@raidx259 @Tero @KevinGroenhagen

"Anyone that doesn't see things your way is a bigot and a hater."

No, just those like Kevy, who demonstrate their bigotry on a daily basis. Why you so sensitive?

raidx259
raidx259

@Tero @KevinGroenhagen See? there we go again. Bigot.

Seriously, W T F guy. Can't you engage in a discussion without the name calling?

Tero
Tero

@KevinGroenhagen @Tero 

Kevy; im sorry to say but your sad, delusional posts expose the simplicity of your mind and character. You are a bigot and a homophobe with a pervy fascination for under-age girls. Keep on telling yourself otherwise...

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

@Tero @KevinGroenhagen How would I know if you're effeminate? I've never met you. You're a liberal, so that increases the chances that you're effeminate, but not all liberals are effeminate. I do not have a fascination with Taylor Swift. I have merely compared her with Rosie O'Donnell.

Tero
Tero

@KevinGroenhagen @Tero 

That all you got? The same OLD, tired, recycled, stale comments? Aren't you gonna call me "effeminate"? Or maybe reiterate your pervy fascination with Taylor Swift?

You are pathetic, and everyone here sees you as such. You're not a "constitutionalist", you're a joke!

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

@outsider2011 @Tero @KevinGroenhagen The sad thing is for you liberals this is supposed to be a day of celebration. Yet here you are, expressing the same bitterness you have always expressed. You guys will be losers regardless of who is in the White House.

AlistairCookie
AlistairCookie

@outsider2011 @Tero @KevinGroenhagen Reminds me of my husband's grandfather.  Since we elected (TWICE, the horror!) a president with an obvious case of being Not White, he's been quite upset at the country going down the drain.  Right down to the "socialist, Muslim-sympathizer" (which, as a concept, is a disgusting insult to Muslims--the insinuation being that they, as a class of people, are inherently evil and bad).  He enjoys his Fox News cocoon because it is reassuring and comforting.  It is an echo chamber that tells him exactly what he wants to hear (it's how he knows they're right).  It's okay.

There is no reason to engage him (grandpa, or Mr. Groenhagen) in any conversation when they refuse to acknowledge facts that don't support their pre-drawn conclusions and biases.  Especially when the exchange goes to insults so quickly (the last defense when backed into a rhetorical corner); my 4 year old knows better than to behave like that.   

outsider
outsider

@Tero @outsider2011 @KevinGroenhagen 


On one hand, i kinda feel for the guy;  his country changing (for the better), and he's pretty powerless to stop it. 


Older people don't like change, because it's different from what they are used to, so they can't handle it (coincidence that it's older, white people who are screaming the loudest?). 


And change is inevitable - the stark reality can't really be denied, so i understand his fear. What i don't accept however, is his need to put down everyone else who are happy with the changes. I mean when he makes an argument like he did above, i read it, and consider it - there was no name calling, just his opinion - which is fine, everyone is entitled, right?


It's his need to call names that takes away from any point he may raise, and basically serves to render his opinion irrelevant - and that is unfortunate. While i don't agree with his points, or his view, i know personally, i'd be more inclined to read them and address them if they were in a civil manner. 


That's totally removed from his whole breaking his bet thing; though the breaking his bet thing is another symptom of the behavior - things didn't turn out the way he predicted, and since he couldn't handle it, he discarded it. 


Not so easy to do in terms of gov't - but very easy to do here. 

Tero
Tero

@outsider2011 @Tero @KevinGroenhagen

I know LOL. I love his retort to this article, an article from a professional, educated journalist; "This from someone who wears knee pads emblazoned with the Obama logo". I mean what a pathetic old loser kevy is. Doesn't he realize how foolish he sounds? I guess not...