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Is Obama a B+ President?

Is Obama a B+ President?

By Richard Reeves - December 22, 2009

LOS ANGELES -- It's the time of year when college instructors grade papers. Having done this for more than 10 years at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism here at the University of Southern California, I would offer this general rule: Students usually think they deserve a half-grade better than what they get. Give them a B, they think they should have gotten a B-plus.

So, watching "60 Minutes" the other night, I was not surprised when President Obama gave himself a B-plus for his first year in the White House. I think he has done a good job in the most difficult of circumstances, probably the most frustrating set of interlocking circumstances since Franklin D. Roosevelt came into office in 1933.

(A bit of disclosure: I have a daughter who works on the White House staff, so, from a personnel standpoint, the man can do no wrong in the Reeves family.)

All presidents are students. After all, only 44 men know or knew what the job is like and they are or were all prisoners of events unforeseen. As a candidate, Obama probably did not understand how bad the American economy really was. He certainly did not realize that the loyal opposition, Republicans in Congress, would stamp their tiny little feet and shout "No, no, never!" every time he stood up in class to answer a question.

The hyperpartisanship of the Republicans surprised many people. We seem to be living in a time when "motherhood and apple pie" is a divisive issue. Well, I guess apple pie is still OK, though some environmentalists, people of the left, might question that. I mean, how were these apples grown?

So, it is not only Republicans and conservatives throwing sand into the wheels of progress. Purists of the left -- former Democratic national chairman Howard Dean for one -- can be just as intransigent. But there is a difference: The Democrats do have leaders, beginning with the president, though he may be a bit too thoughtful (or cool) for the job. The Republicans have entertainers, beginning with Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

Obama has generally pushed forward on the issues he brought up in the campaign, even if they sometimes seem to be in the thousands, some of them ill-advised, most notably military success in Afghanistan. He has greatly improved the United States' standing in the world, though perhaps not to the satisfaction of those Americans who do not want to be part of the world. On health care, climate change and financial regulation, too, he has been pragmatic and persistent -- and he will prevail on important aspects of those issues. He has, in general, pushed forward the agenda he proposed during the 2008 campaign -- even if many on the left feel he is moving too slowly and most on the right yell "socialism" no matter what he does.

All of that will be tested in the 2010 congressional elections. The conventional wisdom is that Republicans will gain some because of Obama's "mistakes." I would not bet on that. "Stop!" is not the most effective campaign slogan I've ever heard.

But, who knows? The political gap in the country is about the worst I remember. I was in a doctor's waiting room the other day, forced to listen to a guy who began by saying climate change was a conspiracy, health care a plot and the president was giving away the country. I was surprised to learn that he did not have his own radio program. Going inside, my physician said that any doctor in the country could solve the health care crisis in 20 minutes. "We need a single-payer system like every other civilized country in the world," he said. "But that can't happen because the insurance companies, the hospitals, the doctors, the pharmaceutical companies and other medical suppliers all have enough money and power to protect their own pocketbooks."

This is a tough country to govern these days and Obama is not doing badly. From a professor's viewpoint, though, he has done less original work than many hoped he could do. So that means his real grade this year would be a B. His new assignments are getting out of Afghanistan and finding a way to raise the revenue of the federal government.

Copyright 2009, Universal UClick

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