NPR contributor Cokie Roberts left out many of President Obama's major successes when she said that his only real first-term accomplishment has been the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Among these accomplishments are the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the rescue of America's biggest car companies, and the death of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
During a discussion on the October 17 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe about why Obama refused to entertain Republican demands that would gut the ACA in exchange for agreeing to avert a government shutdown, Roberts argued that the health care reform law "was his only real accomplishment" in his first term:
ROBERTS: Look at his first term. What was his only real accomplishment in that first term? This legislation. ... To give up his only really big accomplishment as President of the United States, that is something that he was not going to do.
While the ACA is one of the president's major accomplishments and is projected to reduce the United States' uninsured population by 25 million people by 2023, Roberts' statement ignores several of Obama's other significant achievements.
ARRA, also known as the 2009 stimulus, was passed weeks after Obama became president and succeeded in boosting the economy by several percentage points and creating the equivalent of several million jobs, according to economists and the Congressional Budget Office.
Later in 2009, President Obama helped General Motors and Chrysler transition through bankruptcy, a move that experts estimate saved well over a million jobs. Without the federal assistance that Obama authorized, the companies would have been liquidated.
Roberts also failed to mention the death of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011, which represents a major foreign policy accomplishment by the president. Other notable foreign policy achievements include ending the U.S. military presence in Iraq, beginning the drawdown of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, and assisting in the overthrow of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
President Obama also signed significant consumer protections into law with the passage of new credit card regulations in 2009 and the 2010 financial reform law that created the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. Another of Obama's significant regulatory accomplishments was his push for the regulation of greenhouse gasses after the Environmental Protection Agency determined that they were a pollutants that threatened human health.
The first bill Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which expands opportunities for women to sue over pay discrimination. He also seated two female Supreme Court justices in his first term, including the first Hispanic justice, and oversaw the end of the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which banned openly gay Americans from serving in the military during his first term in office.
News coverage of the government shutdown and the looming debt ceiling crisis has prompted widespread criticism about how Beltway journalists unnecessarily include Democrats when assigning blame for a shutdown strategy that has been methodically plotted by extremist Republicans for months; a strategy built around making unprecedented demands on the president in exchange for Republican votes for a policy they say they already support.
Eager to maintain a political symmetry in which both sides are responsible for sparking conflict, the press effectively gives Republicans a pass for adopting truly outside-the-norm behavior, such as when senators suggest the United States defaulting on its debt is not cause for concern.
But both-sides-to-blame reporting is really just the public symptom of a larger media malady; the refusal to acknowledge the proud extremism of today's Republican Party. Both-sides-to-blame analysis is a fallback position. It's a soft landing spot for journalists who aren't confident enough to accurately report what's unfolding politically.
The signs of radical change are everywhere inside the Republican Party. The change is being driven by a group of hardcore members and their attempt to grind Obama's presidency, and the federal government, to a halt by refusing to not only compromise with Democrats, but refusing to even speak to them about the federal budget. They include members with an almost evangelical fervor for defaulting on the debt ceiling and who describe it as their defining "Braveheart" moment; their chance to do something "big." They're extremists trying to make governing impossible via procedural sabotage.
Yet many reporters and pundits remain blind to the obvious GOP transformation, or are too timid to spell out the details for news consumers.
As irresponsible Republicans in the House detonate one blockbuster crisis after another, it's becoming clear that the press doesn't know how to deal with this; that it doesn't have the right tools for the job. Most journalists have never seen anything quite like the purposeful dysfunction and chaos that Republicans have plotted, and therefore remain timid and unsure about acknowledging what's really happening.
So instead of clarity, we get the endless regurgitation about how the nation's capital has been paralyzed by a "partisan logjam" (Wall Street Journal), and suffering from "an inability to come together" (NPR contributor Cokie Roberts). See? Both sides are to blame.
Media figures are falsely claiming that Obama is "backtracking" on his comments regarding a planned Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero. But the president's statements on the issue have consistently emphasized, as Obama put it, a "commitment to religious freedom" and the legal right to build an Islamic center on a privately-owned site.
Cokie Roberts, May 23: "If I were a Democratic strategist, I'd tell him [Richard Blumenthal] to get out of the race. … Out, because I think that -- again, it's not a year for phonies. And -- and people are going to hold this against him. "
Associated Press, May 27: "Poll: Blumenthal still popular among Conn. voters"
Douglas Schwartz, Quinnipiac University poll director, May 27: "It looks like Connecticut voters forgive Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, or feel that there is nothing to forgive in the Vietnam service flap."
Quinnipiac, May 27: "By a 53 - 35 percent margin voters are satisfied with his explanation. Blumenthal leads [GOP candidate Linda] McMahon on every character measure."
Rasmussen Reports, June 3: "Democrat Richard Blumenthal apparently has weathered charges that he exaggerated his military service in Vietnam for years and is running as strongly as ever against both his Republican challengers in Connecticut's race for the U.S. Senate. A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Connecticut finds Blumenthal with 56% support versus 33% for Linda McMahon, the officially endorsed GOP candidate."
Maybe reporters should focus a little more on reporting what has happened and a little less on trying to predict how people will react.
From the June 21 edition of ABC's This Week:
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On ABC's This Week, NPR's Cokie Roberts falsely claimed that following his interview with The New York Times, President Obama "call[ed] the reporter back to say, you know, I -- basically, I am not a socialist." In fact, in the follow-up call, Obama criticized the Times' question, stating, "It was hard for me to believe you were entirely serious about that socialist question." Obama later said: "I think that it's important just to note when you start hearing folks throw these words around that we've actually been operating in a way that is entirely consistent with free-market principles and that some of the same folks who are throwing the word socialist around can't say the same."
On NPR, Cokie Roberts asserted that Sen. Barack Obama's vacation to Hawaii "makes him seem a little bit more exotic," and characterized Hawaii as "a somewhat odd place to be doing it," despite also asserting, "I know that he is from Hawaii, he grew up there, his grandmother lives there." Roberts previously criticized Obama on ABC's This Week, stating that Obama's vacation in Hawaii "has the look of him going off to some sort of foreign, exotic place."
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Responding to a question about whether Sen. John McCain was "maintaining the endorsement" of controversial televangelist John Hagee. NPR's Cokie Roberts asserted: "Well, he says that it was a mistake to seek and accept the endorsement. So I -- what does that mean? I don't know if that means that he has -- maintains it or not." In fact, when asked if he "no longer want[ed]" Hagee's endorsement, McCain stated: "I'm glad to have his endorsement."
On ABC's This Week, while discussing the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, Cokie Roberts asserted that Sen. John McCain is "even or winning in the polls." On MSNBC Live, Reuters' Jon Decker similarly stated that McCain is "running either ahead of both" Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama "or running even with both of them." But neither Roberts nor Decker mentioned that in that same poll, both Clinton and Obama beat McCain in hypothetical head-to-head match-ups.