Traveling in Australia and New Zealand, you quickly realize that people here are incredibly interested, informed, and invested in the outcome of the American Presidential election. The result matters to them on several levels. Mostly, of course, it’s symbolic; there was little daylight between the foreign policy platforms of President Obama and the Republican nominee. But, fair or not, they tend to associate the Republican Party with the go-it-alone, “with-us-or-against-us” bluster of Bush and Reagan. These are not times that they fondly remember.
I found out the result of the election from the FM radio on a boat floating in a cove off the coast of Australia (rough life, I know). What struck me first was that the Australian news station reported the result at the top of their broadcast every hour. But mostly I was surprised by the way that they covered it: they didn’t focus on the horse race. They didn’t rattle off poll numbers or Electoral College scores.
But they did talk about Obama’s reelection in terms of issues mostly absent from the campaign trail. They talked about how America would now keep its health care law. They talked about their hope that the President would address issues of global warming—a topic that his opponent raised only as a punch line. They talked about how the government of the United States could expand policies to end discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, and how President Obama’s support for gay marriage had not hurt his electoral chances as it might have just a few years ago. They said—invoking a term usually reserved as an epithet in our own country—that America became a little more liberal that night.
Winter break and the holiday season are both coming. This means free time and the need to buy presents for other people. Luckily, books are good for both of these things.These – in no particular order – are the books that I read and most enjoyed this year:
A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones books 1-5) – George R.R. Martin
If you haven’t read any of these, start now – it’s going to take a long time. The Game of
Thrones series may cause you to neglect your relationships, your classes, and your health because you can’t stop reading. By comparison, this makes The Lord of the Rings look like a children’s tale. Books 1, 3, and 5 are the best, while 2 and 4 felt, in many ways, like something that you had to slog through to get to the reward that turned out to be in the next book. Martin sometimes goes on far too long, with entire chapters about monotonous and slow characters whose names aren’t Tyrion Lannister (Brienne of Tarth is particularly painful). But it’s all worth it. Just don’t get too attached to any of the characters. If you don’t like reading, watch the TV series, where season three starts on HBO this Spring. Winter is coming.
President Obama’s first term has not been the uninterrupted tale of disappointment and broken promises that the media, his opponents, and even pessimistic liberals might have you believe. He promised to reform health care, and passed a bill that will allow the United States to finally join the club of developed nations with universal health insurance. He said he would increase the regulation of the financial sector so that we would not repeat the disaster of 2008, and signed such a bill in his second year. He pledged to cut taxes for the middle class; the stimulus and debt ceiling compromise both included tax cuts that gave struggling families a much-needed reprieve. His plan to increase standards-based educational assessment earned opposition in the primary, but his “Race to the Top” initiative set off an unprecedented wave of school reform. He vowed to end the war in Iraq; our troops are home.
He repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” allowing gay men and women to serve their country openly, and refused to defend the shameful and unconstitutional “Defense of Marriage Act.” His administration passed laws that made it easier for women to sue for equal pay and for students to receive college loans. He dramatically increased fuel economy standards for automobiles and the regulations on coal pollution. Oil imports are at their lowest level in decades. The General Motors assembly lines that seemed at risk of forever falling silent four years ago now churn faster than ever. Osama bin Laden lies on the bottom of the Arabian Sea.
In America, we view the President as wielding near-dictatorial levels of power. We credit him for the good things that happen during his time in office, whether or not he had anything to do with them, and we blame him when things over which he has little control go wrong. This President, time and time again, has taken bold risks that—had they backfired—would have combined him to the place in history occupied by the likes of Carter and Hoover. Let us not forget that President Obama never had an honest partner in the Congressional Republicans who have held dozens of votes on repealing Obamacare but few on fixing the economy or investing in our future. This is neither an accident nor an oversight. Their only agenda is to defeat this President. If Barack Hussein Obama can win a second term despite their rancor, their disrespect, and their selfish obstructionism, they will have failed.