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OPINION

How Obama changed America

By FREDERIC B. HILL | The Baltimore Sun | Published: February 19, 2016

Marco Rubio was lambasted by his Republican competitors during a recent debate when he kept repeating a line about President Barack Obama “trying to change America.” They took him to task for his robot-like repetition, but they should have addressed the accuracy of his statement.

Perhaps they did not for one simple reason: Rubio is right.

President Obama has tried to change the economy and bring it back from the cliff to which the policies of George W. Bush pushed it in 2007 and 2008 — a financial meltdown that nearly brought about another depression. Do Republicans really want to compare the loss of 6 million jobs and $648 billion in economic growth with the fact that the last eight years have reduced unemployment to 5 percent, led to moderate growth and produced the strongest economy in the world?

Obama has tried to shift the strategy of American foreign policy from one based on the use of military force to an emphasis on diplomatic means — as the agreement to deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions attests. Do Republicans really want to hold up Bush and Dick Cheney’s reckless, trillion-dollar and strategically disastrous war in Iraq as a better alternative?

Obama has tried, and partly succeeded, to end America’s shameful standing as the only major industrialized country that does not offer health care to all of its people. Obamacare is not perfect by any means, but instead of working to improve it, Republicans waste precious time in Congress trying to wind back the clock.

Obama has worked hard to lead a major global effort to tackle climate change, cooperating with long-recalcitrant nations such as China and India to engage all countries in reversing a perilous and steadily worsening state of affairs. Republicans, for the most part, are about the only people on the planet who deny a human role in climate change — much as many fear saying there is such a thing as evolution.

The president has tried hard to find a path to lower the absolutely mind-numbing level of gun violence in the United States. Yet he has been blocked, largely by Republicans fearful of antagonizing the National Rifle Association, timid men and women who do not believe there is any connection between the open access to guns of all kinds and the fact that 100 people die every day in this country from gun shots.

Obama also has done his best to deal with the serious problem of immigration. He has followed up on a set of policies actually embraced by George W. Bush to correct a very complex and urgent problem. Yet Republicans whose parents came to a country built in large part by immigrants of various generations — Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz — have done everything they could to block reasonable reform.

Yes, candidate Rubio, the president elected for two terms by the populace of the United States has tried hard, and is still trying, to change the country. He has not always succeeded, and on occasion, he has been as much to blame as his opponents for the lack of change.

The administration’s failure to go after the scandalous behavior of the big banks is one glaring example. While the president has correctly identified the disparity of wealth in the United States as one of its most damaging fault-lines, he has not done nearly enough, in prosecution or tax policy, to alter a situation in which a handful of members of the Walton (Wal-Mart) family and the Koch brothers own nearly as much wealth as 50 percent of the country.

In foreign affairs, Obama’s reluctance to stand behind his words and “red lines” on Syria have contributed in a major way to a terrible stalemate in that country. While determined to roll back a perception of the United States as the world’s police force, he has pulled back perhaps too far.

Sadly, the backlash against Rubio’s shorthand critique of President Obama reveals a deeper and more tragic flaw in our endless and financially extravagant political campaigns. And that is the fact that Republican candidates, this time more so than the Democrats, focus almost completely on personal insults and empty claims rather than discussing real issues and prospective policies. It is a fact of an increasingly polarized electorate (one in which barely half the country actually votes) that candidates move to the extremes in primary campaigns.

But have we heard anything about what these candidates would actually do to try to “change America,” to improve America, except empty shibboleths like “make America great again” and readiness to carpet-bomb Muslim countries?

Frederic B. Hill is a former foreign correspondent for The Baltimore Sun. He and Stephens Broening are editors of a forthcoming book of essays on The Baltimore Sun, “The Life of Kings,” to be published by Rowman & Littlefield in July. Readers may send him email at fhill207@gmail.com

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