Prof. David Brady Grades President Obama

Last month, when Oprah Winfrey asked President Obama how he would grade his job performance this year, the President answered that he would give himself a “solid B+,” and an A- if he could pass a health care bill.

Political commentators were quick to note the tendency for students to engage in grade inflation when asked to grade themselves. Professor David Brady sought to inject a bit of reality into President Obama’s grade in a recent Stanford Report article.

Brady, Professor of Political Science and Leadership Values at the Graduate School of Business as well as Deputy Director of the Hoover Institution, gives the President poor marks for his handling of the economy, his health care initiative, and on “delivering [his] promise of hope and change.” Regarding the economy, he notes that the economic stimulus has failed to prevent the national unemployment rate from climbing past 10 percent.

The one area in which Brady sees real potential for President Obama is in his foreign policy, which Brady repeatedly characterizes as “collaborative.” He explains, “[The President] gave speeches in Egypt and Europe which assured the world that the U.S. had shifted into collaborative mode. The European response was the Nobel Prize but no real combat troops in Afghanistan from France and Germany.”

If President Bush was seen as a supporter of unilateral action, then many Americans and foreigners may see Obama as his foil. In light of Obama’s agreeing to hold direct talks with nuclear-bound Iran, moving to close Guantanamo, initially supporting a more police-oriented approach to terrorism, and apologizing for previous American actions, his image as the anti-Bush may have once been right on point.

Every week, however, seems to reveal a more and more Bush-like approach to foreign policy. Following the failure of talks with Iran, the Administration has shifted to calling for sanctions against the rogue nation. And since foreign nations have rejected collaboration with the U.S. by refusing to accept terrorists from Guantanamo, the camp in eastern Cuba remains open and will remain open past President Obama’s original January 22, 2010 deadline to close it.

Furthermore, with the President’s announcement that he is committing 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, he has moved away from apologizing for America and instead has reasserted the country’s commitment to winning the War in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Brady notes, European nations have once again refused to cooperate with the U.S. by refusing to commit additional troops to Afghanistan.

And with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s Christmas-day attempt to destroy a Detroit-bound airliner, the Administration is wrestling with the reality of terror on American soil. It is being forced to re-evaluate its more police-oriented approach to combating domestic terrorism.

Brady summarizes, “On foreign policy, [the President is] making a big bet that a collaborative world where we deal with the U.N. and international organizations will work. The payoff – if it works – is that Afghanistan gets stabilized. Will this collaboration work and make the United States safer? That’s an open question.”

President Obama’s recent actions, however, seem to suggest that pragmatism has replaced the collaborative zeal he boldly brandished throughout his campaign and as he took office. When it comes to national security, a more Bush-like figure has slowly emerged with nearly every international development. Contrary to his expectations, The President’s effort to collaborate with other nations unconditionally has yielded more and more abandonment of the U.S. Consequently, the President’s foreign policy grade is improving as he works to actually improve security rather than simply kiss up to the disinterested Europe he holds in such high esteem.

Subscribe to the Stanford Review