As 2014 came to an end, newspapers and websites and television talk shows were busy with their year-in-review features, looking back at the people and events of 2014 with many of them picking a newsmaker of the year in North Carolina.
U.S. Sen.-elect Thom Tillis will be the obvious choice of many pundits. Putting aside his right-wing political views and the damage the General Assembly he led has done to North Carolina, Tillis may deserve the nod, given that he defeated an incumbent U.S. senator in one of the most closely watched races in the country last year.
But if you are looking for the person that has made the biggest impact on the state in 2014, there’s a better choice for both sides of the political divide, President Barak Obama.
Think about it. The Republicans made the election more about Obama than anything happening in North Carolina or anything that Tillis was proposing. They distorted Obama’s record in ad after ad that blasted Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan for supporting most of his initiatives. Tillis couldn’t seem to make a public appearance without reminding voters that Hagan voted with Obama “95 percent of the time.”
It is not clear that anything Obama did cost Hagan the election when you consider the historical context — the average loss in the Senate for the party of a president in his sixth year in office is six seats, about what the Republicans picked up in November.
But if Republicans believe that the election was all about Obama’s policies, which doesn’t say much for Tillis (try to name one thing he proposed during the campaign), they ought to make Obama the newsmaker of 2014.
For progressives still smarting from the generally Republican wave across the country — though Democrats picked up seats in the General Assembly and in many local races — here’s a reason to name Obama the person who had had the biggest impact on the state — his record in office.
That’s right, despite all the demagoguery and irrational hatred of the Obama on the Right, much of what he has accomplished in his six years in office is immensely popular with many people in North Carolina and across the country.
The national unemployment rate is now below six percent, down significantly from its recession high of 10 percent. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pledged on the campaign trail in 2012 to reduce the unemployment rate to below six percent by end of his first four-year-term.
Obama has done that two years earlier and four times as many jobs have been created during his presidency than were created in the two terms that George W. Bush was in the White House. Even conservative pundits agree that economic trends in states are far more affected by policies in Washington than by what happens in Raleigh, despite Gov. Pat McCrory’s claiming credit for the alleged Carolina Comeback.
Gas prices have fallen rapidly recently and are now below $2.50 a gallon in North Carolina. The drop in gas prices equals at least a $75 billion tax cut for American families according to economists and that comes to about $1,100 in savings per household.
Factcheck.org reports that domestic oil production is up 70 percent and oil imports are down by 51 percent since Obama took office. Overall corporate profits by the way are up 174 percent. This, under a president that folks on the Right like to call a Marxist.
If it’s your retirement or investments you are worried about, the stock market keeps reaching new highs almost every week, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing in on 18,000 after falling to 6,500 early in 2009, just after Obama took over.
And if you are a deficit hawk, you ought to be happy too. The federal budget deficit is down almost a trillion dollars since its recession high in 2009 and last year’s deficit was the lowest since 2007 as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product.
Then there’s healthcare. Not only has the rate of uninsured Americans dropped to 13.4 percent thanks to the much-maligned Affordable Care Act, healthcare spending grew just 3.1 percent in 2013, the smallest increase since 1960 when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began keeping up with it.
Not to mention the millions of Americans with health conditions who can no longer be turned down for coverage.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. There are plenty — poverty rates are still far too high, too many people are working more and making less. The inequality gap is growing, etc.
It’s worth mentioning that Obama has proposed increasing the minimum wage which is very popular in North Carolina and would help more than a million workers in the state. And five million undocumented immigrants with children born in America no longer have to fear being ripped away from their son or daughter and being deported.
Imagine what you’d think if a presidential candidate promised lower gas prices, smaller deficits, a booming stock market, slowdowns in health spending, fewer uninsured people, unprecedented corporate profits, far lower unemployment and four times more jobs created than his predecessor.
It’s hard not to think that’s a winning platform that would help most people in North Carolina. That’s some of what this president has delivered regardless of what you heard during the campaign.
Sounds like the newsmaker of the year. : :
— Chris Fitzsimon is the executive director at N.C. Policy Watch, ncpolicywatch.com.