Bear with me, people. This is going to be a long one. I think it’s worth the read.
As I visited with my family over Labor Day weekend, we (shockingly) slipped into the discussion of politics. I happened upon an article in my local paper by a Mr. Jonathan Alter of Bloomberg News, entitled “You Think Obama’s Been a Bad President? Prove It.”
First, Mr. Alter’s piece:
Tell me again why Barack Obama has been such a bad president? I’m not talking here about him as a tactician and communicator. We can agree that he has played some bad poker with Congress. And let’s stipulate that at the moment he’s falling short in the intangibles of leadership.
I’m thinking instead of that opening sequence in the show “Mission Impossible,” the one where Jim Phelps, played by Peter Graves, gets his instructions.
Your mission, Jim (and readers named something else), should you decide to accept it, is to identify where Obama has been a poor decision-maker. What, specifically, has he done wrong on policy? What, specifically, would you have done differently to create jobs? And what can any of the current Republican candidates offer that would be an improvement on the employment front?
I’m not interested in hearing ad hominem attacks or about your generalized “disappointment.”
I want to know, on a substantive basis, why you think he deserves to be in a dead heat with Mitt Romney and Rick Perry and only a few points ahead of Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann in a new Gallup Poll. Is it just that any president — regardless of circumstances and party — who presides over 9 percent unemployment deserves to lose?
Left, Right, Center
Every day you’re pummeling him from the right, left and middle. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham even attacked the president for letting Libyan rebels take Tripoli instead of burying Muammar Qaddafi under American bombs months ago. Here we have the best possible result — the high probability of regime change for about one-thousandth of the cost of getting rid of Saddam Hussein and no bad feelings from the locals — and Obama gets savaged anyway.
Like everyone else, I’ve got my list of Obama mistakes, from failing to break up the banks in early 2009 to neglecting to force a vote on ending the Bush tax cuts when the Democrats still controlled Congress. He shouldn’t have raised hopes with “Recovery Summer” and “Winning the Future” until the economy was more durable. I could go on.
But do these miscalculations really mean it’s time for him to go?
Most of the bad feeling goes back to the first year or so of the Obama presidency. And in hindsight, those decisions really weren’t so bad. To prove my point, let’s review a few areas where he supposedly messed up.
A Few Rebuttals
From the left: “He should have pushed for a much bigger stimulus in 2009.”
That’s the view of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, now gospel among liberals. It’s true economically but bears no relationship to the political truth of that period. Consider that in December 2008, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a hardcore liberal Democrat, proposed a $165 billion stimulus and said he would be ecstatic if it went to $300 billion. President- elect Obama wanted to go over $1 trillion but was told by House Democrats that it absolutely wouldn’t pass. In exchange for the votes of three Republicans in the Senate he needed for passage, Obama reduced the stimulus to $787 billion, which was still almost five times Rendell’s number and the largest amount that was politically possible.
From the right: “The stimulus and bailouts failed.”
When Obama took office, the economy was losing about 750,000 jobs a month and heading for another Great Depression. The recession ended (at least for a while) and we now are adding several thousand jobs a month — anemic growth, but an awful lot better than the alternative. How did that happen? Luck?
Fed, Stimulus, TARP
All the bellyaching ignores that the Federal Reserve’s emergency policies stabilized the financial system, and that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the stimulus increased economic growth and saved or created millions of jobs. According to the Treasury Department, taxpayers will end up actually making money on the bank bailouts under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which Obama inherited from the previous administration.
The Republican alternative for job creation wasn’t tax cuts (the stimulus contained almost $300 billion in tax cuts) but deficit reduction and rolling back regulation. I’ve yet to see a single economist convincingly argue how either would have reversed the catastrophic job losses.
From all sides: “He took his eye off jobs by pushing health care.”
Not really. Health care consumed enormous time and political capital in late 2009 and early 2010. But with the stimulus new and still being absorbed (with remarkably little scandal) into the American economy, it’s not as if health care distracted the president from another jobs program in that period. Sure, he should have rhetorically “pivoted to jobs” earlier, but substantively it wouldn’t have made much difference. And Republicans have offered no evidence for their claim that the Affordable Care Act (which includes tax credits for small businesses) has contributed to current levels of unemployment. How could it? The program hasn’t even fully begun yet.
The all-purpose explanation from the business community is “uncertainty.” We’re told that people, and enterprises, won’t invest because they aren’t sure about future taxes. This is a crock. “People invest to make money,” the noted lefty socialist Warren E. Buffett recently wrote in the New York Times, “and potential taxes have never scared them off.”
Again, from all sides: “He looked weak during the debt- limit debate.”
Yep. And if you were president and a group of extremists was pointing a gun at the head of the American economy, what would you have done? Invoking the 14th Amendment sounded satisfying, but a constitutional crisis layered on top of a debt-limit crisis would have been a fiasco, and probably would have ensured default as world markets spent months wondering who in the U.S. had the authority to pay our bills.
Elections involving incumbents are inevitably hire/fire decisions. With foreign policy mostly off the table, hiring a Republican means buying his or her jobs plan. Firing Obama means rejecting where he has come down on big decisions. He and Romney will unveil their jobs plans in September. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from Democrats, Republicans and especially independents who voted for Obama the last time but have given up on him now. Why?
Your mission, Jim, should you decide to accept it, is to be specific and rational, not vague and visceral.
Still with me? Good! Here’s my response. He asked for specifics? He’s getting specifics. Incidentally, I attempted to email Mr. Alter to no avail; it seems his mailbox is quite full. Wonder what’s filling it! Meanwhile, here it is:
In response to “Is Obama really as bad as all that?”
You asked for the specifics of an alternative proposal.
Below are two parts of the solution; incidentally, these are “specifics” that most in the current GOP field have espoused quite loudly.
1. Lower taxes, especially on the job-creating, market-stimulating rich. Yes, those dirty rotten rich; otherwise known as the CEO who authorizes my paycheck. For the millionth time, it’s not the kid making minimum wage down at a fast-food joint who is creating the jobs. It’s the rich. Even better than just lowering taxes, I’d institute a low flat-tax, or consumption tax. The rich will still pay their fair share by default in either of these situations. It is when the tax burden is lowered does the economy not only prosper, but the total amount of revenue raised by the government is far more than under the higher tax rates! By being allowed to keep more of their money to reinvest in their business or even straight back into the economy by consuming products, the total tax revenue is higher at a lower rate than at a higher! Think of it: 10% of 200,000 is a great deal more than 20% of 50,000.
2. Decrease federal spending. We have no need to be spending money on frivolous projects. Incidentally, how interesting is it that you should bring up the “virtually scandal free” stimulus. Allow me to share a few examples with you:
· 1.7 million “for a honey bee factory” in Weslaco, TX
· $2 million “for the promotion of astronomy” in Hawaii
· $1.7 million for pig odor research in Iowa
Call me crazy, but in times as dire as these, bee production, South Pacific astronomy, and pig funk aren’t “vital” economic expenditures. Yet for these things, we have had to tighten our belts while their “research” remains funded. For that matter, leave these things up to the states! These expenditures are just a few of the many non-essential sections of the so-called “scandal free” stimulus.
Oh, I guess that the solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, which received 535 million big ones in stimulus funds and was even honored with a personal appearance by the president himself (touting the merits of the investment, naturally), is an exception, right? Oh wait…Solyndra tanked recently, didn’t it? Swell investment. Well, I suppose it was a good political investment on the president’s part. Wasn’t a key Solyndra investor, a Mr. George Kaiser, also a key fundraising bundler during President Obama’s 2008 campaign?
Scandal-free my eye. Check your facts, Mr. Alter.
While we’re on the topic of federal spending gone hog-wild, what about the myriad duplicate programs throughout the various levels of government? According to research carried out by Senator Tom Coburn, there are “over 640 duplicative federal programs that overlap each other and various efforts at nearly every agency.”
Then again, we wouldn’t be dealing with federal government overflow if we had just stuck with the Constitution’s outline of the federal government’s responsibilities.
Simply put, get out of the private sector’s way. Between a lower tax burden and decreased federal spending, the certainty level that you called “crock” will increase. You see, the problem can be quite simply boiled down to this:
Yes, as Warren Buffet said, people do invest to make money. Duh. Someone give this man a gold star. The key is that they don’t want to lose it while doing so. A business isn’t going to invest in new hires or material expansion, if they can’t project budgets farther out than a year or two at a time. They certainly don’t want to stick their neck on the line with the debt spiraling so grandiosely out of control. Would you? To show your faith in this president’s economic policies, get out there and try to start a business yourself! Talk is cheap. Show me and the rest of your readers how easy it is to do in times of uncertainty!
Oh, and thanks once again to you and so many others on the left for disobeying the president’s directive that we keep our dialogue civil. I don’t like being compared to a gun-toting extremist simply for strongly disagreeing with the President’s economics. Then again, when the rhetoric coming from the Oval Office is one of hypocrisy, I suppose I can’t expect much more from his supporters. After all, if he deems it “civilized” dialogue to talk about whose “ass to kick” or warning that “if they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” I suppose it’s ok for you to call those with whom you disagree in this economic debate “gun toting extremists.”
You spoke of an increase in jobs under President Obama. It’s interesting to note how many of those jobs have been within the public sector, or how many have been temporary jobs (such as the census workers). Oh and by the way, “saved” doesn’t count as “created.” Yet somehow they are counted as such.
Let’s take a gander at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, shall we?
Total net employment:
Bush Years: went up by 1.08 million jobs
Obama Years: reduced by 3.3 million jobs
Private Employment Growth/Shrinkage vs. Public Employment Growth/Shrinkage:
-Private: down by 673,000 jobs,
-Federal: up by 50,000 jobs
-Private: down by 2.9 million jobs
-Federal: up by 40,000 jobs
And that’s just 2 years, versus 8 with Bush. Let’s say for a moment that things keep up at the exact same rate, and that Obama stays in office for 8 years. Then we can compare figures equally; that is, 8 years versus 8 years. His private sector job loss will be 11.6 million, compared to Bush’s 673,000; his federal job increase will be 160,000 jobs compared to Bush’s 50,000.
Let me make myself perfectly clear: public sector job growth does NOT the same equal economic stimulation as private sector growth. Public sector jobs do not create wealth; they simply require more taxes to keep them in place, thus placing further burden on the profit-generating (thus economically stimulating) private sector.
Additionally, many who are not listed as unemployed are often under-employed; working two and even three jobs to make ends meet. Or, they are working the first job they could find because they so badly needed the income, even if it’s got nothing to do with what they studied. I was a magna cum laude graduate with a degree in Social Studies, and I was accepted to law school on a partial scholarship. Guess what. I’m an Accounts Payable assistant and a receptionist, and because things are just too costly for my husband and I to live on his one income, law school is not a possibility right now. Don’t get me wrong- I’m thankful for the job. It’s a blessing. I mention it only to make a point.
Your president claims to have created 2.5 million jobs. Sure, that’s right, when the formula this administration has cooked up for measuring stimulus progress is implemented! The government equates every stimulus dollar spent with 1.5 dollars worth of “economic activity” (“jobs”). Voila! 2.5 million “jobs” created or saved. But then why, might I ask, are the unemployment numbers so dismal? Why have they risen under this president? And don’t give me the “it’s the GOP’s fault for being so stubborn” talking-points answer. The GOP has only held the House for less than a year, versus the honeymoon-with-Congress phase this president had when he held BOTH the House and the Senate for his first 2 years.
As for the Health Care Law and its contribution to unemployment, I refer to that pesky “uncertainty” that you think is bunk. Have you read the law, sir? I have, in the months leading up to its passage, and the months following it, dug into the monstrosity. Are you aware of the fines involved for non-compliance? It’s close to $3,000 an employee. You may say, “Well, that’s the cost for ‘breaking’ the law.” Yes, but what if the coverage an employer currently offers doesn’t pass muster with the advisory committee set up to determine whether or not the plans fall in line with the government’s prescription? This is just one of many predicaments a business may find itself in come 2014. Compliance alone with this law will be monumental in cost. Try thinking about hiring on new staff with that staring you in the face. Again, as I did before, I challenge you to start your own business in this environment.
You ended your article by saying that a vote against Barack Obama would be a vote against his policies. You’re darn right. Barack Obama has pushed for and authorized massive increases in the national debt; in fact, more than George Washington to Ronald Reagan combined. The math doesn’t lie. I wonder if you agree now with his assessment of the Bush economy, when he called the Bush increase in debt of over 4 trillion (raising it to over 10 trillion) “unpatriotic?” What’s the word for a president who has caused it to balloon to over 14 trillion; 16+ trillion if you count the debt ceiling increase? “Traitorous?” I’m only being fair. Whether you agree with the wars or not, the Bush increases took place in wartime. Obama’s increase has been almost entirely domestic, which according to his Keynesian beliefs, (and yours, most likely) should have made a difference. 6 trillion dollars later, shouldn’t we be somewhere by now? How about several hundred thousand new jobs a month, as opposed to last month’s, whoops….ZERO? That’s that first time that’s happened in decades. Since 1945, to be exact.
Barack Obama may have authorized a temporary payroll tax hiatus, but his love for newer, bigger, better taxes is insatiable. Oh, and by the way, the sunset of the Bush tax cuts in tandem with the implementation of the taxes ushered in in the Health Care Law will constitute the largest tax increase in U.S. history. So yes, I do believe Barack Obama is “as bad as all that.” And yes, my vote against the president in 2012 will be a vote against big government, big spending policies which have been tried and failed in so many places around the world, including this country. Show me a country where Keynesian economics, or, (let’s be blunt) Socialism has worked. Winston Churchill once said that “Socialism is the equal distribution of poverty.” He’s right! Socialism in the Utopian sense has never, ever worked, and where it has not completely destroyed an economy, it has created one in which everyone (except those who’ve figured out how to beat the system, or who are lucky enough to be part of the political “elite”) lives in various levels of mediocrity.
Lastly, I’m going to beat you to the punch on one final thing. I was reading through some of the comments left by readers of your article. I saw the ever-popular last-ditch explanation: “it’s all about race.” Just in case that was running through your mind, let me be crystal clear. It’s not about race. I don’t care what gender, color, or ethnic background the president (or anyone!) happens to be. I happen to be married to a Mexican, and hail from a “Heinz 57” background myself. What I care about; what the Tea Party (which, incidentally, is home to much more than just “white Republicans”) cares about is POLICY. If the policy has failed, the president has failed- it has nothing to do with melanin levels in his skin.