Last week, Jonathan Alter at Bloomberg posed a tantalizing question: “you think Obama’s been a bad president? Prove it.” More specifically, he issues the following challenge to Obama-doubters:
“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?”
Today, conservative David Frum responded to Alter’s throwing down the gauntlet with three examples of the President’s poor decision-making. First, Obama outsourced the writing of the stimulus to Democrats, who filled it with items irrelevant to the economic crisis like Pell Grants, renewable energy credits, and community and rural development. Second, Obama failed to mobilize the Federal Reserve to support his fiscal stimulus. Third, Obama bet his presidency on a best-case scenario, and had no Plan B if the stimulus failed to achieve its desired results.
Points one and three seem fair. However, I think point two is a bit much, as the Federal Reserve is supposed to be independent from the President. However, Frum anticipated this counterargument and preemptively retorted by arguing “presidents can shape the Fed through their power to name Federal Reserve governors. Obama has failed to get his people on the board.” Personally, I think this response is weak, because even if the President appointed a sizeable majority of the Federal Reserve (something of which I am doubtful), once these individuals were in place, the President would have little leverage to bend them to his will.
Since Frum decided to accept the challenge, so did I. I think the following three policies demonstrate that President Obama is a poor decision-maker.
President Obama’s National Security Policy Undermined American Nuclear Nonproliferation Efforts
While the President’s policy against Libya was a success from an operational standpoint, it was a long-term strategic failure. One of the greatest threats to American national security is the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Small quantities of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons could potentially kill thousands, or even millions of American citizens. The Qaddafi regime had cooperated with and disclosed its WMD programs to the United States several years ago; by openly attacking it, the United States sent would-be proliferators the message that if they cooperate with the international community, they become more vulnerable to American aggression. Any rational would-be proliferator now has even more of an incentive to develop WMD.
President Obama’s Healthcare Policy Was Ill-Timed, Wasted Valuable Political Capital, and May Have Contributed to Decelerating Hiring
Regardless if one agrees or disagrees with the tenets of Obamacare, its timing during a period of prolonged unemployment demonstrates a distinct lack of focus from the Obama administration. Ultimately, the president wasted any political capital he may have had to deal with the continuing jobs crisis. Futhermore, the bill may have had the perverse effect of decelerating job growth immediately following the bill’s passage, and during the two biggest quarters of GDP growth in Obama’s Presidency. Business owners have complained that the bill would increase the cost of labor. Some even testified before Congress that it influenced them to reduce headcount or slow future hiring.
President Obama’s Preference for Bureaucratic Rule-Making Has Been Stifling for Businesses
Before President Obama joined the U.S. Senate, he had never led an organization of any substantial size. Furthermore, he has no private sector experience. It should be no surprise that the President generally favors governing through regulatory fiat vs. allowing people and businesses to compete openly for the best opportunities. His preference for bureaucratic red tape has led to frequent complaints of regulatory uncertainty by the business community. His administration’s law suit against Boeing for creating 2,000 jobs in a right-to-work state makes little sense, and if he prevails in court, it will likely result in American corporations shifting even more jobs overseas.
Obama Administration policy and regulatory uncertainty are also having a negative impact on U.S. offshore oil production. When President Obama first took office in January 2009, there were 66 offshore oil and gas rigs operating off the coast of the United States. In June 2011, there were only 34. According to the Fitch Rating Agency, regulatory “uncertainty and the limited issuance of drilling permits in the [Gulf of Mexico] are expected to result in upstream spending being diverted to other markets during 2011.”
These bad decisions/governing preferences have likely been a strong contributor to anemic economic growth and 30 months of unemployment greater than 8%.
What say you?
For those who believe President Obama has been a failure, I look forward to hearing why. I also hope those who think he has been a success will make their case.
I agree with the first two points you make actually, but here are quick counter points to each that I see:
1. okay, but it was an operational success (as you acknowledge). It’s hard to say if the consequences of action will be worse than the consequences of inaction (“we don’t care if a tyrant hires mercenaries to murder his own people even though we have widespread international support and the blessing of the UN Security Council so long as he disclosed his wmd’s years ago”). I guess if a dirty bomb made from Libyan materials goes off in the next decade we’ll have our answer.
2. he probably should have not spent so much time on it and focused on jobs more, but it IS projected to lower long term health care costs, which are the primary drivers of future debt and lowering the costs of health care. This has proven to be next to impossible for nearly every previous administration. We had to do it somehow.
3. This one is inexcusable unless you can come up with some better facts/figures/anecdotes to prove lower business confidence like you did with your previous article about obamacare’s immediate effects. Firstly, the lawsuit is not between South Carolina and the White House, it is between South Carolina and the National Labor Relations Board, an independent agency which is “independent of presidential control, usually because the president’s power to dismiss the agency head or a member is limited”. As far as the oil rigs, you don’t even mention Deep Water Horizon? Unfair.
Quote source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independent_agencies_of_the_United_States_government
“we don’t care if a tyrant hires mercenaries to murder his own people even though we have widespread international support and the blessing of the UN Security Council so long as he disclosed his wmd’s years ago”
I am fine with it, so long as we pursue our vital national interests. Stopping another tyrant from murdering his own people is less in our interest than is halting the spread of WMD. Furthermore, the Obama administration has no problem letting Assad murder his own people in even greater numbers than Qaddafi. I personally would not intervene there either, because it is not in our vital national interest.
“I guess if a dirty bomb made from Libyan materials goes off in the next decade we’ll have our answer.”
Or an Iranian bomb, a Turkish bomb, a Saudi bomb, and an Egyptian bomb. And perhaps a Middle Eastern nuclear war when someone tests a long-range missile and the Israelis overreact and start a nuclear war. Obviously, I’m quite the optimist. 😉
“This has proven to be next to impossible for nearly every previous administration. We had to do it somehow.”
I agree that something had to be done, just not in the midst of the worst economic environment since the Great Depression.
I’ll admit that my 3rd argument is the weakest, but I needed three to tie Frum. 😉
In terms of evidence, much of it was in my three part series on regulatory uncertainty in the Obama Administration. There should be plenty of fodder in there. Your point is fair that I don’t mention Deep Water Horizon. However, I do mention it in the posts I linked to in the article. Given the time, I could certainly find more, but It’s easier to admit that this argument is the weakest of the three, and is a partial repeat of point #2.
“For 60 years my country, The United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East and we achieved neither.”
I think Condi may be the most puzzling political figure of my lifetime, but she spoke the truth here. The point with Libya was we had international support, even from the Arab League. We don’t have that with Syria for myriad reasons. I realize that’s a poor excuse, but Iraq taught us the folly of “going it alone”.
I liked your series on regulatory uncertainty. Which is to say, it was unpleasant to realize, but your evidence was close to irrefutable. I would have revealed myself a partisan shill to try and poke holes. I consider it some of your finest work. Cheers, -Joe
“For 60 years my country, The United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East and we achieved neither.”
My argument here is that without our policies, things could have been far worse, particularly with more wars between Egypt and Israel. Plus, every country that has gone democratic on its own in the region has moved away from US interests (i.e., Lebanon, Iran (well pseudo democratic), Gaza, and even Turkey). I am therefore, no optimistic about Egypt or Libya either.
“I liked your series on regulatory uncertainty. Which is to say, it was unpleasant to realize, but your evidence was close to irrefutable. I would have revealed myself a partisan shill to try and poke holes. I consider it some of your finest work. Cheers, -Joe”
Thanks, Joe. That said, I have by no means definitively proven my point. Only time will tell if I am proven correct.
A bigger challenge is who is NOT a failed President by the criteria of finding bad decisions! (Even Reagan – massive increase in debt, Iran-Contra, arming extremists in Afghanistan by funneling money through the Pakistani ISI). However, I disagree with you on these decisions:
1. Libya – just because a dictator agrees because he has no other option to work against proliferation doesn’t mean that the US should support his regime and not help those trying to fight against it if he’s using massive force against his people. I don’t see any practical way this hurts anti-proliferation efforts (the idea other states would be ready to join us but this dissuades this is very unpersuasive). Moreover, I think change in Libya improves our overall strategic position in the region. Libya has shown that the US can effectively challenge powerful dictators in the region, it is undone the appearance of impotence that the Bush policy in Iraq created. It shows Obama and the US can act with ruthlessness if necessary — that will be more obvious as the covert actions become more public over time. I think this was a foreign policy success, and also makes the point that the US will lead, but quietly, while demanding others share the burden. I think this was a big win after the failure in Iraq — the US can be effective without losing lives or spending trillions of dollars!
2. On health care that was a center piece of the 2008 campaign, and if not done before 2010 it probably wouldn’t happen during the Obama Presidency. It’s one of those policies that can’t be judged now but in the long run. If it fails, then the whole premise that Obama and the Democrats ran on was wrong. That may be the case, but that’s not just Obama. As it was, that was the time he had to act, and he managed to create a coalition that passed something, a feat that eluded other Presidents.
3. Complaining about regulation is a rather minor criticism, and in this case not one that has much impact. The left, of course, is furious for the LACK of regulation from the Obama administration — it’s sort of an ideological argument with speculation about the consequences. It’s the kind of thing a Republican could say about any Democrat, and of course Democrats can point to the financial scandals of 2008 and complain about Republican de-regulation. I doubt oil production or job levels would be much different if Obama’s bureaucracy had undertaken different policies. Moreover, a lot of this reflect decision below the level of the Presidential decision making.
I think Obama will win a second term and will be remembered as having weathered a bad couple of years due to the recession, and then afterwards chart a path towards fiscal responsibility by forcing his party to accept entitlement reforms, getting tax increases on the wealthy, and restructuring US foreign policy after the disasters he inherited from his predecessor. I think he’s patient and pragmatic (not ideological), and that will serve him well over the long haul, especially if he prevails in 2012 and the Republicans realize they can’t just refuse to act and try to block him. They’ll need to compromise, and things will get done. Time will tell!
“I don’t see any practical way this hurts anti-proliferation efforts (the idea other states would be ready to join us but this dissuades this is very unpersuasive”
Stay tuned tomorrow. 😉
“On health care that was a center piece of the 2008 campaign, and if not done before 2010 it probably wouldn’t happen during the Obama Presidency”
That’s a fair point. That said, given the unprecedented economic situation, I still think he should have kicked the can down the road for another few years to the next President. His timing could not have been worse.
“I doubt oil production or job levels would be much different if Obama’s bureaucracy had undertaken different policies”
I disagree. Offshore permitting is at a standstill, and oil rigs are leaving the Gulf of Mexico to drill elsewhere. I am confident that a Republican president would be more attentive to increasing offshore drilling, even in the wake of the Deep Horizon Disaster.
“I think Obama will win a second term.”
I hope not. 😉
” I think he’s patient and pragmatic (not ideological), ”
I continue to be amazed at how different your perception is from mine. Patient maybe, pragmatic, not ideological, no way .
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Well, I was going to write a comment here, but it turned into a whole ‘nother post… Pleased to converse here or there about it.
Yeah, our exchanges tend to take a lot of research and back and forth. It only makes good sense to get a proper post out of it. 😉
I just read the post. This is a great thread, and your post has given me an idea for an interesting follow-up post that I will publish tonight. More later…
Great, glad you got to see it, looking forward to your post.
Just to summarize what I wrote over there over here, so that people don’t have to go back & forth, my point is:
As David Frum pointed out when ACA passed, it might’ve been preferable for the GOP to engage in a rational discussion of policy rather than barking and raving about death panels, socialism, government takeovers, and newly discovered Constitutional principles. Then maybe the (illusory, as far as I can see) problem of “uncertainty” would have been ameliorated.
As to Libya, it seems to me that the lesson for evildoers to learn from Libya is primarily not to let protests develop, rather than to hold onto WMD to deter intervention. It seems to me that the benefits of preventing a possible massacre and siding with a popular uprising outweigh the (real, but in my view small) risk that more dictators will pursue WMD.
I’m trying to put it out as a Breitbart post. I left more details on your site. I probably won’t find out until tomorrow.
Alan, you know who has driven down Obama’s approval ratings lately? The left. They are angry that he isn’t standing up and fighting Republicans, they accuse him of trying to make deals with them when they don’t bargain in good faith and just want to use him. Many say “he’s really a Republican.” He’s calling for domestic spending at the lowest level since the Eisenhower era, and angering the left with talk of entitlement reform. They are also mad that his call for higher taxes only closes loopholes and still leaves rates way down from even the Reagan era. They say they were fooled when they thought they were getting a progressive, that he’s really conservative. And if you look at his actions, the left has a point — Obama clearly isn’t driven by the same agenda the left wing of the Democratic party pursues. He’s liberal, but pragmatic and willing to work with pragmatic Republicans.
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