Published on September 15th, 20120
Chris Ladd – The Case Against President Obama
By almost any reasonable standard this has been the most ineffective Administration since Carter. Obama’s signature legislative achievements, the ACA and Dodd-Frank, are both re-branded political failures. His base is disappointed, his donors are reluctant, and many of the voters attracted to his last campaign are stinging from jilted optimism.
Obama should be wide open to a challenge on these failures from his first term:
1) The Affordable Care Act
The ACA was supposed to be an effort to deliver universal health care in the U.S. However, the Obama Administration failed to gather the support it would need to meet such an ambitious goal.
The ACA does not provide universal health insurance. It simply mandates that everyone obtain insurance. In fact, under the best-fact-checked estimates, the plan should result in 3-5 million people who are currently insured by their employers losing their insurance. The law includes a sort of fingers-crossed Hail Mary play – a hope that by some miracle state-run insurance exchanges might make affordable insurance available to individual buyers. It also reshuffles the Medicare/Medicaid decks to try to bring a few more people under that very expensive umbrella.
The ACA delivers insurers another lever while failing to open affordable coverage to millions of uninsured. Rather than back away when it was clear that they had failed, Democrats simply packaged up the only collection of items they could agree on and decided to call it a victory. The ACA is Obama’s “Mission Accomplished.”
2) Dodd-Frank and Financial Markets Transparency
The Obama Administration only got around to pressing for financial market reform after it had wasted its political capital on the failed push for universal health care. Dodd-Frank ended up as a watered-down, bureaucratic mess that merely provides federal cover for the disastrously corrosive banking practices that created the financial crash. It is a corrupt, embarrassing mess, perhaps the single greatest symbol of the Obama Administration’s squandered potential.
3) The Unresolved Mortgage Mess
This fall we are four years removed from the collapse of the global financial system triggered by massive derivatives speculation in the housing market. The banks got the help they needed from the federal government, but the Obama Administration has yet to devote more than a half-hearted effort to solving the singular financial crisis of our time. Most of the practices in the financial markets at the heart of the crisis are still legal, and still common. Borrowers ruined by the bubble have seen virtually no relief. The long term damage from the housing collapse is a problem waiting to be acknowledged, much less addressed.
4) The Stimulus
In the spring of 2009, instead of doing the hard work of devising a way out of the mortgage crisis, the Obama Administration did the easy thing – it asked Congress to spend a whopping load of borrowed money. Consistent with Keynesian theory, this sugared the economy for a brief period, but it failed to address the mortgage crisis, the gaping hole in our economic bucket. When the money was spent the crisis was still staring us in the face. We remain trapped in the frozen wreckage of the financial collapse and there is no prospect of any relief.
This Administration promised to embrace a new culture of openness. Instead, it has continued the internal secrecy practices of the Bush Administration in almost every respect.
The Obama Administration has aggressively prosecuted whistleblowers. After abandoning an initial move toward dismantling Gitmo, the Administration now regularly stymies detainee habeas corpus suits by invoking state secrecy. The process by which accused terrorists get placed on the “kill list” for the CIA drone program is not merely extralegal and secret; it is closed even to members of Congress. On secrecy, nothing has changed.
*Why the Debt is not on This List
The realities behind Obama’s record on spending are smothered in lies and spin from both sides. Obama has in fact presided over the smallest increase in national spending as a percentage of GDP since Eisenhower. However, Obama inherited record emergency spending from the final budget year of the Bush Administration and poor revenue due to the economic collapse. Spending under Obama continues to hang very near the Bush levels.
The Obama spending binge is a myth. George W. Bush increased the federal debt by 89% during his two terms. If Obama gets a second term and the Bush tax cuts are made permanent Obama will be on track for an 87% increase. Neither Obama nor Romney have been willing to support any plan that would balance a federal budget at any point in the foreseeable future.
Burdened by a weak economy and the failures outlined above, Obama is sitting on approval ratings only marginally better than Dubya’s. Nonetheless, if the election were held today, Republicans would likely take an Electoral College drubbing we haven’t suffered since 1964. Romney still trails because the case against Obama is not necessarily a case for Republican leadership.
On all of Obama’s greatest political weaknesses, Mitt Romney is chained to policies that much of the country finds even worse. In contrast to John McCain, Romney is unwilling to challenge the blisteringly hysterical Republican base. Without room to propose any realistic solutions, the campaign has little choice to but to ride a wave of distortions and half-truths, complicating what should otherwise be a wide open path to victory.
So while Obama is vulnerable, for many people his leadership is simply less terrifying than the alternative. That’s the frustrating dilemma that has the Republican Party painted into a corner and the country left twisting in the wind. The cost of extremism in the near-term is likely to be four more years of Democratic leadership.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chris Ladd is a Texan who is now living in the Chicago area. He has served for several years as a Republican Precinct Committeeman in DuPage County, IL, and was active in state and local Republican campaigns in Texas for many years.