Published June 06, 2011
Why do Americans continue to give President Obama a free pass? Despite pitiful job creation, a lurching and disappointing recovery, recurring confrontations with Israel, paralysis on immigration, despair over Afghanistan, a worsening fiscal outlook, an expensive stalemate in Libya, a dysfunctional relationship with Congress (including his own party) and a world view that is patently at odds with mainstream Americans – Obama continues to enjoy positive approval ratings. As of last week, according to Gallup, more than half of American voters thinks the president is doing a good job.
By what measure? Because he pushed through a still-unpopular health care initiative that spends money we don’t have and that manifestly did not cure our out-of-control healthcare outlays? Because he speaks well? Because he’s tall?
Why are Americans so anaesthetized? This president spent his first two years in office blaming the prior administration for our rocky economy. Fair enough.
Today, though, the sixteen million Americans unable to find jobs should hold Obama accountable. Those alarmed about our $15 trillion national debt and incensed that our finest young men and women continue to die in Afghanistan should hold Obama accountable. We should all hold the president accountable for the direction the country is heading: downward.
Jobs remain the most pressing matter before the nation. What has the president done for our unemployed? Not much. The Stimulus bill mainly allowed state and local employees to maintain their jobs -- jobs now being lost as the Recovery Act winds down and states confront yawning budget gaps. The great drive to boost exports (and U.S. manufacturing) has been diverted by obeisance to organized labor. Despite all the celebrating, none of the free trade pacts ballyhooed by Mr. Obama has yet been submitted to Congress.
Instead, we’ve had the unbridled activism of Obamaites staffing the National Labor Relations Board, the EPA, the Justice Department, OSHA, the Health and Human Services Department and other relevant agencies. They have not only ramped up regulatory oversight and enforcement but generated waves of new rules that have businesses on edge. The Wells Fargo/Gallup index of small business optimism sank again in April; it has barely recovered from the recession.
In addition, the passage of ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank threw more than 20% of the economy into turmoil. All kinds of companies confront new webs of unwritten and undefined rules. Google “Obama administration rules and regulations” and you get 113,000,000 hits. That can’t be good.
The Obama team is certain that America’s industries were recklessly unfettered under George W. Bush; they are equally convinced that nothing good can come of such forbearance. Playing David to our corporate Goliaths is elixir for community organizers.
What about the nation’s debt crisis? Though President Obama has taken little responsibility for our mounting debt, it has in fact taken place under his watch. Our 2007 deficit was $161 billion or 1.2% of GDP. This year’s budget hole is around $1.5 trillion, equaling 9.8% of GDP. The factors in play, according to a helpful recent analysis by researchers at International Strategy & Investment (ISI), include a recession-driven revenue drop of four points, and spending increase of five percentage points. Most of the revenue drop is considered temporary; by 2015 revenues (mainly tax receipts) will bounce back to around 17.4% of GDP- close to the historic norm.
In other words, as the GOP has been insisting, it is spending that is and will remain out of kilter. The recession caused a jump in outlays totaling 1.3% of GDP, as unemployment compensation and other programs tied to the economy increased. The Stimulus program and other big new expenditures boosted domestic discretionary spending by 0.9% of GDP, while defense is up 0.8% of GDP. Across the board, the major entitlements programs, including Social Security and Medicare, have increased, and will continue to do so.
The reality is that President Obama has jacked up spending across the board. The number of federal employees, which for thirty years held steady at around 1.1 to 1.2 million, has climbed to 1.43 million under Mr. Obama. Moreover, the number earning over $150,000 has doubled. More important, the president has completely whiffed on correcting the future trajectory of government spending. He has failed to put forth any serious long-term debt reduction plan. Instead, he has ridiculed GOP proposals that attempt that necessary step.
On foreign policy, Mr. Obama is riding a wave of joy over the shooting of Usama Bin Laden, which for now has overshadowed the ongoing nuclear program in Iran, the second of his major confrontations with Israel, our muddled mission in Afghanistan and the mess we confront in Libya – an involvement that is certainly not central to our self interest.
At some point Americans will want to know why we are sending our finest young men and women off to die in these hostile places; they will want a better understanding of these seemingly pointless missions. They will ultimately hold Mr. Obama accountable.
It is hard to see how the president has earned his respectable approval ratings. In 2012, let us hope that voters tally fairly his wins and losses. That accounting must surely open the door for the GOP; now all they need is a candidate.