Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Assessing Obama

Peter Wehner looks at three new books on the Obama Presidency:

Please Excuse My President

The cynicism problem:

Some of these critiques are plausible. Edwards, for example, provides historically informed, data-driven arguments to fortify his claim that Obama overreached in attempting to impose an ambitious liberal agenda on a center-right nation. Then Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel famously articulated the Obama strategy when he said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” But the public was less malleable and persuadable than Obama and his top aides believed. His victory in 2008 was not a mandate for wholesale change.

The other explanations for Obama’s failures are simply wrongheaded, however. The charge that the stimulus bill was not large enough is strangely beside the point. It was a failure because of its very design. Less than 15 percent of the stimulus was spent in fiscal year 2009—and only about 5 percent of the money appropriated was intended to fund items such as roads and bridges. Even Obama later chuckled that his much-hyped “shovel-ready projects” were “not as shovel-ready as we expected.” The bill actually served as the legislative embodiment of a 40-year liberal wish list. Had it been twice the size, it would simply have included more wish-list items.

I wronte this back in 2010:

The tone and direction were set by the hyper-partisan Rahm Emmanuel: “never let a crisis go to waste.”

The administration was almost eager to move the economic crisis to the back burner while they and the liberal Congress pushed forward with long-standing items on their wish list (cap and trade, health care reform, immigration reform, etc.). Inside Washington, it might seem smart to see a crisis as an opportunity to pass progressive legislation. To the people who are bearing the brunt of the recession, it seems like an abdication of leadership or a heartless betrayal of trust.

No surprise, then, that the stubborn economic weakness has been a drag on Obama’s approval numbers. It is not just that the public is impatient; many voters rightly sense that the White House felt little urgency to fix what was obviously broken

The squandered opportunity

For the first two years of his presidency, Obama had his way with the stimulus package, the Affordable Care Act, the GM-Chrysler bailouts, “cash for clunkers,” financial regulations, release of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds, credit-card price controls, the endless extension of jobless benefits, and more. As the Wall Street Journal put it, “Mr. Obama has been the least obstructed president since LBJ in 1965 or FDR in 1933.”

Unfortunately, the Administration chose to operate as a arm of the most partisan members of Congress instead of fashioning a program and platform of its own. On the really crucial issues, the president ratified the proposals of Pelosi, Dodd, Frank, et. al., rather than crafting his own, more centrist program.

The nonpartisan delusion:

Obama has routinely used rhetoric that is, by presidential standards, hyper-partisan and splenetic. He has accused Republicans of being members of the Flat Earth Society, of being “social Darwinists,” and of putting “party ahead of country.” He has portrayed them as cruelly indifferent to the suffering of autistic and Down syndrome children and the elderly. And as the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel has pointed out, the administration has gone so far as to engage in implicit intimidation and threats against private citizens in order to frighten them away from giving money to Mitt Romney. To believe that Obama is at heart an irenic, unifying political figure requires an almost clinical level of self-delusion.

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