Analyzing Barack Obama

With less than three years remaining in his second term, President Obama has had three major accomplishments: he moved America closer to universal healthcare; he guided the country through the final months of the 2007-2009 financial crisis, keeping the American automobile industry functioning in the process; and he kept the White House out of Republican hands. He also cut the federal deficit by more than 50% — from 9.8% of Gross Domestic Product at the end of 2009 to 4.1% at the end of 2013 — but since it’s a bad idea to reduce the federal deficit when the economy is weak, that doesn’t really qualify as an accomplishment.

Clearly, the rabid Republican opposition in Congress has made it difficult for Obama to accomplish more, but it’s reasonable to ask whether a more gifted politician could have done better. In an article from TomDispatch reprinted at Salon, David Bromwich argues that Obama has accomplished too little because he views himself as “something like a benevolent monarch — a king in a mixed constitutional system, where the duties of the crown are largely ceremonial”.

According to Bromwich, Obama thinks that merely stating his preferences, calmly and eloquently, should be enough to lead the country away from polarization toward rational compromise, without his having to get his hands dirty making deals and confronting the opposition. It should work in the White House because it’s always worked before:

Extreme caution marked all of Obama’s early actions in public life….The law journal editor without a published article, the lawyer without a well-known case to his credit, the law professor whose learning was agreeably presented without a distinctive sense of his position on the large issues, the state senator with a minimal record of yes or no votes, and the U.S. senator who between 2005 and 2008 refrained from committing himself as the author of a single piece of significant legislation: this was the candidate who became president in January 2009.

It’s a good analysis, although it might be difficult to read if you’ve ever been one of the President’s big fans. I didn’t have that problem, because back in 2008, I voted for Hillary.

(Whether she lives up to her promise, we’ll probably find out starting in 2017.)

4 thoughts on “Analyzing Barack Obama

  1. Hindsight is 20/20, but it seems clear now that Obama’s biggest mistake was in being too cautious with the economic stimulus. (Although Paul Krugman warned about this at the time.) It’s now clear that it should have been much larger. Had it been, the economy might not have gone into as deep a hole as it did. The stats in late 2009 should have been a warning that more was needed, even if it had only been an immediate larger middle class tax cut. Had either happened, the House might have stayed in Democratic hands in 2010 and much of the rest of Obama’s agenda might have stood a much better chance.

    That said, I personally think history will judge him well (unless there is some major scandal or poorly handled disaster in the next couple of years), particularly in relation to the Congress he’s had to work with. And the historical significance of the healthcare law shouldn’t be underestimated.

    • I agree with you completely about the stimulus being inadequate and the Republican opposition being extraordinary. With interest rates so low, it actually isn’t too late to generate some stimulus now by doing things like spending more on infrastructure, which Obama would like to do.

      It’s hard to know how he’s going to be viewed in the future. One of the disappointing aspects of his performance from today’s perspective is that he’s been unable to take advantage of his apparent eloquence the way people expected. It was never clear that he’d be able to convince Republicans to support his policies, but it seems that he could have done better convincing the so-called “independents”.

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