Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Buck Stops Elsewhere

Of all the contrivances offered in support of Barack Obama’s performance as president, most fallacious is this – when he took office nearly four years ago the nation faced unprecedented challenges so severe that merely managing its survival over that time should be considered a significant achievement. Thus, rather than asking whether we are better off than we were four years ago, we should be thankful we’re not rummaging through garbage cans amidst a nuclear winter.

Admittedly, Obama inherited a difficult situation with the country in a recession precipitated by – and this can’t be repeated often enough – government interference in the housing market. But Ronald Reagan took office under similar circumstances, except that Reagan also had to deal with runaway inflation and usurious interest rates along with slow growth and high unemployment. Within two years his remedy (supply-side stimulation), and that of the Fed (tight money) had reduced unemployment, shrunk inflation and began generating GDP growth in the 6-8% range on the way to nearly 20 years of prosperity. For good measure, Reagan collapsed the Soviet Empire with increased defense spending and the threat of the Strategic Defense Initiative.

Aside from the shaky economy, Obama had everything else going for him – approval ratings approaching, and at times exceeding 80%, (apparently even the racist class supported him), strong Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, an adoring media, and a general perception that his predecessor had left him an intractable mess.

But things weren’t nearly as bad as advertised. With TARP’s enactment in October 2008, credit markets had stabilized. We were approaching the final stages of the recession, (it officially ended in June 2009), and the economy was poised for recovery. The bane of George W. Bush’s presidency had been resolved as well, with the surge in Iraq having produced a tenuous, yet solid victory, and dealing al-Queda a crushing defeat. (Which Obama is in the process of frittering away). Most importantly, the national security architecture that Bush had erected ensured that his successor would be provided the necessary tools to prevent an attack equal to or greater than the one carried out on September 11, 2001. It was the perfect setup for a successful reign – in both substance and perception.

By contrast, when Bush took office, he was confronted with a narrowly split Congress (Jim Jeffords switched his party affiliation from Republican to Independent giving Democrats control of the Senate in June 2001), an opposition party that questioned the legitimacy of his authority because of the Florida electoral controversy, and a hostile press. In addition Bush came into office immediately following the two decade Reagan boom – a tough act to follow. And he was facing a sagging economy caused by the bursting of the tech bubble (that bubble which had propelled the economy under Clinton). Then, nine months into his term, the 9/11 attacks triggered a recession. Yet Bush quietly assumed his responsibility. He never complained that he got a raw deal, never blamed anyone. Never.

Obama and his apologists have taken the opposite tack, whining about the hand he was dealt and blaming Bush and a profusion of unrelated factors to try to explain away the administration’s failures. His entire re-election campaign is built on the premise of his powerlessness.

Victor Davis Hanson (NRO) examines the gulf between the illusory Obama narrative and the reality and how a great opportunity for achievement has been squandered.

...the future seemed to be all Barack Obama’s. Bill Clinton’s second term offered an easy blueprint of what bipartisan centrism might achieve. Balance the budget and create jobs, and the nation will forgive anything, from lying under oath to romancing an intern in the Oval Office.

And what happened?

Barack Obama chose to ram down the nation’s throat a polarizing, statist agenda, energized by the sort of hardball politics he had learned in Chicago. Rather than bring the races, classes, and genders together, he gave us an us-versus-them crusade against the “1 percenters” and the job creators who had not “paid their fair share,” accusations of a Republican “war on women,” and the worst racial polarization in modern memory. Statesmanship degenerated into chronic blame-gaming and “Bush did it,” as he piled up over $5 trillion in new debt. Financial sobriety was abandoned in favor of creating new entitlement constituencies, and job creation was deemed far less important than nationalizing the health-care system.

And so here we are, three weeks before the election, with a squandered presidency and a president desperately seeking reelection not by defending his record, but by demonizing his predecessor, his opponent — and half of the country.


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