Economics

Why Obama Looks So Bad

It's the economy, stupid.

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Barack Obama came into office aspiring to bridge the chasm between liberals and conservatives, red states and blue states, and behold, the gulf is gone. People in each camp heartily agree that as a president, he's a disappointment and a flop. Both sides even compare him to Jimmy Carter.

Karl Rove, who was George W. Bush's political adviser, sorrowfully concludes that Obama is "weak, dazed and over his head." A New York Times editorial, appalled at the debt ceiling agreement, derides him for "a nearly complete capitulation to the hostage-taking demands of Republican extremists."

Newsweek's Michael Tomasky says his failures prove him ignorant of history and incapable of change. One-third of Democrats want Hillary Clinton or someone else to challenge him in next year's primaries.

You might forget that Republicans used to accuse Obama of a grand, power-mad plot to remake America, or that Democrats once praised his generous spirit and calm appeals to civility. Those who have always detested Obama now find new grounds to detest him, while many who once found his approach refreshing now see it as naive.

But the reason Obama appears to be mired in a 1970s-style malaise is not that he is so similar to Carter in personality or ideology. It's that the nation is awash in terrible economic news, much as it was during Carter's day. No president looks good in the wan light of a sick economy.

The feeble growth provides ammunition to conservatives, who blame it on his extravagant spending and class-warfare rhetoric. It confirms the suspicions of liberals, who lament his miserly stimulus and cowardly indulgence of Wall Street. It suggests a lack of competence that dooms him to failure.

But by any objective standard, Obama has plenty of achievements. He approved a daring raid that killed Osama bin Laden. He's on his way to ending the Iraq war. He brought about a health insurance overhaul aimed at fulfilling the Democratic dream of universal coverage.

He saved General Motors and Chrysler and the jobs they provide. He scrapped the military's policy against gays. He put new regulations on financial institutions and the credit card industry.

He signed a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. He launched a major initiative to promote innovation in schools, winning praise even from conservatives. He stopped the use of torture against suspected terrorists.

Love it or hate it, this is not the record of a dithering dunce or a confused wimp. It's all in keeping with the vision Obama offered during the 2008 campaign. It's all historically significant. None of it was preordained.

But four years of economic stagnation and turmoil have an odd way of wearing on the populace. Even if most people blame Bush more than Obama, the incumbent can't escape the general taint of failure. It's almost impossible to be a successful president—or at least to be seen as one—with an unsuccessful economy.

Ronald Reagan found that out. In 1982, amid a deep recession, the man now remembered as a transformative visionary was widely denounced as clueless and rigid, with even some Republicans concurring.

Reagan was reduced to insisting he was not a Scrooge, blaming naysayers for hindering the recovery and griping about press coverage: "Is it news that some fellow out in South Succotash someplace has just been laid off, that he should be interviewed nationwide?" In 1983, his approval rating fell to 35 percent, worse than Obama's recent low of 40 percent.

Yet Reagan eventually rebounded—mainly because the economy came back. Had it kept sputtering long enough to prevent his re-election, he wouldn't be remembered as one of our greatest presidents. He'd be remembered as the second coming of Herbert Hoover.

The point is not that Obama's policies are or are not responsible for our current economic plight. The point is that perceptions of his character are powerfully shaped by external conditions that may have nothing to do with his behavior or his particular attributes.

Today, Obama may look weak or out of his depth. In a booming economy, doing absolutely nothing different, he would appear more than equal to his challenges. What is today described as weakness would look like strength.

The lesson for the president and commentators is simple. If the economy gains some real steam by next November, Obama's personal qualities won't matter much. And if it doesn't? Ditto.

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  1. “Barack Obama came into office aspiring to bridge the chasm between liberals and conservatives, red states and blue states, and behold, the gulf is gone.”

    Bullshit, he came in as the liberal savior. There was never any intent to bridge anything.

    “But by any objective standard, Obama has plenty of achievements. He approved a daring raid that killed Osama bin Laden.”

    Yeah, that was soooooo hard. His only “achievement” with that was in not ordering it cancelled. Its not like he was the one with the gun.

    “He’s on his way to ending the Iraq war. ”

    Which he was gonna end – along with Afghanistan – long before now. Face it, he’s a loser.

    “He brought about a health insurance overhaul aimed at fulfilling the Democratic dream of universal coverage.”

    Yes, and its unconstitutional. Big achievement there.

    “He saved General Motors and Chrysler and the jobs they provide. ”

    Yes, and rolled over the bond and stockholders in the process. Yay, union, screw you stockholders.

    “He scrapped the military’s policy against gays.”

    Did no such thing. On his own, he was more than willing to let it ride. It took poll-watching and pressure for him to act.

    “He stopped the use of torture against suspected terrorists.”

    No, he didn’t. He continued Bush’s policy almost to the letter. The difference is that his liberal anti-war base is ignoring it.

    “Love it or hate it, this is not the record of a dithering dunce or a confused wimp. ”

    Umm, yes it is.

    Get off the guy’s crank.

    1. You could have saved yourself a lot of typing and pasting by just writing, “Liar, liar, pants on fire!”

    2. The section on his achievements is a tad Pollyana-ish, isn’t it?

    3. “He stopped the use of torture against suspected terrorists.”

      Tell that to Bradley Manning.

      BTW, even though the Big O issued an order ending torture, he also issued his own presidential non-judicial death warrants to murder suspected terrorists without trial even if they are American citizens.

      Deeds are far more important than words, and so far we have no good deeds and and a bunch of words.

      But don’t worry, the left will support Obama in 2012. They’re just trying to make him look like a centrist now.

    4. “He saved General Motors and Chrysler”

      Tell that to the bondholders.

      1. As a former GM stockholder I read that as:
        “He saved General Motors and Chrysler and the jobs they provide stole your money, and gave it to the UAW.”

    5. Ragnar seems to have Obama on the mind huh? Nice article while I’m sure the forum will scour the internet to try to undo or criticize every one of Obama’s achievements I agree with the author and add my opinion that really politicians can’t do anything to create jobs. Jobs just happen. Obviously we are going to have job growth as the markets stabilize and return to normal like they have every other time. Obama was naive he came at the crippled Republican party with an open hand who simply slapped it away. And so the campaign to create an irrational hatred of the darkie president began resulting in wild success. But seriously folks Obama may have been idealistic but he’s not stupid. What are you going to do put crazy “crazy eyes” Bachman in there? Put in Rick “i’m not George Bush” Perry and fire up the liberals?” Put in a mormon? Come on start making friends because Obama is going to be around for a long time.

      1. My mixed breed terrier could do a better job than BHO.

    6. Every day a bunch of antique codgers post in the Chicago Tribune and it’s always the same babble regardless of the subject matter. It’s always nonsense from the Bible of Glennbeckistan about how bad “Obummer” is and all the other nonsense about gays, Mexicans, minorities and liberals. Guess Reason isn’t immune from such babble either.

    7. The writer isn’t saying these are good things he did. They’re just saying he has been active and made a lot of changes – some that conservatives like and mostly ones that progressives like.

  2. Which President have you been watching?

    Obama could have taken any number of steps to help the economy and, instead, chose actions that result in regulatory uncertainty. Especially with ObamaCare with which we are still learning how it impacts businesses and individuals.

    Was this a cross post from DU?

    1. You have to consider the source. Chapman favors “gay marriage” and that makes him kinda, sorta a Libertarian.

      1. Does Chapman support government-funded fetal stem-cell research? Taxed and regulated Marijuana? There is a Cosmo-purity test after all.

    2. Why would he purposely sink the economy? To help who? He needs to get reelected and helping the poor alone isn’t going to do it. How is he going to get reelected if he doesn’t do the best job possible. Even Bush in his ignorance was trying to help the economy as he saw it.

      1. Who said he did it on purpose?

  3. Ragnar – chill out – you’ll attract attention. I hacked Chapman’s account and am trying to score to quick LULZ before he figures it out. If you know his Facebook password, holla at a brotha – I’ve got some great ATM pics we can put on his profile.

  4. Wat.

    He approved a daring raid that killed Osama bin Laden. He scrapped the military’s policy against gays. He put new regulations on financial institutions and the credit card industry. He signed a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.

    His pen hand must be really tired signing his name to such overwhelmingly popular things.

    He saved General Motors and Chrysler and the jobs they provide. He’s on his way to ending the Iraq war. He stopped the use of torture against suspected terrorists.

    LOL no.

    He brought about a health insurance overhaul aimed at fulfilling the Democratic dream of universal coverage.

    Okay, he did accomplish further fucking up health care. That’s legit.

    1. Pelosi pushed through the HCRA. Obama just signed it. I know Presidents get the credit, but give Nancy her due.

      1. “give Nancy her due.”

        No. I refuse.

        1. He means a shiv to the ribs.

      2. I’d give Nancy her due, but we have renounced torture, remember?

        1. Is it still torture if we are not interested in getting any information? Cause if it is not, then it is just a slow and painful execution.

  5. In a booming economy, doing absolutely nothing different, he would appear more than equal to his challenges.

    If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, Illinois could lick mine for producing this crew. The only people who like the blank slate they’ve elected are those who got to write on it. And even then, only if what they’ve written produces positive results.

  6. The Left’s Very Anti-PC Strategy: Hate, Fear, Stereotype, and Treat Diversity as Evil
    …To support Obama makes them smart, sophisticated, anti-racist, modern, members of an intellectual and social elite standing against the yahoos with the pitchforks out in the provinces. From the defenders of the downtrodden, the left has transformed itself into the well-financed aristocracy sneering at the peasantry…

    …The hardcore Obama supporter is not watching unemployment levels, the economy, the mess in Egypt and Libya, or the effectiveness of health care reform. His concern is that if he decides Obama is a terrible president it means he is one of “them.” …

    1. Statism always produces a two-tier society composed of those who run things and those who grovel and obey. Naturally, prestige and snobbery accrues to the ruling class who view the masses contemptuously.

      Watching the current bunch of DC clowns makes me think of “that guy” at work who acts like he s**ts Ben & Jerry’s, but actually s**ts Sealtest.

      1. Spots? Spats? Seats? Stats? Swats?

          1. salts

  7. I liked James Carter as a pres. Wasn’t it on this very web site that Nixon vs. Carter article that Carter won the frey? I think the more apt comparison would be Bush as Obama. Part D (drug) medicare vs. part e (everyone).

    1. Billy was my favorite Carter brother.

      1. Mister, I knew Jimma Carter. And, Mister, he’s no Jimma Carter!

  8. So many lolz statements made by Chapman here… he’s as delusional as a Obama supporter

    1. He is an Obama supporter:

      https://reason.com/archives/200…..our-vote/4

      1. October 29, 2008. Never Forget.

        1. “We ignore politics most of the time.”

      2. Prior to the election, Steve Chapman stated that Obama “shows an intelligence and temperament that suggest he will govern more pragmatically than ideologically . . . .”

        Fool me once shame on me. Now it’s shame on you, Steve.

        1. Maybe Chapman needs the same treatment beebe has in mind for Pelosi

          1. You can’t fit a broken bottle in his genitals.

  9. Wow Steve, thats some real nice turd-polishing!

  10. Steve, you do know it isn’t April 1, right?

  11. Hello! What has Steve been drinking? Because he should keep on drinking it! But he kind of left out Obama’s shitty record on civil liberties, the war in Afghanistan, and the ever-growing “killer drones for everyone” approach to foreign policy. Don’t be such an Obama shill, Steve!

    1. “But he kind of left out …”

      Attacking private property rights in the GM bailout.

      Ignoring the BP oil spill and exacerbating its economic impact on the Gulf States.

      Bullying BP into giving him a $2B slush fund administered by his crony.

      Squandering much of the “stimulus” money by subsidizing government employee compensation rather than using it to “stimulate” the economy.

      Attacking AZ for trying to deal with its problem with illegal immigrants streaming across the border.

      Encouraging civil unrest by demonizing banking executives.

      Encouraging civil unrest in WI during its battle to try to control its spending.

      Driving up energy prices by banning new drilling and by regulatory obstruction.

      Encouraging racial conflict by appointing an attorney general who institutes a flagrantly racialist approach to prosecution of civil rights violations.

      Encouraging violence in the US-Mexico border region by supplying weapons to drug cartels.

      Damaging international relations by deliberately insulting America’s closest ally, the UK, in multiple ways.

      Launching military action in Libya while projecting an utterly confused and incoherent understanding of the situation there.

      Yes, by any objective standard, Obama has plenty of achievements. And yet, Obama is not responsible for his negative reputation. He is a victim of external circumstances.

      1. Great rebuttal

      2. Don’t forget being bitch-slapped by Netanyahu, when Obama wanted Israelis to give up their private property rights to terrorists.

        1. To be honest, I got tried of writing things down. The Obama Admin. is a target rich environment. Didn’t even mention the czars, although I’m sure the public doesn’t know the worst of the czar antics yet.

          1. I was actually applauding what you wrote in such a short time. Your post got me thinking about weak Obama looks on the international stage.

            I’m sure Chapman had more than an hour to write his article.

            If this is the ideology of Reason, I’m in the wrong place.

            I thought that the difference between Libertarianism and Liberalism was greater than what Chapman demonstrates with his Obama bromance.

      3. I applaud you, sir!

  12. Great, another “journalist” with Obama’s ballprints on his chin. Gee, it’s not that Obama is a fuckup, he’s just getting bad press!

    1. My favorite lefty line is the one where they bemoan the failure of “The Narrative” to convince the proles that their policies are a good idea.

      1. My favorite lefty pol line

        Pols always blame the voters.

  13. I always suspected Chapman was an idiot. Thanks for the conformation.

  14. Um, is today opposite day?

  15. Silly article is silly

  16. Wait til the press starts figuring out that Obama’s been lying to them. Then we’ll hear how great he is at “spin”.

  17. Well, bottom line is, it is what it is.

    http://www.real-privacy.au.tc

    1. How much are your fucking polo shirts?

  18. Mr. Chapman,
    You should write a novel, you have a way with fiction.

  19. Boy, that Michael Tomasky sure is a racist.

  20. And another god damn thing,

    Ronald Reagan found that out. In 1982, amid a deep recession, the man now remembered as a transformative visionary

    The only thing that RR tried to transform was policy. It was Obama who suggested, by lumping RR in with Lincoln and FDR, that RR was a transformative president. RR wasn’t trying to remake America.

    1. Not necessarily true. Reagan was the first president in roughly 50 years that -didn’t- have a progressive agenda. He changed the way the “evil super rich” were viewed in the country, if only for a decade or two.

      1. Lincoln gave the Federal Government enhanced power and dominance over the State Governments. FDR injected the Federal Government into areas of the lives of Americans where it had not been before, in contradiction to the letter and spirit of the Constitution.

        Reagan wasn’t trying to change the US Government in any fundamental way, just roll back some of the statist encroachments and readjust US foreign policy.

        Obama, of course, is trying to fundamentally alter the Federal Government in a statist way.

        1. I believe I agree with you in premise – I just view Reagan’s attempted rollback of the statist agenda as a fundamental change from what had been practiced in the 50 years prior to his administration. I mean seriously, the last president before him that understood individual liberty was what … Calvin Coolidge?

          1. You probably have to go back to Grover Cleveland, though Lysander Spooner was highly critical of him.

            “Men speak of natural rights, but I challenge any one to show where in nature any rights existed or were recognized until there was established for their declaration and protection a duly promulgated body of corresponding laws.”
            — Calvin Coolidge

            1. I think you misunderstand the quote. without laws to protect liberty from coercion, only the strong are free.

    2. Destruction of the middle class is Reagan’s not insignificant legacy.

  21. re obama supposedly saving the car companies: any industry or business can be saved with government money. the main street in my town has a lot of “for rent” signs where there used to be businesses just a year ago. Taxpayer money could have saved them too. but there is a reason we don’t like to do that. if people can’t do that thing called making money, where will taxpayer money come from?

    1. In my city, there are several large, vacant lots where thriving auto dealers used to reside.

      Chapman forgot to mention “Cash for Clunkers”, destroying perfectly good cars in order to sell new ones and also the “weatherization” program that fixed-up vacant houses in Detroit, the city that is bulldozing houses in a vain attempt to bolster property values.

      Geez, the more I think about Barry’s record, the worse it seems.

  22. Obama was raised thinking capitalist America was wrong, and his actions throughout his life demonstrate that he still believes it.

  23. I want what Steve is smoking!

    Of course, Steve is right. If the economy was booming then sure, Obama would be sitting pretty regardless of everything else.

    As everyone here knows, there’s a reason the economy has stalled terribly.

    1. Stimulus was too small, obviously. It should have been $787 trillion instead of $787 billion.

      (btw I think Smokey and the Bandit is the ultimate summary of libertarian philosophy and you were awesome in it.)

  24. Yep, Chapman is pretty pathetic. The best thing you can say about him is that he’s much more of an up front Obama ball-licker than Weigel was.

  25. It’s the SPENDING,(which is wrecking the economy),stupid!

  26. Why Obama Looks So Bad:

    Empty suits need constant pressing.

    1. +6.02E23 Internetz to you sir.

  27. “The point is not that Obama’s policies are or are not responsible for our current economic plight” Actually his policies, which unfortunately are the same as Bush’s have only extended those same mistakes.

  28. How dare you all question President O’Bama, don’t you know he is smarter than David Gregory.

  29. He looks bad because he talks and talks and never really says anything. The campaign rhetoric phase never ended.

  30. Reagan … was widely denounced as clueless and rigid,

    The miseryshit progressives still do.

  31. Did not FDR also face re-election with a crap economy?

    I suppose Obama will be re-elected for the same reason — the Republicans have a couple of sane candidates (Ron Paul and Gary Johnson) but will select someone unelectable and hand the election to Obama.

    1. GO PALIN! (/sic)

    2. Paul and Johnson, especially when compared to the rest or the Team-Red pack, are the better choice. But the primary typical voters for Team Red do NOT see it that way. So the question becomes, “Of the rest of the pugs, who is the best of a bad set of choices?”

      1. 1. None of the above
        2. Jon Huntsman

  32. Ha ha!

    Doesn’t take much to show the true faces of the “Libertarians” around here. One mildly contrarian piece about the Democratic president and this place lights up like a HumanEvents feeding-frenzy, with enough paranoid anti-Obama conspirazoids to fuel Sarah Palin’s campaign bus from Des Moines to Portsmouth.

    Your mask is slipping, Tea Bagg– ah, Libertarians, rather. Enjoy the echo chamber of your empty ipse dixits. Yes, Obama did unilaterally kill bin Laden in Pakistan – a step that McCain and Romney said they would not take.

    In the meantime, while you’re patting yourselves on the back about being in touch with the “real America,” the two political parties that are actually in the business of trying to win votes can’t seem to put enough distance between themselves and your agenda. The GOP is on a sonagram and “gays-recruit-your-children” binge, and the Dems are clamoring for more bank regulation while double-timing it away from legalizing even medical marijuana.

    You’ve got a hell of a lot of hard work cut out for you if you want any influence in the process, and the above-noted comment-board crapfest isn’t helping your cause one bit.

    1. Makes-me-sick-atarians eat poop, etc.

    2. Look paw, our idiot trap caught an idiot!

  33. Obama fans like Chapman seem bound and determined to ignore one blindingly obvious point. Yes, Mr. Obama successfully pushed through a host of liberal initiatives that warm the cockles of liberal hearts (healthcare, cash-for-clunkers, the auto bailouts, pushed through financial “reform”, etc.). However, the political successes he’s gained to his credit play a significant part in precisely the economic situation Mr. Obama finds himself. They haven’t produced the much vaunted recovery and, if anything, has created misallocations that have served to undermine growth. Moreover, if anyone cares to remember 2008, it was widely predicted that the fortunes of the Republicans were only destined to sink further. Oddly, within two years, Team Red made historic gains in the House and Senate. Do you think this was sheer happenstance? Do you think there was no reason whatsoever that the Tea Parties (largely responsible for the Republican gains in ’10) arose exactly as Mr. Obama was pushing an agenda whose elements more than half the country found objectionable? Do you really think it completely unfathomable that a Congressional majority elected in response to those excesses might not be terribly cooperative with their extension?

    1. 2010 was one significant midterm. I’m sure if things swing the other way in 2012, it will prove but an anomaly.

      Though I seem to recall 2010 being largely about scare stories about cutting the socialist program Medicare, and not, as the GOP has interpreted it, a mandate for dismantling Medicare as we know it. But I could be wrong, we’ll see in 2012.

      1. Tony, you are always wrong.

        1. Tony is an ass.

          Agree and I’ll be right. Disagree and you’ll be supporting me!

          Haha

      2. Hell’s bells, Tony! For the last year, your co-partisans…hell you have been referring to the Republicans elected in 2010 as “Tea Party Republicans”. Now, all of a sudden, their stated agenda has nothing to do with that of the Tea Parties?!?! Are you deliberately dense, or have you rendered yourself incapable of thinking in anything other than today’s latest talking point?
        Your guy over-reached. Now, it’s blown up in his face with no abilty to generate any bipartisan cooperation whatsoever.

        1. I seriously doubt it’s on the agenda of average tea partiers to dismantle Medicare. Everyone except devoted libertarians don’t actually mean smaller government when they say it. Just look at polls if you don’t believe me.

          Second, the GOP’s behavior has nothing to do whatsoever with overreaching on the part of Obama. He’s passed modest (some say conservative) reforms that are being gutted by lobbyists anyway. They’d attack him with full force no matter what he did, because he has the wrong letter after his name.

          1. “They’d attack him with full force no matter what he did, because he has the wrong letter after his name.”

            Does the “C” stand for “Communist” or “Cunt”?

            1. Tony, I failed to vote for Bush – three times, counting Old Man Bush.

              Sometimes, therefore, “R” is also “the wrong letter”.

          2. They haven’t produced the much vaunted recovery and, if anything, has created misallocations that have served to undermine growth. Moreover, if anyone cares to remember 2008, it was widely predicted that the fortunes of the Republicans were only destined to sink further. Oddly, within two years, Team Red made historic gains in the House and Senate. Do you think this was sheer happenstance? Do you think there was no reason whatsoever that the Tea Parties (largely responsible for the Republican gains in ’10) arose exactly as Mr. Obama was pushing an agenda whose elements more than half the country found objectionable? Do you really think it completely unfathomable that a Congressional majority elected in response to those excesses might not be terribly cooperative with their extension?

  34. Why in the hell is Reason posting Chapmans articles? This kind of garbage is the reason we got Obama in the first place.

  35. Obama doesn’t “look” nearly as bad as he actually is. The bastard approved assassinations of US citizens, did nothing to stop the torture of Bradley Manning, and passed Obamacare, which functions as a de facto tax on job creation when unemployment is at a 70 year high.

    Why is Reason publishing the writings of someone who thinks that the man who roped America into the blatantly unconstitutional Libya war is a worthy president?

    He is a terrible president and a worse human being.

  36. If I wanted NPR, I’d have gone to NPR.

  37. Why is Reason publishing the writings of someone who thinks that the man who roped America into the blatantly unconstitutional Libya war is a worthy president?
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    1. Thank you! However, by looking at this site, I think that this is a place for both minds to clash.

  38. Obama’s policies have kept the economy low and moving lower. His EPA policies are killing jobs everywhere making prices go up.

  39. And he also bailed out Citi Bank, Wachovia, and Bank of America… even though they failed to pay their taxes..For several years in a row. Oh, wait. Did we forget about that?

  40. Mr Chapman,
    You fail to realize that Obama did not kill Osama, Seal Team 6 killed Osama.

    Idiot.

  41. Obama doesn’t “look” nearly as bad as he actually is. The bastard approved assassinations of US citizens, did nothing to stop the torture of Bradley Manning, and passed Obamacare, which functions as a de facto tax on job creation when unemployment is at a 70 year high.

  42. obviously something is awry Check this out!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dVmwoR24rc

  43. I can’t believe that a statement like “[Obama] saved General Motors and Chrysler and the jobs they provide” just appeared in Reason magazine.

  44. It is naive in the extreme to say Obama has “ended torture.” Prove it. You have no freakin’ idea where the safe houses are, where renditions are now going, or anything else. The fact he said that, however, would lead me to believe he has finessed the situation again — in a Clintonian fashion, to wit, “I stopped the torture over here, and now we’re doing it over there, but we bring balloons and call it a party now.” I don’t believe a goddamn thing he says. Of course, that goes for most of the other pols, too.

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