“Tell me again why Barack Obama has been such a bad president?” Jonathan Alter writes in his column.
Alter tells us he’s not talking here about Obama as a tactician and communicator, and he’s not interested in hearing ad hominem attacks or about people’s generalized “disappointment.” (Neither am I.) He wants to know on a substantive basis why Obama should be judged to have failed so far.
In Alter’s words, “Your mission, Jim [or anyone else for that matter], should you decide to accept it, is to be specific and rational, not vague and visceral.”
Consider the mission accepted.
In one sense, the answer to the Alter challenge is obvious: Obama has failed by his own standards. It’s the Obama administration, not the RNC, that said if his stimulus package was passed unemployment would not exceed 8 percent. It’s Obama who joked there weren’t as many “shovel-ready” jobs as he thought.
It’s Obama who promised to cut the deficit in half. It’s Obama who said if we passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health care cost curve would go down rather than up. It’s Obama who promised us recovery and prosperity, hope and change. What we’ve gotten instead is the opposite.
What makes Alter’s challenge particularly delicious is during the Bush years he spoke out about the importance of a “reality-based” presidency (as opposed to a “faith-based” one). “They [Republicans] could end up winning in November by distorting the argument,” Alter said in 2006. “But on credibility and the facts, they’ve lost.”
With Alter’s devotion to credibility and facts in mind, let’s take an empirical, reality-based look at economic life in America during the Age of Obama:
* Under Obama’s stewardship, we have lost 2.2 million jobs (and 900,000 full-time jobs in the last four months alone). He is now on track to have the worst jobs record of any president in the modern era.
* The unemployment rate stands at 9.1 percent v. 7.8 percent the month Obama took office.
* July marked the 30th consecutive month in which the unemployment rate was above the 8 percent level, the highest since the Great Depression.
* Since May 2009 — roughly 14 weeks into the Obama administration — the unemployment rate has been above 10 percent during three months, above 9 percent during 22 months, and above 8 percent during two months.
* Chronic unemployment is worse than during the Great Depression.
* The youth employment rate is at the lowest level since records were first kept in 1948.
* The share of the eligible population holding a job has declined to the lowest level since the early 1980s.
* The housing crisis is worse than in the Great Depression. (Home values are worth roughly one-third less than they were five years ago.)
* The rate of economic growth under Obama has been only slightly higher than the 1930s, the decade of the Great Depression. From the first quarter of 2010 through the first quarter of 2011, we experienced five consecutive quarters of slowing growth. America’s GDP for the second quarter of this year was a sickly 1.0 percent; in the first quarter, it was 0.4 percent.
* Fiscal year 2011 will mark the third straight year with deficits in excess of $1 trillion. Prior to the Obama presidency, we had never experienced a deficit in excess of $1 trillion.
* During the Obama presidency, America has increased its debt by $4 trillion.
That is to say, Obama has achieved in two-and-a-half years what it took George W. Bush two full terms in office to achieve — and Obama, when he was running for president, slammed Bush’s record as being “unpatriotic.”
* America saw its credit rating downgraded for the first time in history under the Obama presidency.
* Consumer confidence has plunged to the lowest level since the Carter presidency.
* The number of people in the U.S. who are in poverty is on track for a record increase on President Obama’s watch, with the ranks of working-age poor approaching 1960s levels that led to the national war on poverty.
* A record number of Americans now rely on the federal government’s food stamps program. More than 44.5 million Americans received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, a 12 percent increase from one year ago.
There is more that can be said, but you get the point.
What makes this record doubly horrifying is rapid growth is the norm after particularly deep recessions — but under Obama, our recovery has been historically weak. President Obama (and Alter) can blame his predecessor, the Tea Party, the Arab Spring, the Japanese tsunami, events in Europe, ATM machines and even athlete’s foot for his predicament. It doesn’t really matter, as even Obama conceded during the early months of his presidency, when he declared, “One nice thing about the situation I find myself in is that I will be held accountable.”
Indeed. Obama “owns” the economy, as both his senior aide David Plouffe and the chair of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, have said.
“If you lose a common ground of facts on which to move forward as a society, nobody can agree on anything, and you can’t pull together to solve problems,” Alter told Keith Olbermann during the Bush administration.
I agree. And it is on the common ground of facts that we can declare–in a calm, specific, reasonable, rational and empirical manner–Obama to be an utter failure.