Commentary Magazine


What Change Looks Like Under Obama

Speaking to a crowd in Hawaii, President Obama contrasted his uplifting, high-minded campaign with the “narrow, cramped vision of an America where everybody is left to fend for themselves.” (That would be the Republican vision). Obama went on to say this: “That was what the campaign was about — the belief that the more Americans succeed, the more America succeeds. We knew it wouldn’t come easy, we knew it wasn’t going to come quickly, but three years later, because of what you did in 2008, we’ve already started to see what change looks like.”

Since the president raised the issue himself, why don’t we sketch out what “change looks like” under the stewardship of Obama. Some of the highlights:

* A misery index that is at a 28-year high.

*America’s credit rating downgraded for the first time in American history.

* A standard of living for Americans that has fallen further and more steeply over the past three years than at any time since the government began recording it five decades ago.

* An unemployment rate that now stands at 9.0 percent. October marks the 33rd consecutive month in which the unemployment rate was above the 8 percent level that the Obama administration said it would not exceed as a result of his stimulus program. And 28 out of the last 30 months has seen unemployment at 9.0 percent or above — the longest stretch of high unemployment since the Great Depression.

* Obama is now on track to have the worst jobs record of any president in the modern era.

* The share of the eligible population holding a job has reached its lowest level since July 1983.

* Chronic unemployment is worse than the Great Depression.

* Almost 26 million are either unemployed, marginally attached to the labor force, or involuntarily working part-time – a number experts say is unprecedented.

* A smaller share of 16-19 year-olds are working than at any time since records began to be kept in 1948.

* Black unemployment is at its highest level in 27 years, with black youth unemployment now closing in on 50 percent.

* The rate of economic growth under Obama has been only slightly higher than the 1930s, the decade of the Great Depression.

* Federal spending as a percent of GDP, the budget deficit as a percent of GDP, and the federal debt as a percent of GDP have all reached their highest level since World War II.

* Confidence among U.S. consumers has plunged to the lowest level in more than 30 years.

* The housing market has recently entered a double dip and the crisis is now worse than the Great Depression. Home values are worth one-third less than they were five years ago. And the home ownership rate is the lowest since 1965.

* The number of people in the U.S. who are in poverty has seen 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.

* Government dependency, defined as the percentage of persons receiving one or more federal benefit payments, is the highest in American history.

* The share of Americans without health coverage is just a shade under 50 million people, the largest in more than two decades.

A reasonable question is whether Obama is single-handedly responsible for all of this bad news. To which the answer is: No president is responsible for all the blame (or all the credit) when it comes to the economy. His influence is greater on some things (unemployment and economic growth) than others (the housing crisis). At the same time, the Reagan era showed us that a president’s agenda can make a world of difference. And unlike Reagan, Obama’s policies have not made things better – even Obama admits we’re not better off than we were four years ago — and in many respects, they have made things worse.

I’d add two other points–the first of which is when the president criticizes his predecessor and Republicans, he shows an impressive capacity to resist what I’m sure is his natural impulse: fair-mindedness toward the opposition. Let’s just say that charity and understanding toward others is not a hallmark of the Obama presidency (except when it comes to, say, Occupy Wall Street, where he has shown an amazing ability to overlook lawlessness, violence, and anti-Semitism).

The other observation worth making, I think, is that one merely needs to hold Obama to his own standards. It was the Obama administration, after all, not Mitt Romney, which said unemployment would not exceed 8 percent under his watch if his stimulus program was passed. (Based on the administration’s own projections, unemployment should be around 6.5 percent at this stage.) It was Obama who said, in the early days of his presidency, “I will be held accountable. I’ve got four years… If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.” And it was Obama who said on the night of his election, “This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids, to restore prosperity.”

This was their moment. This was their time. And they’ve had their chance. The Obama record is one of almost undiluted failures. And no group of Americans have been hurt more by his failures than the poor, the weak and defenseless, and those living in the shadows of society. One might even say that compared to his predecessor — who said that our national character shines in our compassion; that we must be rich in justice and moral courage; and that Americans have always found our better selves in sympathy and generosity in our lives and in our laws — Obama has offered a vision of America where everybody is left to fend for themselves.

Ineptitude has a high human cost.


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