If memory serves, when I attended Columbia University only a few years before Barack Obama’s arrival on campus, the rule about “incompletes” was that you had a year to complete the course work before your grade was converted from an “I” to an “F.” That somber warning–given to students who were able to procure a pass for not handing in a term paper, taking the final exam or missing classes for one reason or another–was brought to mind by the statement made over the weekend by the only Columbia grad ever elected president that his grade for handling the economy ought to be an “incomplete.”
Republicans are pouncing on this by pointing out, as the Romney campaign said, that it is absurd to ask the American people to re-elect a man who can’t even give himself a passing grade. Nevertheless, contrary to South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, an incomplete is not equivalent to failure. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances that ought to mandate extra time for a student to satisfy course requirements. But Obama’s alibi, repeated by Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter–blaming it all on George W. Bush–doesn’t meet the Columbia standard. Asking for an extra year or even two before being held responsible for the state of the nation is not unreasonable. Asking for four or more years before you can be graded gets you an F at Columbia, Harvard, Occidental, the University of Chicago or any other institution the president was associated with.
As I wrote yesterday, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only president ever re-elected on the basis of an “incomplete.” But despite the attempt by Obama and Cutter and the rest of the Democrats to paint the situation in January 2009 as the moral equivalent of March 1933, the analogy falls flat. The downturn of 2008 was bad but it was no Great Depression. And Barack Obama’s stimulus boondoggle and Obamacare didn’t gain the support of the country the way FDR’s New Deal did.
Even an often foul-mouthed radical liberal MSNBC talker like Ed Schultz has admitted “a lot of Americans out there … don’t want to hear about Bush anymore.” Barack Obama can run against Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, but he can’t run on his record. As for that incomplete the president has given himself, after this much time it’s already been changed on his transcript to the “F” that he fears the voters will give him in November.