Last week, Jonathan Alter issued a challenge to his readers and Barack Obama’s critics — make the case that Obama has been an objectively bad President and doesn’t deserve re-election:
Tell me again why Barack Obama has been such a bad president? I’m not talking here about him as a tactician and communicator. We can agree that he has played some bad poker with Congress. And let’s stipulate that at the moment he’s falling short in the intangibles of leadership.
I’m thinking instead of that opening sequence in the show “Mission Impossible,” the one where Jim Phelps, played by Peter Graves, gets his instructions.
Your mission, Jim (and readers named something else), should you decide to accept it, is to identify where Obama has been a poor decision-maker. What, specifically, has he done wrong on policy? What, specifically, would you have done differently to create jobs? And what can any of the current Republican candidates offer that would be an improvement on the employment front?
I’m not interested in hearing ad hominem attacks or about your generalized “disappointment.”
First, the basis of the question has it backwards. We’re not required to “prove” that Obama is a lousy President; he’s required to make a case for another four years of the same approach to the voters. Alter starts from a presumption that Obama is somehow entitled to a second term unless we can prove to Alter that he doesn’t. No politician is entitled to office except for the term they win from the voters.
But even arguing on the basis of Alter’s challenge, it’s not hard to answer. He questions whether any President who presides over 9% unemployment is objectively bad enough to fire after one term. Not necessarily; it depends on how one reacts to that level of economic damage and attempts to correct it. I’d argue that Obama deserves to get fired for taking that moment in economic crisis to pass not one but two wide-sweeping regulatory bills that made employment and investment so risky that job creators have their capital on the sidelines. ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank imposed broad and ambiguous authority to the federal government that has produced a “Rule of Whim” mentality in the executive branch, especially ObamaCare, which HHS has enforced by granting waivers to certain insurers — especially to unions — that don’t meet the spending-to-premium ratio that Congress pulled out of a hat.
At the same time, Obama’s EPA has produced a torrent of new regulation that will get imposed over the next year that will make energy costs skyrocket — exactly as Obama promised in January 2008. Not only does that mean that investors will have to pay more for business expansion, it also means that consumers will have to pay a lot more for products and services, which will mean lower levels of real consumption. Obama’s attempt to impose his agenda through regulatory adventurism even outside of ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank is one of the biggest reasons that investors aren’t betting on the US any longer, and why we aren’t creating jobs.
I’m not the only one answering Alter. Peter Wehner at Commentary provides a lengthy, detailed answer to Alter’s challenge, and bases it on the President’s own measure of success:
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 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.
Wehner provides a series of bullet points to underscore his argument. Jim Geraghty takes on a favorite bit of sophistry on the Left that Alter repeats:
When Obama took office, the economy was losing about 750,000 jobs a month and heading for another Great Depression. The recession ended (at least for a while) and we now are adding several thousand jobs a month — anemic growth, but an awful lot better than the alternative. How did that happen? Luck?
Notice the extraordinarily low bar for a not-bad president: merely ceasing to lose 700,000 jobs per month. Why are we not losing 700,000 jobs per month? Because we hit bottom, and we are now “bouncing along the bottom,” a phrase recently used to describe the housing markets. From Alter’s perspective, this current stagnation is the best anyone could possibly hope to “enjoy.” He’s Jack Nicholson arguing that this is as good as it gets.
The stimulus was not sufficiently stimulative. Infrastructure spending can be useful – imagine widening the roads in the most heavily-trafficked areas, reducing commuting time for millions of Americans and shortening shipping time for billions in goods – but it’s not particularly fast-moving and it’s not, as the president later admitted that he learned, “shovel-ready.” If I had a magic wand, I would have eliminated the entire payroll tax for the entirety of 2009, effectively giving every American a 7 percent raise and making every employee 7 percent less costly to every employer; the self-employed would have received the equivalent of a 14 percent raise. (I realize a bunch of other smart conservatives disagree on this, but I would hope everybody could agree it beats replacing five-year-old sidewalks in Boynton, Oklahoma.)
There’s plenty more, of course. Obama pledging to put away childish things in his inaugural address and then cutting off debate with Republican lawmakers by declaring, “I won,”; Obama the senator who said that voting to raise the debt limit was a fil ; Obama the senator declaring that increasing the deficit by $4 trillion is “unpatriotic,” when Obama the president has now raised it by $4.02 trillion in a much shorter period of time[.]
Those 700-750K jobs that we were losing each month are still lost. We haven’t gained them back after more than two years of Obamanomics. Over the last two years, we haven’t added enough jobs to keep up with population growth. Meanwhile, the percentage of working-age adults in the work force has dropped to a 30-year low, which is one reason why the jobless rate is only at 9%. If we had the same participation rate now as we did four years ago, the unemployment rate would be over 12%. Thanks to the policies of this President, we are killing the normal recovery process that would have made use of available assets and triggered economic expansion. In case anyone has forgotten, this chart from the Minneapolis Fed shows the trajectory of employment in all post-WWII recessions and demonstrates what an anomaly Obama’s term has been:
Objectively, Obamanomics has failed, and the regulatory adventurism of this administration has killed any hope of recovery. We need to replace Obama if we are going to cure the problem of overactive federal regulators and get investors to put their capital at risk in the US. That’s the only way we can create jobs and rebuild the American economy.
Update: The Wall Street Journal notes the coming avalanche of EPA regulation and the toll it will take on the economy:
The EPA is currently pushing an unprecedented rewrite of air-pollution rules in an attempt to shut down a large portion of the coal-fired power fleet. Though these regulations are among the most expensive in the agency’s history, none were demanded by the late Pelosi Congress. They’re all the result of purely bureaucratic discretion under the Clean Air Act, last revised in 1990.
As it happens, those 1990 amendments contain an overlooked proviso that would let Mr. Obama overrule EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s agenda. With an executive order, he could exempt all power plants “from compliance with any standard or limitation” for two years, or even longer using rolling two-year periods. All he has to declare is “that the technology to implement such standard is not available and that it is in the national security interests of the United States to do so.”
Both criteria are easily met. Most important, the EPA’s regulatory cascade is a clear and present danger to the reliability and stability of the U.S. power system and grid. The spree affects plants that provide 40% of U.S. baseload capacity in the U.S., and almost half of U.S. net generation. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, which is charged with ensuring the integrity of the power supply, reported this month in a letter to the Senate that 81 gigawatts of generating capacity is “very likely” or “likely” to be subtracted by 2018 amid coal plant retirements and downgrades.
That’s about 8% of all U.S. generating capacity. Merely losing 56 gigawatts—a midrange scenario in line with FERC and industry estimates—is the equivalent of wiping out all power generation for Florida and Mississippi.
How much will that cost?
The larger issue is whether the Administration’s green campaign is more important than economic growth. The EPA’s own lowball cost estimate for the mercury rule is $11 billion annually, though the capital expenditures to meet the increasingly strict burden will be far higher. That investment could be put to more productive uses than mothballing coal assets and replacing them with more expensive sources like natural gas. With nearly a tenth of America out of work, $11 billion year after year adds up.
As energy cost skyrocket, growth will diminish, and so will the number of investors willing to risk capital in this environment. That’s why the jobs aren’t getting created now — because capital investors see what’s coming with Obama in the White House.