Economist: Obama's not who we thought he was

The fact that Barack Obama won endorsements from most daily newspapers comes as no surprise to American readers, as they mostly go with Democrats regardless of the specific candidates.  Some of us got surprised when publications like The Economist chose to back Obama, however, considering their normally sober analysis of economics and the radicalism and inexperience Obama brought to the campaign.  Now, The Economist has had a Road to Damascus moment just two months after their candidate took office (via QandO):

His performance has been weaker than those who endorsed his candidacy, including this newspaper, had hoped. Many of his strongest supporters—liberal columnists, prominent donors, Democratic Party stalwarts—have started to question him. As for those not so beholden, polls show that independent voters again prefer Republicans to Democrats, a startling reversal of fortune in just a few weeks. Mr Obama’s once-celestial approval ratings are about where George Bush’s were at this stage in his awful presidency. Despite his resounding electoral victory, his solid majorities in both chambers of Congress and the obvious goodwill of the bulk of the electorate, Mr Obama has seemed curiously feeble.

Why “curiously”?  After all, Obama had next to no executive experience before running for the presidency.  His only executive experience came at the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, where Obama spent over $160 million and had no effect on education.  He has never been responsible for a public budget, public appointments, or economic policy.  And they find his poor performance “curious”?  Would The Economist have hired Obama to run their magazine based on his resumé and then found his incompetence “curious”?

The magazine then scolds Obama for not doing the basics:

His stimulus package, though huge, was subcontracted to Congress, which did a mediocre job: too much of the money will arrive too late to be of help in the current crisis. His budget, though in some ways more honest than his predecessor’s, is wildly optimistic. And he has taken too long to produce his plan for dealing with the trillions of dollars of toxic assets which fester on banks’ balance-sheets.

How is it “more honest” than Bush?  Deficits actually went down during Bush’s second term, at least until 2008.  Obama says he’s all about reducing the deficit, but even by his own OMB predictions, the Obama budgets never return even to the 2008 level in the next 12 years.  By the CBO’s account, both of which rely on “wildly optimistic” growth during the period, Obama won’t even come close.  Now that Social Security surpluses have vanished far more quickly than anyone except George Bush predicted, they’ll get higher than either prediction.

The failure to staff the Treasury is a shocking illustration of administrative drift. There are 23 slots at the department that need confirmation by the Senate, and only two have been filled. This is not the Senate’s fault. Mr Obama has made a series of bad picks of people who have chosen or been forced to withdraw; and it was only this week that he announced his candidates for two of the department’s four most senior posts. Filling such jobs is always a tortuous business in America, but Mr Obama has made it harder by insisting on a level of scrutiny far beyond anything previously attempted. Getting the Treasury team in place ought to have been his first priority.

As I reported weeks ago, the Obama administration has done almost nothing to staff what should be the highest-priority positions in an economic crisis.  That’s simply executive incompetence, and it can’t all be blamed on Obama’s level of scrutiny.  The man at the top of Treasury committed tax evasion, and he’s still around.  Obama issued a waiver a day for his anti-lobbyist policy in the first two weeks of his administration. If there are literally no candidates of any qualification who have paid their taxes properly, maybe that’s an indication that we should simplify our tax codes rather than make them even more complicated and punitive, as Obama has proposed.

Mr Obama has mishandled his relations with both sides in Congress. Though he campaigned as a centrist and promised an era of post-partisan government, that’s not how he has behaved. His stimulus bill attracted only three Republican votes in the Senate and none in the House. … Republicans must take their share of the blame for the breakdown. But if Mr Obama had done a better job of selling his package, and had worked harder at making sure that Republicans were included in drafting it, they would have found it more difficult to oppose his plans.

What share?  Obama outsourced the stimulus to Pelosi, who locked Republicans out.  The Economist even noted that earlier in this article!  Obama abdicated leadership on the stimulus plan and endorsed Pelosi’s “we won” policy — in fact, explicitly repeating it to Republicans whom he courted.  The Economist hits Democrats next, however:

If Mr Obama cannot work with the Republicans, he needs to be certain that he controls his own party. Unfortunately, he seems unable to. Put bluntly, the Democrats are messing him around. They are pushing pro-trade-union legislation (notably a measure to get rid of secret ballots) even though he doesn’t want them to do so; they have been roughing up the bankers even though it makes his task of fixing the economy much harder; they have stuffed his stimulus package and his appropriations bill with pork, even though this damages him and his party in the eyes of the electorate. Worst of all, he is letting them get away with it.

They’re doing all of this despite Obama?  Hell, no.  Obama himself talked about “shaking with outrage” over the bonuses and openly encouraged the “clawback” movement on Capitol Hill until saner heads prevailed.  The Economist must also have missed Obama’s promise to Big Labor during the campaign (which got The Economist’s endorsement, remember) to make Card Check one of his top priorities once he got elected.  He co-sponsored it in the Senate in 2007.  In fact, in January, Obama told the Washington Post of his continuing support for it.   Does The Economist believe in research any longer?

If Obama is not who The Economist thought he was, then the fault lies with The Economist and not Obama.  The scales may be falling from their eyes now, but if they had done their jobs a few months ago, it wouldn’t be necessary at all.