The Great Recession is not as crushing as the Great Depression, but President Obama’s problems in the face of economic turmoil are beginning to look Hooveresque. The stimulus program on which he hung his hat may, as its friends argue, have prevented an even worse economic debacle. Clearly, however, the $800 billion plus stimulus failed to jump-start an economic recovery. Many of the administration’s pet stimulus programs have joined Jerry Ford’s “Whip Inflation Now” buttons on the junkpile of history: green jobs, cash for clunkers, debt relief for homeowners, and now, by the President’s own admission, ‘shovel-ready’ infrastructure projects.
Like Hoover, President Obama now finds himself (at least temporarily) without the ability to shape national economic policy. His opponents in Congress will block the kind of second stimulus his instincts and allies propose, and the Fed is not at this point particularly impressed by the White House’s recovery plan and is acting on its own. Like Hoover, President Obama faces the possibility of a devastating second downturn due to economic problems in Europe — and like President Hoover, President Obama can’t do much to prevent it. Like Hoover, President Obama is harried by a domestic populist revolt against his leadership and the policies he supports and like Hoover, President Obama’s once unassailable popularity is being slowly ground down by economic bad news.
As President Obama struggles, again, to gain control of the economic conversation and relaunch his administration’s economic policy (how many times has this administration announced its determination to focus on job creation?) the similarities between these two idealistic and patriotic men begin to emerge. In both cases we have a President who thought that his mission was to remake the world, but who gradually discovered that the tools in his toolkit were no match for the problems he faced. With great intelligence and serious goodwill, both men set about to address the most important issues facing the country and the world — only to find that their chosen remedies failed one by one.