The Obama Watch

A Nation Adrift

Reflections on a depressing yet reascendant Obama presidency.

By 11.7.12

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In the fantasy novel The Life of Pi, a young Indian boy is shipwrecked and somehow manages to survive 227 days at sea in a lifeboat with a 450-pound Bengal Tiger.

I can't help thinking of "Richard Parker" -- that's the tiger's name in Yann Martel's novel -- when I think of the strange relationship between our 44th president and the American people.

Who is this president and how does he relate to the popular novel?  Is he the man-eating tiger, or the potential victim in the little boy named "Pi"?

I would say that he is something else again: the spinner of the tale not as it was told in the book, but as it played out in the American psyche over the past four years.

He conjured up a tiger -- and kept him terrifyingly alive in many peoples' minds -- in order to effect "transformational change." He wanted to obliterate what is left of the age-old national ethos of self-reliance and individual responsibility…  and replace it with the social democratic mush of endless whining about "fairness" and "social justice."

Like most of Obama's creations (cf. Dreams from My Father), his all-devouring tiger was a composite: a combination of predatory capitalism and rampant greed; and of uncaring and non-interventionist and non-redistributive government.

Never mind that this tiger is a total illusion.  It is not what produced the subprime housing crisis or the financial meltdown of 2008.

Over the past four years, Barack Obama has made heightened fears and low expectations the norm for more and more people -- beginning with the college-educated young, who are his most steadfast and enthusiastic supporters, even though half or more of them are unable to find anything other than unskilled jobs.

That said, yesterday the president snatched an electoral victory from the jaws of an economic and fiscal defeat -- winning a second term as president despite the obvious failure of his policies to produce jobs and income growth over his first term in office… and despite the explosive growth in national debt caused by those same policies.

This is a deeply depressing defeat for conservatives. But it is far from unprecedented in annals of history. It is always easy for progressives -- or for demagogues, to give them another name -- to make promises they can't keep to people who will mistake the leader who promises the most for the leader who cares the most. It happened in ancient Greece. And it has happened again in modern Greece (and many other states besides).

We don't expect it to happen in the United States. But it has. It has.

Here, then, are some notes on the Obama's first term -- some tell-tale examples of his administration's facility in finding useful ways to neutralize unpleasant or embarrassing realities and, in some cases, to turn them into political successes.

The Jobs Disaster
In his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention in late August 2008, Obama promised the sun, the moon, and the stars, saying, among other things:

I'll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy -- an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced.

However, as soon as he was sworn into the presidency, he began -- simultaneously -- to turn up the spigot on federal spending; and to bad-mouth the economy. This created a heads-we-win; tails-you-lose scenario, allowing the president to accept credit for any possible economic gains while blaming any disappointments on George W. Bush or previous presidents going back to Ronald Reagan.

As the economist Bradley R. Schiller noted in a WSJ op-ed piece on Feb. 14, 2009:

President Barack Obama has turned fearmongering into an art form. He has repeatedly raised the specter of another Great Depression.  First, he did so to win votes in the November election. He has done so again to sway congressional votes for his stimulus package.

In his remarks, every gloomy statistic becomes a harbinger of doom.  As he tells it, today's economy is the worst since the Great Depression.  Without his Recovery and Reinvestment Act, he says, the economy will fall back into that abyss and may never recover.

The fearmongering may be good politics, but it is bad history and bad economics.  It is bad history because our current economic woes don't come close to those of the 1930. At worst, a comparison to the 1981-82 recession might be appropriate.

… Repeated warnings from the White House about a coming economic apocalypse aren't like to raise consumer and investor expectations for the future. In fact, they have contributed to a continuing decline in consumer confidence.

The $787 billion (and eventually to become $860 billion) stimulus program did a lot of different things.  But it did not, in any logical or verifiable sense, create jobs or stimulate the economy.

In January and February of 2009 the administration rounded up votes for the stimulus program on the grounds that it would keep unemployment from rising above 8 percent.  It then promptly soared above 10 percent.

On Feb. 17, 2010, I wrote a column describing how members of the cabinet, like "members of the Audubon Society on a major bird-sighting mission," had fanned out across the United States that week "on a job-spotting mission" aimed at supporting the president's claim that the $787 billion program was "not a total waste of money." Even then, "apart from a few sickly chicks living in federal incubators, they could not find a single job capable of independent flight and life in the wild."

By mid-2010 -- more than a year and a quarter after the launch of the stimulus program -- the government was reporting that it had "created or saved" approximately three million jobs -- a period of time in which the U.S. economy had a net loss of 2.35 million jobs.

America's narrow unemployment now stands at 7.9 percent, but it jumps to 14.6 percent when accounting for involuntary part-time workers.

According to the latest jobs report, a total of only 294,000 net new jobs have been created by the Obama administration since January of 2009. By contrast, over the same period of time, the Obama administration has added 75 times as many people -- or 14.7 million people in all -- to food stamp rolls.

Play-Acting at Leadership
On the night of April 20, 2010, disaster struck the giant Deepwater Horizon oil rig.  Crew members were in the final hours of attempting to secure a "nightmare well" about a mile deep in the Gulf of Mexico for temporary closure and later production.  Undetected, a large quantity of gas and oil entered the well and surged upward through the drilling riser.  Upon reaching the surface, the hydrocarbons exploded -- killing 11 of the 126 people aboard the vessel and unloosing what many called the worst environmental disaster of all time, as thousands of gallons of oil poured into the gulf from the gaping hole in the ocean floor.

President Obama responded to this crisis with a combination of showboating, arrogance, and naiveté -- later to be repeated in other crises, most notably including the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other diplomatic personnel who happened to be at U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 of this year -- the eleventh anniversary of the original 9 / 11 / 2001.

More than a month and a half after the blow-out, he told reporters:

The American people should know that from the moment the disaster began, the federal government was in charge of the response effort…

Make no mistake: BP (in charge of well) is operating at our direction. Every key decision and action they take must be approved by us in advance…

There has never been a point during this crisis in which the administration, up and down the line, in all these agencies, hasn't understood that this was my priority. 

It's my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down.

In fact, the government did nothing to help -- and everything to distract -- BP from plugging the hole. At one point, Ken Salazar, the secretary of the interior, threatened to push BP "out of the way" if it didn't move faster.  That caused Coast Guard commandant Admiral Thad Allen, overseeing the federal response, to gasp: "Replace them with what?"

BP succeeded in capping the gushing wellhead on July 15, 2010, 83 days after the blowout. 

The Gulf oil spill was a preview of other crises to come -- in which we would see the president and members of his team play-acting at taking charge of a tense situation -- while constantly engaged in fingering the wrong culprits (during the Gulf Oil spill it began by pointing the finger of blame at lax regulation; in the Benghazi disaster, it spent two week blaming the hitherto unknown creator of 14-minute YouTube video for sparking violence half way around the world).

Obama's Other Legislation
In his first two years in office, despite having super-majorities in both houses, Obama was unable to pass two elements of his leftist agenda.  He faced too many defections within the Democratic Party to pass cap-and-trade and union card check bills.  The first of those would have resulted in a far-reaching carbon tax and the second would have extended union power over a far greater number of private-sector companies by taking away the right to a secret ballot in union elections. While still a member of the U.S. Senate, Obama co-sponsored the undemocratic and misnamed Employee Free Choice Act, better known as card check.

"If, under an Obama presidency, the unions succeed in organizing Wal-Mart,' I wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Sept. 4, 2008, "it will have one entirely predictable result: not the protection of jobs but the destruction of jobs by slowing or stopping Wal-Mart's growth. Nor will it help U.S. consumers if Wal-Mart is forced to hang out new signs, saying 'Everyday High Prices.'"

While failing with union card check and cap-and-trade, the president did proceed full speed ahead with so-called "health care reform," aka Obamacare.  If he is elected to a second term, one of his primary objectives will be to secure the future of this unpopular and indeed despised legislation.  There was no great demand for expanded health care coverage when Obama came to office. It was something that he did to fulfill a longstanding dream of socialist glory -- being the first to implement "universal health care."

There is much more to be said of this subject. But this is for sure one of the worst pieces of legislation ever to be visited on the American people.  I say 'visited on' but it was indeed ramrodded down the throats of the people -- who rose up in protest against it (with the creation of the Tea Party movement) and who indicated in poll after poll how much they hated it.

In Conclusion
Americans are famous for giving people a second chance.  

They have done so for Barack Obama -- but only in the most tepid of ways -- with a narrow majority of the vote and while keep a strong majority of the opposing party in charge of the House of Representatives.

Obama -- and his fellow liberals/progressives/socialists, or whatever you want to call them -- may not be on the losing side of history (an arena in which the bad guys often win), but they are on the losing side of economic and human reality -- in embracing ideas and policies that can only end in eroding freedom and destroying prosperity.

The fight continues.

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About the Author
Andrew B. Wilson, a frequent contributor to The American Spectator and a former foreign correspondent, writes from St. Louis.