What legacy has he constructed?
We hear much about President Barack Obama being absorbed with his legacy. So what might one version of it be?
Dismissive of Western civilization and what went before, the president seemed to believe that history started on the day of his inauguration. Shortly thereafter, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize by a gushing European coterie — something grand, which he did not earn. A former community organizer from Chicago, he set out to apply the art of creating unrest — to incite men against women, straights against gays, whites against blacks, Hometown U.S.A. against Wall Street, Democrats against Republicans, and the so-called 1% versus the 99%. Skeptical of the capitalist system, he nonetheless pitched to Silicon Valley, the grandees of Hollywood, and professional athletes. Playing the race card in situations such as the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida and the riots of Ferguson, Missouri, he aggravated societal tensions. Through hyper-nuance and the affirmation of moral equivalence, his support for the primacy of the rule of law was tepid. Committed to social reengineering, he lectured us with a narcissistic sense of superiority and tweaked the country on the nose every chance he could get.
The first major financial test for President Obama was the rescue of General Motors and Chrysler in mid-2009. The bail out was seen as a tilt toward unionized labor, with preferential treatment of a trust, the Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association, that provided retiree health benefits.
As the president’s economic policies unfolded, it became evident that rather than emphasizing economic growth, his philosophy was to redistribute wealth, using the IRS and the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare) enacted in March of 2010 as instruments. Intrusiveness by government became the norm. Now dying a slow death, Obamacare has lived up to the expectations of critics who predicted that it was unsound public policy. Since inception, the government’s intervention in private markets has been a failure, with major insurers pulling out of numerous exchanges resulting in less freedom of choice, dramatically rising premiums, and insufficient subscription by healthy individuals who would rather pay a small and increasing fine. The president’s serial misrepresentations with regard to keeping one’s doctor and hospital, as well as seeing lower premiums have proved to be preposterous. Numerous amendments of Obamacare were made unilaterally by the White House, bypassing Congress whose role is to make the laws.
Thus far the national debate about Obamacare has addressed access. The case has been made that the most powerful country on Earth should be able to provide universal coverage, and anyone with a preexisting medical conditional welcomes the mandate that he/she must be underwritten. However, the focus has not been on cost or quality, and almost daily we read of unintended consequences of this misguided legislation. Further, no effort has been made to limit tort liability or achieve interstate insurance, and these are not on his agenda.
The fact that Obamacare was sold to the public deceptively has rightly made the opposition even more entrenched. The president’s hailing of Obamacare as a major policy success shows remarkable detachment in the face of abject failure.
Dodd-Frank, enacted later in 2010, offers some positive elements, for example: consumer protection against predatory lending and simplicity of disclosure, as well as a financial policy review body above the Federal Reserve, the Financial Stability Oversight Council that monitors system risk. With the Fed as both a regulator and an operating platform for the banking industry, a higher supervisory body was deemed necessary.
An integral part of Dodd-Frank, the Volcker Rule prohibits proprietary trading and by banks and limits investment in hedge funds and private equity. These activities were among the least affected by the meltdown, and it is questionable that they did much to precipitate calamitous events.
While Dodd-Frank focuses on bank capital ratios, among other things, it was mainly the lack of counterparties and liquidity, coupled with mark-to-market accounting that brought down or damaged great names on Wall Street. Implementation of this massive legislation is not complete, and it may be too soon to evaluate its knock on effects. However, there is more concentration of banking assets now than before 2008. Intensified regulation in general has hurt community banks that do not have the resources to cope with it and were not part of the meltdown of 2008. Further, there is some body of opinion that Dodd-Frank inhibits GDP growth.
The pace of recovery since the meltdown of 2008 has been agonizingly slow, with real GDP growth in recent months near 1 per cent. Unemployment has come down below 5% but it is a fake number that does not account for the tens of millions who have left the work force.
The national debt has almost doubled on the president’s watch to $20 trillion. The average hourly wage of $21 is virtually flat since his inauguration, and the number of people on food stamps approximates 46 million, almost a 40% increase during his administration. The middle class is in pain.
Like other presidents before him, President Obama has shown no willingness to address reform of entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security.
The president’s time in office has also seen various scandals: the collapse of clean-tech Solyndra, whose approval has appeared to be politically motivated, and which cost the U.S. taxpayer a reported $535 million; allegations of the use of the IRS to examine conservative political organizations; mismanagement at the Veteran’s Administration causing Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign; the politicization of American justice; and the Benghazi attack which killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. officials, for which the lie about its cause was maintained by the Administration, even to families of the fallen.
Osama bin Laden was killed on the watch of the president, the commander in chief. By public accounts, the raid into Abbottabad, Pakistan was based on imperfect information and was a difficult and risky decision for the president to make. However, America’s fortunes in the Middle East have at this writing seldom looked so bleak. The president overlooked the rise of ISIS, characterizing it as a “JV team” in an interview with the New Yorker. His inability to negotiate a new Status of Forces Agreement, a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, and continuing alignment with a Shite regime since the Bush Administration, gave rise to the Sunni backlash that is now ISIS, a murder cult that is threatening Europe and the U.S. directly or through surrogates — and it stands accused of genocide by a U.N. panel. Indeed, the premature withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq was a monumental blunder, like the decision of the Bush Administration to take Baghdad, fire tens of thousands of Iraqis in various management and security positions, and attempt national reconstruction.
A misguided sense of political correctness has resulted in an inability to name the enemy, and to recognize that the West is at war with a minority of jihadist radicals acting in the name of Islam. The attack at Ft. Hood is another example of downplaying it, calling the mass shooting “work place violence,” and maintaining this fiction for years.
With regard to Libya, his “leading from behind” is cause for mockery with regard to the words, as well as the strategy which has assumed away the problem of tribalism in the Middle East.
The tilt to Iran has not worked. The U.S.-led coalition has legitimized Iran, treating it as a partner in a one-way deal. The Iranian nuclear infrastructure still stands. Presented speciously as take this deal or it is “some form of war,” the true basis of comparison was a better deal for the West.
Iran has become more aggressive since signing the agreement, with recent harassments of a U.S. warships by Iranian patrol boats as just one example. By unfreezing Iran’s assets, the U.S. basically is giving the Iranian government an estimated $100-150 billion to be insulted. The secret delivery of $400 million in cash coinciding with the release of American prisoners by Iran in January looked like ransom, and one can only wonder what other secret agreements there are with that regime. America’s allies in the region are frightened and skeptical, and the president’s antipathy toward Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, creates more uncertainty about how dependable the U.S. really is.
The so-called reset with Russia is another obvious failure from its intrusion into Ukraine to striking fear into the Baltic states, to harassing U.S. diplomats in Moscow and European cities. Similarly emboldened by the perception of American weakness, China has intensified its militarization in the South China Sea. Several days ago, the U.S. and China ratified the Paris climate agreement to reduce the level of greenhouse gases. Other countries are expected to follow this lead. However, no new commitments have been made, and some mainstream media have characterized the event as “meaningless.”
On President Obama’s watch, North Korea has intensified its belligerence, with numerous missile tests and a nuclear detonation with a yield reportedly of ten kilotons.
Like other presidents before him, especially in the aftermath of major wars, President Obama has cut the defense budget. However, a 2015 report of the conservative Heritage Foundation concludes that the U.S. is no longer to fight two wars nearly simultaneously.
The pitch to Cuba may offer commercial value for some U.S. companies, but one should not assume that new two-way trade can be a force for democracy in a country that has made no discernible effort to liberalize since the rapprochement with the U.S. Opening relations with Cuba is a minor achievement versus the challenges in the rest of the world — and it is a hyped distraction to suggest that there is some semblance of major good work in foreign policy.
With regard to immigration, i.e. illegals and lack of enforcement of U.S. laws, the president has, like others before him, kicked the can down the field for others to deal with.
In January, President Obama will leave office with a low growth economy with a stronger financial system. However, he leaves a badly polarized and angry nation, a divided Congress, a politicized Department of Justice, a raging debate over immigration policy, a country whose foreign policy is foundering, the perception of a weakened military, and skeptical allies.