I was never swept away by the Barack Obama in 2008 and have yet to be fully won over by his presidency. He is too aloof, too impersonal. Even when he gets the policy right, he struggles politically. And while it may be fashionable to blame an obstinate and ideologically rigid Republican Party for Washington’s dysfunction and gridlock, the excuse is a little too convenient and far too easy. Politically adept presidents successfully soften their political opposition. Under President Obama, partisan lines have hardened.
Having said that, the data – and not mere opinion – provide a much more positive assessment of Obama’s tenure as president.
- President Obama is not given much credit for the economy (and arguably presidents have, at best, limited impact) but the economy has improved every year of his presidency. Job creation is strong, the stock market is performing well, and the economy is expanding at a rapid pace. The U.S. economy continues to struggle with growing economic inequality as the real wages of lower and middle income Americans have stagnated but any fair-minded assessment has to conclude the U.S. economy is much better off today than in January 2009.
- Americans may not like Obamacare but the number of uninsured Americans is now approaching historic lows, uninsured rates have fallen dramatically since the passage health care reform, and health care spending is growing at it’s lowest rate ever.
If I were going to draw a historic parallel to Barack Obama, I would go with President George H.W. Bush. Sandwiched between Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton and lacking Reagan’s or Clinton’s charisma, his presidency has been greatly underappreciated. The economy was never objectively as bad as portrayed in the 1992 election and the budget compromise that proved his undoing – because it violated his “no new taxes” pledge – helped to move government spending from Reagan-Bush deficit spending to a Clinton era surplus.
Many of President Obama’s policies – the economic stimulus, Wall Street bailout, and health care reform – have been similarly unpopular and yet may they have set the stage for economic recovery and growth. At some point, Americans (myself included) may have to – begrudgingly – give him some credit for his policies if not his politics.