Jewish World Review Feb. 3, 2014 / 3 Adar I, 5774
Obama Dons 'I'm a Lame Duck' Sign
By Robert Robb
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address was apparently intended to demonstrate his continued dominance of the political agenda. That presumably was the point of the chest-beating his aides did before the speech about the in-your-face unilateral actions the president was going to announce.
The speech itself, however, demonstrated what a spent political force Obama has become. He might as well have been wearing a sign saying: I’m a lame duck.
When, before the 2012 election, Obama compared his accomplishments to those of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, conservatives and even some liberals scoffed. But it was an earned boast. In terms of output, Obama’s first-term record was comparably beefy.
Obama inherited the Troubled Asset Relief Program, but he twisted it into a bailout fund for the auto industry. The official stimulus program was only part of the massive countercyclical financing he superintended. In all, there was over $5 trillion in deficit spending stimulus during Obama’s first term.
The federal government’s regulation of financial institutions was completely overhauled and strengthened. A financial consumer protection agency, a dream of liberals since Ralph Nader was a pup, was enacted.
And of course, there was Obamacare, fulfilling an even older liberal dream of a federal guarantee of universal access to health care.
The problem for Obama is that things haven’t turned out that well. Despite unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus, the economy is still sluggish. Financial institutions are bigger and still too big to fail. The rules designed to make them safer are still being written, nearly four years after Dodd-Frank was signed into law.
Obamacare nearly crashed upon takeoff. The website didn’t work. Consumers are unhappy with changes in premiums and coverage. There is now a growing fear that Obamacare will bankrupt health insurance companies. A federal bailout of at least the exchange plans is all but inevitable. The question is whether a broader bailout will be necessary.
This, of course, isn’t what Obama expected or led the American people to expect. The economy was supposed to be humming by now. Banks were supposed to be lending rather than waiting for additional regulatory shoes to drop. Those who already had health insurance were supposed to be enjoying broader coverage and lower premiums. The country was supposed to be basking in pride at finally making health insurance available to those previously denied it.
The failure of Obama’s first-term agenda to produce anticipated results has left him gasping for a second-term agenda. His second-term economic agenda consists of small-ball stimulus measures: an infrastructure bank, manufacturing innovation hubs, community college based job training programs. Nothing with leverage sufficient to meaningfully change the trajectory of a $17 trillion economy.
On Obamacare, the president is just holding on, waiving many of its provisions, hoping that it will gain some kind of grounding before financially imploding or becoming so politically toxic that substantive dismantling becomes realistic.
Obama bashing Republicans for favoring the wealthy and declaring income inequality the issue of our time is a second-term political agenda, not a governing one.
While a president is always very relevant, Obama no longer is in a position to dictate or dominate the political agenda. He could nevertheless have a productive second term if he concentrated on where bipartisan agreement might be possible.
Immigration reform and trade are the most obvious examples. Reforming the myriad federal job training programs might be another. A bipartisan reform of the corporate income tax code might be possible, if Obama didn’t insist that it produce more money for him to spend.
To succeed, Obama would have to drop his pretense of being an inspirational and aspirational leader capable of bending other politicians to his will. Instead, he would have to be a roll-up-the-sleeves negotiator getting sweaty and grimy with the other pols.
Don’t expect this to happen. In fact, in retrospect, what stands out about Obama’s first term is how little involvement he had in the legislative details of even his own accomplishments.
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