Commenter Paul from Long Island in response to a Krugman column:
Obama by the numbers;
1. Jobs created: 9 million
2. Unemployment rate: 5 percent down from a high of 10 percent in first year
3. Increase in national debt due to his policies: $983 billion
4. Decrease in deficit: $492 billion from $1.4 trillion
5. Corporate profits: up 166 percent
6. U.S. Iraq military deaths: 128 down from 3401
7. U.S. Afghanistan military deaths: over 1000 up from 575
8. Number of bankers jailed: 0
9. Number of torturers jailed: 0
10. Number of whistle blowers jailed: 2 (Manning, Kiriakou)
11. Climate accord: 1 (Paris)
12. Nuclear non-proliferation: 1 (Iran)
13. Uninsured rate in health care: 9.2 percent down from15.7 percent
14. Trade: 2 (Trans-Pacific partnership, Cuba)
Additions to the list?
There’s been chatter about Obama’s legacy recently. In particular, the Iran nuke deal (which I think is a good thing) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (which I do not) have motivated the discussion. He has a few in the win column but overall I think he’s been a godawful chief executive. With the legacy talk in mind, I started a reading list of articles which address his shortcomings as a leader – predicted shortcomings as well as observed ones:
From Bob Kuttner, The Politics of Gesture:
Among the measures [Pres. Obama proposed which require] legislation is a tax plan that would increase taxes on the wealthiest in order to finance the tuition help for community college students and more generous child tax credits for working families. Obama also wants an excise tax on large banks and he is calling on Congress to pass a law giving all workers seven days of annual sick leave….
[Pres. Obama’s] initiatives are welcome. It probably sounds churlish to say that measures such as [he proposed] should have come much earlier in his presidency, and could have been a lot stronger.
The measures Pres. Obama proposed in his SOTU address should have come much earlier in his presidency, and could have been a lot stronger. Back to Mr. Kuttner (emphasis mine):
Late in the game, when there is no risk that his proposals will be enacted, Obama is belatedly pursuing policies that seek to underscore the differences between Democrats and Republicans in terms of the practical situation of regular people…
The time to have fought for such policies was when Obama still had a majority in Congress. But back then, in 2010, he was promoting deficit reduction.
And there are two deeper problems. None of Obama’s proposals will fundamentally change the distribution of wealth and power in America. None addresses the structural erosion of decent payroll jobs.
The Nobel Committee called. They want their Peace Prize back. (Could they do that?) Looking at his list of actions which seem a little short of Peace-Prize-worthy, it’s getting kind of long.
Clarification: I don’t mean to imply that Pres. Obama’s actions aren’t justifiable or that I agree or disagree with them, just that they seem to run contradictory to the intent of the Peace Prize:
With regard to the Peace Prize, [Alfred Nobel’s] will stipulated that it was to be awarded to the person “who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”
There is no Nobel Realpolitik Prize.
Commenter Richard Genz offers the following criticisms of Pres. Obama on Krugman’s blog:
- Capitulation to Wall Street as seen in the easy conditions for bailout money. Loyalty to [former Treasury Secretary Tim] Geithner. Backing down from Elizabeth Warren at CFPB. [Note: That worked out for the best with Warren though. If she’d been appointed head of CFPB then it’s very unlikely we’d have her as our senator.]
- Slow walking US climate leadership, in fact, not leading at all until 6 years in. [Note: See this interview with Obama advisor John Podesta.]
- Acceptance and promotion of most damaging fallacy that government must tighten its belt like households must do
- Lending credence to “grand bargain” strategy to unwind Social Security and Medicare [Note: Paul Krugman weighs in on the subject.]
- Gross incompetence in managing government agencies: HHS w/ healthcare.gov and now the VA. Very slow to enforce discipline and integrity at US agencies by shaking up staff
- Allows FCC to float Internet rules to favor corporate giants
- Allows Eric Holder to continue avoiding real prosecution of financial crimes like mortgage fraud, tax evasion, money laundering, rate-rigging [Note: See Matt Taibbi on Holder and the Justice Dept. here and here.]
- Failure to understand dynamics of American oligarchy
I’d probably drop #8 because a) the charge is a bit abstract and b) I think he does understand but is not inclined to challenge it. Other than that though it’s a pretty solid list. I would add to the list Obama’s hesitation to reign in domestic surveillance by the NSA.
Brad DeLong sends us to Ezra Klein, Obama’s Management Problem. Klein itemizes the issues. Here are the first four:
1. It’s good that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned. Shinseki is a great American. But that doesn’t make him a great administrator. As Yuval Levin writes, the interim report of the VA inspector general uncovered “a pattern of exceptionally widespread, systematic, and even criminal deception throughout an agency Shinseki oversees.”
2. President Obama’s reluctance in accepting Shinseki’s resignation speaks to deep problems in the way this White House views its managers. “I think he is deeply disappointed in the fact that bad news did not get to him, and that the structures weren’t in place for him to identify this problem quickly and fix it,” Obama said. But it’s the boss’ job to build the structures that make sure problems are surfaced and can be fixed. Shinseki wasn’t wronged. He failed.
3. This is reminiscent of the White House’s reaction after HealthCare.Gov launched. The president often seemed furious on behalf of his senior managers who didn’t know about the problems rather than being furious at his senior managers for not knowing about the problems.
4. Some of this goes to how the federal government is structured. The various agencies are staffed by civil servants who the president has fairly little power over. But they’re led by political appointees who the president often knows well and trusts deeply. The result can be that rather than blaming political appointees responsible for the failures of the bureaucracies they run White Houses sometimes blame bureaucracies for the failures of their political appointees.
Two nice pie charts from the National Priorities Project showing the President’s FY 2014 budget proposal – total spending
and discretionary spending Continue reading
Via Brad DeLong, a memo from David Cutler to Larry Summers on health reform implementation – at the time Cutler was advising Pres. Obama on health economics and Summers was the Director of the National Economic Council:
Date: May 11, 2010
To: Larry Summers
From: David Cutler
Subject: Urgent Need for Changes in Health Reform Implementation
I am writing to relay my concern about the way the Administration is implementing the new health reform legislation. I am concerned that the personnel and processes you have in place are not up to the task, and that health reform will be unsuccessful as a result.
Let me start by reminding you that I have been a very active supporter of reform. In addition to being the senior health care advisor to the President’s campaign, I worked closely with the Administration, helped Congress draft the legislation, met with countless Members of Congress and interest groups to explain the reform effort, conducted numerous radio and television interviews, walked hundreds of reporters through health care, and wrote a number of op-eds and issue briefs supporting reform. I am told that the President and senior members of the Administration valued my input, though I was never offered a position in the Administration. I say this to illustrate that I have thought about the issues a good deal and have discussed them with many people.
You should also note that while this memo is my own, the views are widely shared, including by many members of your administration (whose names I will omit but who are sufficiently nervous to urge me to write), as well as by knowledgeable outsiders such as Mark McClellan (former CMS administrator) and Henry Aaron (Brookings). Indeed, I have been at a conference on health reform the past two days, and have found not a single person who disagrees with the urgent need for action.
My general view is that the early implementation efforts are far short of what it will take to implement reform successfully. For health reform to be successful, the relevant people need a vision about health system transformation and the managerial ability to carry out that vision. The President has sketched out such a vision. However, I do not believe the relevant members of the Administration understand the President’s vision or have the capability to carry it out. Let me illustrate the problem you face and offer some solutions. Continue reading
The NY Times editorial board asks the right questions re domestic surveillance (emphasis mine):
For years, as the federal surveillance state grew into every corner of American society, the highest officials worked to pretend that it didn’t exist. Now that Americans are learning what really takes place behind locked doors, many officials claim they are eager to talk about it. “That’s a conversation that I welcome having,” President Obama said on Saturday. Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said on Sunday that she was open to holding a public hearing on the subject now, a hearing next month, a hearing every month.
This newfound interest in openness is a little hard to take seriously, not only because of the hypocrisy involved but because neither official seems to want to do more than talk about being open. If the president wants to have a meaningful discussion, he can order his intelligence directors to explain to the public precisely how the National Security Agency’s widespread collection of domestic telephone data works. Since there’s not much point in camouflaging the program anymore, it’s time for the public to get answers to some basic questions.
Are the calls and texts of ordinary Americans mined for patterns that might put innocent people under suspicion? Why is data from every phone call collected, and not just those made by people whom the government suspects of terrorist activity? How long is the data kept, and can it be used for routine police investigations? Why was a private contractor like Edward Snowden allowed to have access to it? So far, no one at the White House seems interested in a substantive public debate.
More if you follow the link above. (My earlier thoughts here.)
Mr. Fish on the subject: