President Obama = President Carter?

That is what Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie argue in their Washington Post article.

Barely six months into his presidency, Barack Obama seems to be driving south into that political speed trap known as Carter Country: a sad-sack landscape in which every major initiative meets not just with failure but with scorn from political allies and foes alike. According to a July 13 CBS News poll, the once-unassailable president’s approval rating now stands at 57 percent, down 11 points from April. Half of Americans think the recession will last an additional two years or more, 52 percent think Obama is trying to “accomplish too much,” and 57 percent think the country is on the “wrong track.”

[…]

…Obama must be furtively reviewing the history of recent Democratic administrations for some kind of road map out of his post-100-days ditch.

So far, he seems to be skipping the chapter on Bill Clinton and his generally free-market economic policies and instead flipping back to the themes and comportment of Jimmy Carter. Like the 39th president, Obama has inherited an awful economy, dizzying budget deficits and a geopolitical situation as promising as Kim Jong Il’s health. Like Carter, Obama is smart, moralistic and enamored of alternative energy schemes that were nonstarters back when America’s best-known peanut farmer was installing solar panels at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Like Carter, Obama faces as much effective opposition from his own party’s left wing as he does from an ardent but diminished GOP.

Or is it President Bush 2.0?

The key to understanding Obama’s predicament is to realize that while he ran convincingly as a repudiation of Bush, he is in fact doubling down on his predecessor’s big-government policies and perpetual crisis-mongering. From the indefinite detention of alleged terrorists to gays in the military to bailing out industries large and small, Obama has been little more than the keeper of the Bush flame. Indeed, it took the two of them to create the disaster that is the 2009 budget, racking up a deficit that has already crossed the historic $1 trillion mark with almost three months left in the fiscal year.

Beyond pushing the “emergency” $787 billion stimulus package (even while acknowledging that the vast majority of funds would be released in 2010 and beyond), Obama signed a $410 billion omnibus spending bill and a $106 billion supplemental spending bill to cover “emergency” expenses in Iraq and Afghanistan (and, improbably, a “cash for clunkers” program). Despite pledges to achieve a “net spending cut” by targeting earmarks and wasteful spending, Obama rubber-stamped more than 9,000 earmarks and asked government agencies to trim a paltry $100 million in spending this year, 0.003 percent of the federal budget.

In the same way that Bush claimed to be cutting government even while increasing real spending by more than 70 percent, Obama seems to believe that saying one thing, while doing another, somehow makes it so. His first budget was titled “A New Era of Fiscal Responsibility,” even as his own projections showed a decade’s worth of historically high deficits. He vowed no new taxes on 95 percent of Americans, then jacked up cigarette taxes and indicated a willingness to consider new health-care taxes as part of his reform package. He said he didn’t want to take over General Motors on the day that he took over General Motors.

Such is the extent of Obama’s magical realism that he can promise to post all bills on the Internet five days before signing them, serially break that promise and then, when announcing that he wouldn’t even try anymore, have a spokesman present the move as yet another example of “providing the American people more transparency in government.”

And we find out that President Obama is invoking the Dick Cheney/Bush Administration argument about not telling which health industry executives they’ve meet with…a position Senator Obama found rather distasteful.

But maybe there is hope,

Finally, it’s time to connect the poster boy for hope to the original Man From Hope. After Bill Clinton bit off more domestic policy than even he could chew, leading to a Republican rout in the midterm elections of 1994, the 42nd president refocused his political intelligence on keeping his ambitions and, as a result, the size of government growth, limited. Though there is much to complain about in his record, the broad prosperity and mostly sound economic policy under his watch aren’t included.

Indeed. We desperately need health care reform, but the legislation in the House and the Senate right now are not going to provide solutions. If anything it looks very much like they will make the situation worse, and at the worst possible time. Right now sending strong signals of higher taxes, even higher spending, deficits and debt that are threatening to spiral out of control are all bad things to do when also trying to turn the economy around. If the economy continues to be mired in recession and health care reform passes and taxes start going up, it is going to give ammunition to the GOP. They’ll point to unemployment, the budget deficits, the higher taxes, and then point to the guy in charge who wants to take the credit if things go good. Don’t laugh, it worked for Clinton when he ran against George H. W. Bush, and that was a much milder recession that was already over by the time of the election. In the next election President Obama wont be running for re-election, but he probably would like to keep the majorities the Democrats have in the House and Senate. Lose those, and his entire domestic agenda might need a substantial reset.

AP Photo

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Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. rodney dill says:

    Well, he hasn’t whacked a rabbit yet….. that we know of.

  2. Eneils Bailey says:

    …Obama must be furtively reviewing the history of recent Democratic administrations for some kind of road map out of his post-100-days ditch.

    For some help, Jimmy Carter is probably sitting by the phone, waiting on a call.

  3. An Interested Party says:

    Since some want to make comparisons to Carter…who will be the modern day Reagan to beat the president in 2012…

  4. floyd says:

    “Well, he hasn’t whacked a rabbit yet…..”

    Is that an Elvis reference or what?

  5. just me says:

    Since some want to make comparisons to Carter…who will be the modern day Reagan to beat the president in 2012…

    At the moment I don’t think there is one, but there are three more years so who knows. I think this is the biggest weakness the GOP has right now. They don’t really have any strong leadership or strong potential candidates, so even if Obama is horribly weakened, I am not sure the GOP can field anyone strong enough to beat him.

    I think it is far more likely that between now and the ’12 elections the GOP will take one of the houses of congress back or at least weaken the democratic control before they can field a viable candidate to beat Obama.

  6. Eneils Bailey says:

    And the poor rabbit was not even wearing a life vest. Too much Billy beer.

  7. An Interested Party says:

    re: just me | July 22, 2009 | 10:39 pm

    The president will do especially well if arguments like this one gain prominence and are used against him…

  8. rodney dill says:

    “Well, he hasn’t whacked a rabbit yet…..”

    Is that an Elvis reference or what?

    It refers to the notorious Carter/Rabbit boating incident.

  9. rodney dill says:

    “Well, he hasn’t whacked a rabbit yet…..”

    Is that an Elvis reference or what?

    It refers to the notorious Carter/Rabbit boating incident.

  10. Stan says:

    “We desperately need health care reform, but the legislation in the House and the Senate right now are not going to provide solutions.”

    About 16% of the US population is without medical insurance. This is bound to increase due to the slow-motion collapse of the domestic auto industry. I would not be surprised at increases of a few percent a year here in Michigan and elsewhere in the industrial midwest. Are there ANY “free-market” solutions to this problem? I haven’t seen any.

  11. Furhead says:

    I’m not convinced, and think the writers are searching for something to write about (but that’s there job, so I can’t blame them).

    The first thing the President did was pass a ginormous stimulus bill, TARP 2.0 plus the auto bailouts. By no stretch of the imagination is this doing nothing. The health care bill is only one thing.

    Oh, wait, he’s not Carter, he’s Bush 2.0. Or maybe Clinton. Who will he be next? Let’s face it: the legacy ain’t over at five months into a four-year term.

  12. davod says:

    WRT not taxing the middle class. What about the millions of taxpayers who now opt not to purchase health insurance?

  13. Wendy says:

    Obama should “feel a little remorse and feel embarrassed” to suggest that people should not be taking bonuses for work performed. Despite the ranting against capitalists that the modern day chimpanzee-man, Homo emoticon, feels entitled and complacent to launch, bankers have just as much a right to their earnings as everyone else, and the burden of proof is on those who say otherwise.

    If anyone is going to accuse bankers of causing the financial crisis, then they better be prepared to be excoriated for not having their facts straight, because the government caused the financial crisis. Period, end of story! Stop blaming the private sector for things brought on by the government.

    The left should be utterly humiliated by anyone who values freedom. They should be made to feel afraid and embarassed to make the stupid statements they make and to admit that they plan to extract sacrifices from the population. Remember when Obama told that man that no, his 101-year-old mother would not have been allowed to receive a heart transplant even if she was otherwise in good health? He should have been called out for stating he would make an American die! Who do these a** clowns think they are?

  14. Steve Verdon says:

    Furhead,

    The first thing the President did was pass a ginormous stimulus bill, TARP 2.0 plus the auto bailouts. By no stretch of the imagination is this doing nothing. The health care bill is only one thing.

    Oh, wait, he’s not Carter, he’s Bush 2.0. Or maybe Clinton. Who will he be next? Let’s face it: the legacy ain’t over at five months into a four-year term.

    Clinton came close to doing a Carter, he got roundly spanked on health care. Obama is heading into the same problems, and TARP 2.0 and the stimulus bill, and so forth aren’t doing the things they were sold as. Unemployment is up, the money is trickling out, and the take over and creation of Government Motors is far from clear a “good thing”. In fact, all of this, plus the stimulus bill might actually make growth in the future lower, unemployment higher, and so forth.

  15. An Interested Party says:

    …bankers have just as much a right to their earnings as everyone else, and the burden of proof is on those who say otherwise.

    Even if said bankers did things which caused their banks to lose money? I think the biggest outrage is that some of these executives got huge bonuses at the same time that their institutions were losing money…by the way, sweetie, after that lulu of a rant, it is terribly ironic that you would accuse anyone else of being an assclown…