(This is the fourth of five posts I will put up over the weeks of and after the conventions, exploring my thoughts on the Presidential election. Parts one and two were reasons to vote for and against Mitt Romney; Parts three and four will be reasons to vote for and against Barack Obama. Part five will wrap up. Keep in mind, this is my thinking as we went through the conventions. It’s likely that things will change between now and Election Day.)
OK, now that’s all out of the way, here’s the fun part.
Obama’s first term has been littered with disappointments and broken promises, too many to really get into in one post. He has plenty of defenders and I’ll get into their arguments below. But again, this is not about the last four years; it’s about the next four. So why would we not want this guy to have four more years in the White House?
You know what? Just for the sake of argument, I’m going to give Barack Obama as much credit as I possibly can for the last three and a half years. And I’m not entirely sure it’s undeserved. When December 2008 rolled around, I thought we were headed for Great Depression II. We were losing 800,000 jobs a month and the economy was declining at an annual rate of 8%. Think about that for a moment. It was the most catastrophic contraction since the Great Depression. I will give him (and Bush) all the credit in the world that we didn’t end up hitting rock bottom. I’ll even punt on the Stimulus and claim that the only reason we didn’t have a depression was because of Obama’s enlightened stewardship. I don’t believe this, mind you. But I’ll posit it for now. All hail Obama, Preventer of Depression II!
But here’s the thing: it’s one thing to prevent a depression, it’s another to get things moving again. The private sector has been recovering, but slowly and it’s not clear that its very sustainable.
Here’s a plot of job growth under this President and his predecessor. And just in case you think I’m being unfair, I got this from ThinkProgress.
You can now see what the Obamaites are on about. Public sector employment has fallen. Private sector employment, after plunging the first year, has slowly recovered basically back to where we were when he took over (although unemployment is still up because of population growth). This contrasts sharply against the Bush’s “recovery” which saw sharp growth in public sector employment and slower growth in the private sector. And that after a much milder bubble bursting.
But … as I keep saying … when you’re comparing yourself to Bush, you are setting the bar awfully low. The point of the Bush era, as the Left never tires of reminding us, was that it was not a great recovery. You compare this to recoveries under Reagan or Clinton and the picture is very different. Obama has had much much slower job growth. And the faster job growth under Clinton and Reagan happened without trillion dollar deficits.
Obama likes to say he’s created 4.5 million new jobs. That’s … not a lot for 42 months. Let’s be generous and only count things from January 2010, six months after the recovery began (a year after the stimulus). That’s still only 155,000 jobs per month. Let’s be even more generous and throw in 600,000 jobs that the public sector lost. Now we’re up to 175,000 a month.
The only way you get up to really robust growth is to toss in another million jobs to represent how the bloated public sector grew under Bush. Now we’re up over 200,000, into good territory. But we had to twist ourselves into a pretzel shape and assume unsustainable Bush-era spending increases to get there. Does that sound like a sound economy to you?
And let me point out: giving Obama every break — starting our counting in January 2010, accounting for public sector shrinkage — we’re still barely at recovery level. Take some time to play with the numbers here and contrast this recovery against those of Reagan and Clinton. With both of them, we were averaging 300,000 jobs per month at this stage. In 1984, we added 300,000 jobs or more in eight months. In 1994, we added 300,000 or more jobs in seven months. You know how many months we’ve added 300,000 jobs under Obama?
One. And that was Census hiring.
Let’s flash up the key figure of the stimulus, which shows how jobs were supposed to recover:
Now I have been as critical as anyone about the use of this figure. The projections Team Obama made were before they knew just how bad the economy was (although they haven’t produced a new figure with accurate economic figures … hmmmm).
But even with that caveat, this is still damning. For one, it tells me that they way underestimated the problem; hardly a vote of confidence in their supposed superstar economic team. For another, underestimating the economy’s freefall might be the reason unemployment peaked much higher than expect. But how do they explain the failure of the red line to drop down? Austerity? Without real spending cuts or tax hikes?
That’s leaving out the elephant in the room: the sharp decline in labor force participation. Labor force participation has been falling for a while as people retire. But that’s not what’s causing the current problem. In fact, young people are leaving the labor force in record numbers while seniors are staying in the labor force. The sharpest decline in labor force participation is among 16-19 year-olds. And less than half of college graduates are finding jobs.
So, OK, I’ll give you the decline in public sector payrolls. But you have to give me the sharp decline in labor force participation. We’ll call it even: unemployment is still over 8%.
Look, I appreciate that the 2008 crisis was unprecedented (although Reagan inherited a bad situation too). I agree that this is not like other recoveries. But I still don’t think the Democrats understand the nature of the problem: massive debt and over-investment in certain sectors. The fact is that the people who authored the crash — the bankers and their cronies in Washington — have never really been held accountable. The fact is that Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank have made our economy less dynamic without decreasing our vulnerability to bank runs. The fact is that we’ve been spending money on green boondoggles and specialized tax breaks and bailouts instead of cutting or eliminating corporate taxes for everyone. The fact is that despite the high hopes when Cass Sunstein was brought on board, Obama has done nothing to streamline regulation and make it easier to do business. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Hell, even when it came to the payroll tax cut, they messed it up. They could have made that cut on the employer side, which would have made it easier to hire people and made it easier for Congress to eventually curtail the cut. Instead, they made it on the employee side, which did precisely dick for hiring and made the cut easy to demagogue. Now we’re stuck with a multi-billion dollar hole in revenues that isn’t helping the economy.
Maybe you could argue that being clueless is a good thing. I certainly think it would help a lot if our government just stopped helping us. We’re in debt and, unless we accept some inflation, that debt is going to keep our economy down for a long time. I said four years ago we might have a lost decade and the only cure for our ills was time and hard work.
But Obama can’t sit around and do nothing. He always has to cock around and try to get things moving. All that’s doing is dragging things out. A Rich pointed out, the Global Competitiveness Index has seen us slip from the #1 economy in 2006-2008 to #7, due to regulation and fiscal uncertainty. Is none of that the President’s fault?
So … again … I appreciate that Obama inherited a gigantic clusterfuck. I appreciate that we have never had a situation like this before. But the policies he has pursued and is promising to continue to pursue are not the policies I think will eventually bring us out of the doldrums.
There is a certain amount of glee in some quarters when bad job numbers come out. It’s a glee I do not share. The continued slow pace of recovery is frustrating and maddening. Millions of good, hard-working people can not find work. That’s far more important than which team of dickheads occupies the Oval Office. If I thought re-electing Barack Obama would turn around the employment picture, I’d vote for him in a heartbeat, Bill Ayers and all. I don’t.
The Budget Deficit
I cited the deficit as a reason to vote for Obama, given that he and Congress have combined to keep spending growth at 1% over the last two years. But constraining the rate of growth is not nearly enough to fix things long term. A major overhaul of Medicare and Social Security are needed.
But I’m not convinced Obama is the guy who can achieve that. Bob Woodward is publishing excerpts from his new book detailing the budget debate of 2011. Now I take Woodward with a heap of salt, generally. But the image he portrays is of a man who simply can not work Congress the way Clinton or Reagan did; who can not be the driving force behind the Grand Bargain needed for long-term fiscal stability. Re-electing Obama is likely to just the kick the can down the road another four years. We’re rapidly running out of road.
Civil Liberties and the War on Drugs
Barack Obama’s record on civil liberties is simply terrible and he has reversed the progress made under Bush in reining in the War on Drugs. There is absolutely no reason to believe this will change in a second Obama term. If anything, it may get worse. Here is that famous Right-Wing rag Mother Jones on how the Democrats dumped almost all civil liberties references from their 2012 platform. MJ is mainly focused on the War on Terror and some of the policies — torture, detention, etc. — are supported by the Right. But … once again … that does not make it right or even neutral. The Democrats are supposed to be the party of civil liberties. Now they seem determined to show just how “tough” they are.
I’ve documented many times how Obama has ramped up the War on Drugs, raiding legal medical marijuana centers, threatening asset forfeiture and tax audits and jailing people for the hideous crime of selling medicine in compliance with state law. It may get even worse. He is now extending civil forfeiture authority to the ATF.
In general, I’ve been OK with our foreign policy under Obama. But there have been a number of annoying little mistakes: bumbling around with missile defense, attempting to refer to the “Malvinas”, failing to check the growth of South American socialism, surging in Afghanistan. Almost all of our foreign policy successes, in my opinion, are attributable to Hillary Clinton. She may not be Secretary of State for the entire eight years. And watch out for whoever she is replaced with.
(I never thought I’d praise Hillary in a blog post. Like ever. But I have to give the woman credit for a decent job done.)
If Obama is re-elected, it’s going to be nigh impossible to overhaul or repeal-and-replace Obamacare before it starts really embedding itself in 2014. This is another can we are rapidly running out road to kick down.
Reasons not to not vote for Obama:
Bill Ayers, Obama’s Sr.’s socialism, his college years, his associations, Jeremiah Wright — the whole Obama is crypto-Marxist America-hating Megillah — is irrelevant. Maybe these things were relevant in 2008, when Obama had a scant public record. But we have had four years with him in the White House; we should judge him based on that.
It’s an old cliched joke, but it’s worth repeating: four years ago, they told us that if we voted for McCain, we’d have a sluggish economy, big debts, foreign policy gaffes, useless healthcare reform and even more curtailing of civil liberties. Well, I voted for Barr, actually. But we still have a sluggish economy, big debts, foreign policy gaffes, useless healthcare reform and even more curtailing of civil liberties.
Do we want four more years of this?