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Post Looking Back at Obama Presidency
Created by John Eipper on 06/29/16 2:45 PM

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Looking Back at Obama Presidency (David Duggan, USA, 06/29/16 2:45 pm)

We are just a few days away from the final 200 days of the Obama presidency. As US presidents take office, the punditocracy looks to the first 100 days (a legacy of FDR's "New Deal" spate of legislation), so given that exits always seem to take longer than entrances, a 200-day period of reflection seems about right. In the wake of the Brexit vote and the conclusion of the Supreme Court's 2016 term, perhaps it is propitious to look at Obama's legacy.

The Economy: On Jan. 20, 2009, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was at 8,279, and it is now at ~17,500, so in that time, it has more than doubled. Contrast that with the Dow on Jan. 19, 2001 (the 20th was a Saturday), when it stood at 10,587, with a loss of more than 21% over the eight years of Bush II's presidency. Unemployment on Obama's inauguration was at 7.8%, while for May 2016 (latest available figures) it is at 4.7%. Labor participation rate then was 65.5%, while now it is at 62.6%. Curiously, the 3% drop in the unemployment rate is mirrored in the 3% drop in the participation rate. So, the number of persons working at jobs relative to population has been static. The upshot is that if you've been able to live off your investments, you've done OK; if you've been required to punch a clock or otherwise scrounge for a living you've been taking it sideways. Score that a push.

The Supreme Court. Though Obama was able to appoint the Court's first two lesbians, and scored wins with gay marriage and Obamacare (the latter on grounds not advanced by his Solicitor General), more recently he has been hit with losses on immigration policy and on religious exemptions to Obamacare's abortion and birth control requirements. He cannot get a moderate white (Jewish) man appointed to the Court to continue his "activist" legacy of making up legal requirements nowhere found in the Constitution. Curiously, however, so far as I can tell, the administration did not toss in an amicus brief in McDonald v. Chicago, the case which held that the 2d Amendment's right to keep and bear arms applied to the States (and their municipal subsidiaries). Whether that was because the SG (then Elena Kagan) thought that Chicago's position was untenable and rather than risk rebuke in a case from Obama's hometown, it would not weigh in, is certainly plausible and probably the right answer. But the Court's activism has in some ways altered the debate in this country: we no longer get apoplectic over gay marriage or mandated health insurance. Score one for Obama.

Safety. American Islamic terrorists have killed 79 people in this country in four separate incidents (Ft. Hood, Boston, San Bernardino, and Orlando), and more than 360 have been injured. While those numbers pale in comparison to the 9/11 killings, those were months in the planning, much of which took place abroad, and all the perpetrators were foreign. Each of the domestic terrorists was legally resident in the United States, and at least two of them had been in law enforcement's sights (Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Omar Mateen). Just as in the metaphor of the fox and the hedgehog, the hedgehog always has to get it right: the fox has the luxury of waiting for the next hedgehog, we cannot expect that law enforcement (composed mostly of predatory foxes) is always going to get it right. But look abroad: Paris, Brussels, Istanbul. Obama has called ISIS the "junior varsity," but having been a "jv" tennis player in high school and college, the score always starts 0-0, and if you've got a weapon and are willing to die for your cause, then it doesn't matter if you're on the varsity or jv. Put another way, do Americans feel safer now than they did eight years ago? I dare say not. Score one against.

Health Care. When Obama became president, my health insurance premiums for a "high deductible, H[ealth]S[avings]A[ccount]-linked" policy were ~$150/month. When I shopped around last year the cheapest I could find was >$600, and my doctor was not in the network. So much for the proposition that "if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor; if you like your health care plan, you can keep it." Certainly the quadrupling of my premiums cannot be ascribed to an increase in my risk profile. On a more macro-level, while the percentage of uninsured Americans has declined from 16.1% in 2009 to 11.7% in 2014 (most recently Census available numbers), the percentage of people on Medicaid (essentially the dole) has increased from 6.9% in 4Q 2013 (first year of Obamacare) to 9.4% in Q1 2016. The upshot is that the percentage increase in Medicaid participation (36%) exceeds the percentage decrease in the uninsured population (27%). In short, we have fewer health care choices and are paying more for them. Perhaps in some through-the-looking-glass world that's a plus, but I fail to see it. Score one against.

Stature. Everybody hated George W. Bush. But he never "drew red lines in the sand" and dared someone to cross them. He never threw his influence into a foreign nation's internal decision-making, and dared that nation to be put "at the end of the queue." He never promised to close down a prison and dithered for seven plus years. The question is whether America is a nation of its word, and one's stature is never greater than his keeping his word. Of course, things change and a nation and its leader must be nimble enough to roll with the punches. But in the last seven years, our stature has declined and nobody seems to take America seriously. Certainly the Brits didn't (or didn't care). Score one against.

There are other factors that could be assayed (fairness, economic inequality, happiness), but these seem even more subjective than stature, so I'll leave it at the fact that the 1% v. the 99% movement got rolling on Obama's watch. Perhaps in baseball, a batter who hits 1.5 of 5 gets to the Hall of Fame. But as America gets ready for the Fourth of July, the Olympics and the pennant race, before wondering whether it wants another four years of Obama with his hand-picked successor Hillary, Americans should ask: are we really better off than we were eight years ago?

JE comments:  There has been no presidency-endangering scandal in the Obama regime, and (unlike Hillary) nobody has ever seriously called him a liar.  (Francisco Wong-Díaz may disagree.)  And some might question whether Obama's stature in the world has reached the nadir of Bush II.

I would agree that nobody in the UK allowed Obama to influence their vote--but we could probably say the same thing about their own PM, David Cameron.

My thanks to David Duggan for this appraisal.  Other WAISers' retrospectives on the Obama Years?


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  • Looking Back at Obama Presidency; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 07/02/16 5:09 PM)
    Ric Mauricio writes:

    David Duggan's paragraph on the economy (29 June) reminds me of a quote popularized by Mark Twain, "lies, damn lies, and statistics." You see, while the US stock market has done very well since it bottomed on my birthday in 2009, President Obama, of course, would like to take credit for that. And of course, since the markets did not do so well during Bush II's administration, he is quick to blame his predecessor. As always, there are three sides to a story, the third side being the truth. And the truth is while statistics may be utilized to illustrate a certain point, the correlation is often just merely coincidence. President Obama did nothing to cause the markets to go up and W did nothing to make the markets go down. I'll be quick to say, though, that certain actions signed by Presidents can contribute to the cyclicality of the markets.  An example is the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which contributed greatly to banking abuses that contributed to the real estate market meltdown. Another example of a President causing some harm is Nixon taking us off the gold standard, thus contributing to an acceleration of the production of fiat currencies.


    By the way, if one tends to think that Republicans are good for business and Democrats bad, history has shown that these are myths. The best government for the markets are those that have opposite parties in the White House and Congress, essentially no government--like the UK and Spain?


    With the Brexocalypse economists predicting dire consequences of the UK leaving the EU, might I remind everyone that Switzerland is not a full official member of the EU as well as the US, but both seem to do rather well doing business with the members of the EU. With the pound being pounded, doesn't that give the UK products a competitive advantage? One of our Formula One principals said that the UK leaving the EU is detrimental to Formula One since most of the race cars are built in the UK (Milton Keyes, I believe). The only other race cars are built in Italy (including the Swiss-based Sauber). Excuse me while I ponder this. How many people in the EU buy Formula One race cars? For once, I agree with Bernie Ecclestone, but this one time only.


    David stated that George W. Bush never "drew red lines in the sand" and dared someone to cross them. But wouldn't his famous "Bring 'em on" rallying cry be considered a bit inflammatory? David Duggan stated that George W. Bush never threw his influence into a foreign nation's internal decision-making. Oh, boy, I would say that taking out Saddam Hussein was messing with a foreign nation's internal decision making. I would venture an opinion that doing so destabilized the region.


    JE comments:  We'll never sort out the stock market vs Who's in the White House correlation, but what about Formula One?  Won't UK-built cars become cheaper?

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