A poll released last week had some pretty bad news for congressional Democrats heading into the midterm elections. But buried in the poll numbers was a figure that just might constitute an even more important turning point.
Respondents were asked: “On balance, do you feel that Obama’s presidency so far has been more of a success or more of a failure?” More than half, 52%, said “failure.” Only 42% said “success.” And it gets worse. Only 22% were “strongly” convinced Obama is a success, while 39% are strongly convinced he’s a failure. And the American people have pretty much made up their minds on this; only 6% of respondents had no clear opinion.
Other evidence backs up this turn in public opinion. How bad has it gotten? The last president who was widely written off by the American people as a failure, George W. Bush, now enjoys higher net approval ratings than Obama, while Mitt Romney has been going on an I-told-you-so tour.
At this point, the American people are pretty much feeling like this kid. We are so over with being impressed by this president.
On behalf of long-time critics of Obama, let me say to the American people: welcome to our world. As a public service, to help you solidify your sense that he just isn’t up to the job, let me count down the ways that President Obama has failed to live up to his promises and to the responsibilities of his office. The list is pretty comprehensive.
1. He didn’t heal our racial divisions.
The first thing people expected of Obama, the whole reason his presidency was already hailed as “historic” on Inauguration Day 2009, before he had taken a single official act, is because voters thought that the first black president would help America put the ugly history of racially divisive politics behind us.
But from his earliest stumbling efforts—anyone remember the “Beer Summit“?—Obama has proven alternately uninterested and ham-handed in dealing with this signature issue. What he has mostly contributed has been to rush in and pre-judge racially charged cases, like the shooting of Trayvon Martin or the questionable police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, before the defendants get their day in court. When you pre-judge someone on the basis of race, isn’t there a word for that?
So as the recent race riots in Ferguson confirm, Obama has not served as some kind of magical bridge who would promote mutual understanding between whites and blacks. Instead, he has done more to inflame the tensions in these cases than to defuse them.
Our expectations of Obama were overblown from the beginning, but he worked pretty hard to overblow them. Certainly, when voters chose him, they were hoping for the opposite of an unscrupulous race-hustler like Al Sharpton. There was even a joke about Obama sending Sharpton and Jesse Jackson on missions to non-existent countries just to get them as far away from his campaign as possible. Now, Sharpton is being described as Obama’s “go-to man on race,” with a White House source gushing to The Politico that “There’s a trust factor with The Rev from the Oval Office on down.”
For those of us who remember Obama’s previous go-to man on that subject—the Reverend Jeremiah Wright—it’s not surprising. But it’s not what most people thought they were voting for.
2. The stimulus didn’t stimulate.
President Obama was elected in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and his first big act in office was to sign a gargantuan package of “stimulus” spending—financed entirely with debt—that was supposed to jump-start the economy. Congress voted for hundreds of billion of dollars for “shovel-ready projects” which Obama later discovered don’t exist, and the money disappeared without a trace.
How many “recovery summers” have there been in which growth and employment was finally supposed to take off—only to peter out again? (Hint: the first one was in 2010.)
In how many other recoveries has labor force participation—the percentage of people actually working—declined? In what other recovery have poor people emerged deeper in debt than they were at the beginning?
Yes, the economy was in crisis when President Obama took office. But he has presided over the slowest, weakest economic recovery since the Great Depression—and by a good margin.
3. Financial reform didn’t reform.
But surely, Obama saw to it that we would never repeat the problems that led to the financial crisis and the recession in the first place, right? Except that the Dodd-Frank financial reforms didn’t really reform anything. They created a couple thousand pages of new legislation and many, many more new executive-branch regulations, which have helped to muddle the rules rather than clarify them. But these regulations have never really resolved any of the pre-crisis problems.
The old system in which a handful of giant financial institutions were considered “too big to fail” and thus could depend on the rest of us to bail them out? That system is alive and well.
4. ObamaCare is a boondoggle.
The disastrous launch of ObamaCare was a reminder of everything that’s wrong with big government. It turns out that when we warned health insurance would be run as well as the Department of Motor Vehicles, we were too optimistic. And no one was ever held accountable for that fiasco.
When ObamaCare was passed, we were assured that it would provide insurance for 32 million people who didn’t have any coverage. Four years later, it looks like ObamaCare has covered far fewer new people, between 10% and 20% of what was promised, and about half of those were through an expansion of Medicaid—a burden that will eventually bankrupt the states—rather than through ObamaCare’s insurance exchanges.
Most of the people buying insurance through the exchanges are those who were kicked out of their previous health insurance plans by new regulations. It turns out that if we liked our health insurance, we couldn’t keep it. For some of us, this will be bad. For others, it’s much worse.
You’re still going to hear a lot of commentators on the left arguing that the law is a great success—if you agree to move the goalposts and ignore all the broken promises. But the American people aren’t buying it.
5. Obama failed to reform immigration.
He spent all of his political capital, and then some, on the failed stimulus and the ObamaCare boondoggle, leaving nothing for immigration reform. Having failed to get anything through Congress, he floated a dubious plan to enact amnesty through a unilateral executive authority that he doesn’t have. Then he dropped the idea.
Instead, he has simply failed to enforce the immigration laws, contributing to a crisis on our southern border.
The result: he has managed to enrage the right, the left, and the middle. He hasn’t cracked down on illegal immigration, he hasn’t legalized it, and he hasn’t forged any kind of compromise or consensus on the issue. Nobody is happy and nothing has been accomplished.
6. He withdrew prematurely from Iraq.
Obama was so eager to not be George W. Bush that he pulled all of our troops out of Iraq as soon as possible, then totally ignored the country, even as a terrorist threat re-established itself there. For most of this year, he foolishly downplayed the rise of the Islamic State. Even as Kurds and the Iraqi government issued increasingly panicked warnings, and the Islamic State took over more and more territory, he let the problem get worse for months without bothering to interrupt his golf schedule.
A few weeks ago, he admitted to having no strategy for dealing with the Islamic State. Last week, he hastily assembled one, but it’s looking like it might be unrealistic and lacks international support.
Bush went into Iraq with multiple UN resolutions, congressional approval, a broad “coalition of the willing,” and (as it turned out) the resolve to use whatever means were necessary to prevent a terrorist state from establishing itself there. Obama is going back into Iraq with none of that. So I guess he really isn’t anything like George W. Bush.
Who could have guessed that he would be the one to suffer by that comparison?
7. He blew the Arab Spring.
When a series of uprisings overthrew dictators across the Middle East, Obama failed to adopt any meaningful policy or to turn the situation to our advantage. He dithered for so long on Egypt that all of the factions there hate him, and most of Egypt’s liberals concluded that he was secretly backing the Muslim Brotherhood. The result is that Egypt went right back to where it was before, except this time the military dictatorship regards America as a useless and irrelevant ally.
Meanwhile, the two places where we could have taken advantage of the Arab Spring to get rid of truly nasty dictators who have been hostile to our interests for decades—Libya and Syria—ended in disaster. In Libya, the killing of our ambassador in Benghazi was just the beginning of a slow collapse into chaos and civil war. In Syria, three years of administration dithering allowed the rise of ISIS, which then spilled over into Iraq.
And let’s not forget about 2009, when Iranians poured out onto the street to oppose their own brutal, theocratic, terror-sponsoring regime—and Obama sat back passively because he preferred to cut a diplomatic deal with the ayatollahs.
8. Obama ignored the threat of a resurgent Russian dictatorship.
During a debate with Mitt Romney in 2012, Obama dismissed Romney’s suggestion that Russia might be a threat to American interests, sneering, “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.” Now it’s looking more like the 1970s are calling, with an aggressive Russian dictatorship invading its neighbors, leaving our European allies feeling exposed and unsure whether they can really count on support from the US and NATO. Poland’s foreign minister has been overheard complaining about—how shall I put this politely?—his country’s unrequited love for America.
The president’s response to Russian aggression has been to impose a few more sanctions, make a speech in Estonia, and otherwise ignore the crisis and hope it goes away.
9. He didn’t shut down Guantanamo, keep the NSA from spying, or rein in the drones.
I know people who sincerely believe that all of these are good policies and who will defend them vigorously if asked. Barack Obama is not one of those people. Yet all of these policies have been pursued during his presidency, on his authority.
President Obama came into office having loudly condemned many of the Bush administration’s measures against terrorism. Then he continued them. You can call this hypocrisy or you can call it subversion. But President Obama has achieved a unique combination: managing to morally discredit America’s anti-terrorism policies without actually ending them.
10. He has made America irrelevant.
You will notice that most of Obama’s failures result, not from taking a bold stand, but from taking no stand and just letting events drift. Certainly, in a lot of these cases, Obama has given speeches or press conference to announce his enlightened intentions—then done nothing to plan for how to actually achieve his goals.
But if he is irrelevant, that makes America irrelevant. We can look at the Arab Spring, at Ukraine, and at Iraq, but let’s add one more example. For most of his presidency, Obama has declared his intention to “pivot to Asia,” extricating himself from the Middle East and focusing on bolstering our Pacific allies to peacefully manage the rise of China. It’s pretty widely acknowledged that he never managed to do it, letting the Asia pivot die of neglect.
This may fit with the quasi-isolationist mood that has taken hold in America in recent years, but it is yet another case where Obama promised something very different. He campaigned on the promise that America would be more respected in the world after the Bush years—not that we would be considered a useless ally and an ineffectual opponent.
I don’t know if you could come up with a more comprehensive list of presidential failures, encompassing foreign policy and domestic policy, economics, race, and immigration. And I’m sure I left a lot of things off this list, not least of which is the targeting of Obama’s political opponents by a corrupt IRS, which continues to announce the oh-so-mysterious loss of potentially incriminating data by its employees.
Combine all of this with his frequent vacations and golf outings and his fascination with the trappings of pop-culture celebrity, and you get the impression that Obama has checked out of the presidency and lost interest in the responsibility he is neither willing nor able to shoulder.
Obama was originally elected on the basis of celebrity, on vague slogans about “hope and change,” on a sense of self-congratulatory smugness about how progressive and enlightened we would all be if we voted for him. He was re-elected on all of that, plus the smearing of his political opposition as racists and mean rich white guys.
If the result is an utter failure of leadership, maybe there are a few lessons we ought to learn for the next presidential election.