Obama's Fate -- and Ours

(A sneak peak at our upcoming November issue)

Will he go down in history as a Jimmy Carter or a Harry Truman? As a weak and indecisive Democratic president who ushered in a conservative era or as a strong leader who proved his critics wrong and won re-election? The next year will resolve that question about Barack Obama, but the answer may no longer depend on forces that he can control, if it ever did.

For much of the past year, Obama was doing his best Carter imitation: cerebral and detached, unable or unwilling to articulate a clear and forceful Democratic message, steadily losing support as the economy stagnated. In his negotiations with congressional Republicans over the budget and debt ceiling, the president conceded too much too quickly and allowed his adversaries to set the terms of discussion. The White House insisted it knew what it was doing: claiming the center in the critical effort to win over independents. But Obama's concessions mainly helped move the center to the right while demoralizing the Democratic base -- exactly what happened under Carter at the end of the 1970s. Like Carter, Obama conveyed a general impression of weakness, inviting scorn in his own party, among independents, and on the right.

The one great contrast to that picture in the past year came in developments abroad. In 1980, Carter's attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran was a fiasco, but Obama's mission to kill Osama bin Laden in 2011 succeeded. The triumph was an especially personal one for Obama because the final call on the operation was his.

Developments on foreign shores may, however, also be Obama's undoing as he mounts a belated, Truman-like campaign against a do-nothing congressional opposition. After a summer of fruitless conciliation, Obama's September 7 speech on his jobs program announced a change not just in policy but in the tone of his presidency. It was as if he suddenly remembered he was a Democrat; here was the forceful leadership that many people had long been begging for.

But it may already be too late -- too late because the Republican House will sabotage recovery efforts; too late because unfavorable public perceptions of the president have congealed; and too late because global economic developments may undermine any chance of a recovery in the United States in the next year.

Obama came into office in 2009 during an American financial crisis that was not of his own making, and he may now lose re-election because of another crisis not of his making, this one in Europe. The majority of the public was willing to cut Obama slack in the first case, though he bears some responsibility for underestimating the magnitude of what needed to be done in 2009 and failing to prepare the country for additional measures. At that time, Obama at least had some chance of getting congressional action.

Now the political system has become completely dysfunctional, and the prospect of another crisis is all the more terrifying because Republicans have made it clear that they intend to block any action to revive the economy. Greece is teetering on the verge of a default that could undermine stability in Italy, Spain, and Portugal and the entire European financial system. If the dominoes fall, the United States cannot escape the effects. But this time, unlike 2008, Congress will likely be paralyzed.

Even if the worst case is averted, the recovery will almost certainly be anemic in 2012. Truman won re-election in 1948 with a growing economy and at a time when the United States had strong labor unions. Obama has neither of those advantages.

According to research by political scientist Larry Bartels, the critical economic factor in presidential elections is growth in the preceding year. Although a president's policies may affect that final year's performance, elections are to some extent random moments of judgment when voters evaluate a president on the basis of recent conditions, no matter what their cause. That evaluation may be unfair because midterm elections often produce divided government, leaving presidents with little sway over policy just when they need it. The congressional polarization Obama faces is just an extreme example of that pattern.

These larger realities about the global economy and the structural limitations of American government may influence historians' judgments about whether Obama ranks with Carter or Truman. But to the voters next year, they may only seem like excuses. Obama has to persuade the public that it's precisely when the private economy is failing that America most needs the kind of energetic and competent government that only he and his party can provide. The circumstances will make it a tough sell. a


This article reminds me of a riddle I heard some time ago.

Q. If Obama, Pelosi, Harry Reid and all the Liberals were on a sinking ship, who is saved?

A. We are!

Obama was a horrible social mistake for which we now as Americans are dearly paying.

The truth hurts, huh?

What, are you trying to say  a 46 year  old who has never held a real job with only a partial term as senator under his belt might not be the most qualified person to run the worlds sole super power? Who could have possibly guessed that in 2008!!!

LOL!  NOBODY thinks President Barack...don't blame me....Obama is anything like Harry Truman.  Harry Truman said "The Buck Stops Here"!  Obama says what Buck?  This is all Bush's fault!  It is also increasingly unfair to compare Obama to Jimmy Carter's failed Presidency.  Obama has done far more damage to the nation than Jimmy Carter.  Obama has easily take Jimmy Carter's place as the worst President in well over 100 years.  He's simply done everything wrong and made everything worse.  As for opposition from Republican in Congress?.  Democratic Sen Durbin just today said that the democrats don't have the votes in the Senate to pass Obama's "Son of Stimuilous", nor his massive job killing tax increases.  Before anyone blames Republicans in the House for not passing Obama's economy killing nightmares why don't we see the democrats in the Senate pass it?  Its not going to happen.  Obama doesn't even have the support of his own party in the Senate! They know if they help him to kill more jobs and run up more debt they likely will be kicked to the curb with him in Nov 2012!  Obama has done so much damage, Nov 2012 can't get here soon enough!  And please stop insulting Truman and Carter by comparing them to Obama!

I hope you are referring to the "Do nothing" Democratic Senate that has failed to even pass a budget. Republicans were flooded into the House by voters who were a tad bit concerned with Pelosi and Reid running up a tab that our grandkids wont even be able to pay back. I absolutely love what he has done for race relations too --- you should really list all of his accomplishments

Mr.Starr, you are a delusional hack at best. Rarely do I lower myself to such language. Of course this will deleted since I didn't refrain from personal attacks and name calling. But it feels good to finally get the politically correct monkey off my back and call out a revisionist liar.

"Energetic and competent government"? Please, I work in that government and "energetic" and "competent" are the LAST two words I would ascribe to that experience. What a disgrace!

"Obama has to persuade the public that it’s precisely when the private economy is failing that America most needs the kind of energetic and competent government that only he and his party can provide. The circumstances will make it a tough sell."  - as tough a sell as a car with square tires.  He has not been competent.  He has repeatedly allowed or directed ideology to trump the crisis in the economy.  His policies are inimical to growth.  Liberal dogma, like conservative dogma, will succeed in some circumstances and fail in others.  There is no more money, and the debt to GDP ratio is deep, structurally, into the territory from which no nation has emerged without devaluation.  The humanitarian instincts of liberalism have been hammered by a failed and poorly planned stimulus that poisoned the future with debt without producing the promised effects, and a series of actions since that have usually worsened the state of the union.  Liberalism in practice is turning into the powerful in Congress and the WH borrowing money from China to be repaid by our descendants so that they can buy the votes stay in power.  It's destroying the nation.

Soon Obama will run out of Presidents and Icons to immitate....we've had to endure his dog and pony show pretending to be Lincoln, FDR, JFK, MLK, Truman, and Carter....geez..........

Obama - nothing genuine about this con man...a loser!

Barack Hussein Obama.....a clear and present danger, the enemy within.

The reality, that liberals fail to grasp, is that neither side is trying to be bipartisan.  Obama did campaign with bipartisan outreach.  However, in the first week of his adminstration, he rebuffed Eric Cantor (who came to see what they could work on together) with "Elections have consequences.  We won."  No on in the White House disputes this.  His first week in office, with 60 votes in the Senate, Obama told the Republicans to go pound sand.  The reason no Republicans in the House voted for the Stimulus or Obamacare is that the Democrats made no attempt to put anything in those bills that the GOP supported, since they had the votes to pass them anyway.  This strategy led to the GOP win in 2010.

Obama also refused to meet with Boehner and Cantor to work on the current jobs bill.  The White House drafted the bill with no GOP input, and the liberal media obediently says the GOP is being obstructionists.  To be clear, I'm not saying that Boehner and Cantor are trying to be bipartisan either.  One other thing what will not be in the liberal narrative is that the Democrats control the Senate.  They don't have the votes to pass the jobs bill, and Reid has shown an unwillingness to even bring it up for a vote.  How is this the GOP's fault.

Probably doesn't matter, but I consider myself more of a libertarian than a conservative.  I'm not happy with either party, but this "the GOP is not bipartisan because they won't vote for the exclusively Democrat written bill" is getting old.

I think, Mr. Starr, your analysis is excellent as a summary, but I disagree on several points. I do not believe Republicans want to sabatoge a recovery. Do not forget that Obama had both houses and a veto proof senate and insisted on changing our whole medical system before he dealt with the economy. I have read repeatedly that his economic advisors disagreed with his approach. Also, they all radically overestimated what Keynsian procedures could do.

I think oddly the extreme compliance and almost worship of this president by the media has worked to his disadvantage.

Obama is not Stalin but he is Chirac or Mitterand and that is not where this country wants to go.  We want freedom of choice, not a nanny state.


Lee Tabin.

More 'stimulus' may, in fact, be needed.

It will not happen for one reason.

NOT because Congress or the 'government' is dysfunctional.

It will not happen because Obama used the first stimulus as political payback for government employees and other union goons that financed his campaign.

The well has been poisoned.

Unemployed in 2009? It was Bush's Fault!

Unemployed now? It is YOUR fault! - For not joining a union that give money to Obama's campaigns.

Don't belong to to a union that gives money to Obama? Then SCREW YOU!

THAT is 'progressive' government works.

Your opinion is typical of faux news watchers.  That says it all. 
BTW, class warfare has and will always be something the right has embraced for over 70 years.  You just got it all wrong because your nose is so far up .....

This empty suit of a campaigner-in-chief needs to be tossed out with the rest of the garbage in 2012.

this is energetic and competent governmnet?  We can't even pass a budget for two years?  And if you complain of a do nothing congress, does that mean the Senate where bills seem to go to die?  You might not like the House bills but they should be at least debated for whatever germs of good ideas are in there and if there are none then tell the American people that.  If Obama runs against the do nothing Congress the Republicans will just show how many bills passed in the house to how many passed in the Senate, will nto look good for the Democratic party.  This is not what we voted for in 2008 and surely not what we expected for re election in 2012.

Class warfare has always been and will remain the bedrock of the GOP.

Fear mongering is another GOP tactic.

President Obama is president and was elected legally and by a majority.  Thank goodness for that!

The amount of likes on your comment is suspect.  This is a liberal blog and I find it hard to believe that this comment has that many "legitimate" likes. 
After reading Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin and discovering how she used unethical means to "pump" up her numbers, makes me wonder if all these "likes" are legitimate....

This article is a political support piece for Obama, not an objective analysis. Obama is a neoliberal through and through, despite his transparent campaign rhetoric about wanting  to create jobs, something he says only when he wants the votes of the Dem base. Obama told his economic advisors, according to a recent book, that high unemployment in the US was due to technological innovation and was unavoidable. His way of thinking comes straight from Wall Street and the Chamber of Commerce. He has never been like Truman and he never will be.  He is a Republocrat who almost never mentions FDR and who clearly believes that a new WPA is unnecessary because mass unemployment is a structural feature necessary for American business to become more "competitive." The article should instead have been about why Dems are so feckless that not a single Dem primary challenger has appeared to oppose the current DINO president.

You criticize Obama for the way he negotiated with the GOPs but it seems to me he got exactly what he wanted--a deal that with a little luck keeps the debt ceiling below the political radar while he runs for re-election.  That was clearly his primary goal all along, it was obvious at the time that was the one thing he would not compromise, and he got it.  If you think he valued your agenda over his, or that there was any chance he would do so, you are very naive.  "Politics ain't beanbag," as G. W. Plunkitt said.

You also write as if the 2010 election either didn't happen or shouldn't mean anything to Obama or any Dems running in 2012.  You bring a very strange perspective to politics.  That kind of thinking will give you a 2013 Republican President, about 58 GOP Senators, and 280 or more GOP representatives.

This IS "The Amercan Prospect" and not "The American Enterprise", right?

Very strange.

Here is what I think is the biggest thing that neither party truly understands..who are the "independants"?  It used to be they were the fringe groups ala Ralph Nader.  That isn't who they are anymore.
The independants are actually the moderates of both parties who understand that you just aren't going to get everything you want.  They are the adults in the room. They understand the goal is to get close to what the majority of the people want done.
Both parties have become so entrenched in their far-right or far-left views that their moderates have become non-party voters.
But is this the fault of the parties?  Yes and no.  The media has become a feeding frenzy who can only obtain their ratings by the "divide and conquer" mode of operation.  Since the advent of the 24 hour news stations, news now has to be created vs. occuring in order to fill the time.  They are not interested in what is best for the country, they are interested only in what is best for the ratings.
Hence the election of Obama. Was he the most qualified? No.  Was he at least qualified? No.
But was he media material?  YES.  And the media graced us with this incompetant President with its non-st0p barrage of pro-Obama reporting in 2008.
The battle of 2008 wasn't about Obama/McCain.  It was about Hannity/Olbermann.  We voted Olbermann...how is that working out folks?
It is time for "we the people" to stop letting the media drive us like lemmings.
If "we the people" learn one thing from 2008, let it be this.  POTUS elections are not American Idol votes.  If you treat them as such, you deserve what you get.
Do I think Obama is a bad man trying to destroy our country? No.
He is merely an unqualified man who fit the media script and "we the people" loved the program. We voted what may very well be our first "American Idol" president. 
The best thing that can happen for this country is for both parties to go, if not the way of the dinasour, at least the way of the 8-track player.
They were useful in their day, but have no relevance in the 21st Century.

Obama is, however, a creature of his base.  The far left democratic party created him.  His entire primary attack on Hillary Clinton in 2008 was that she was not liberal enough.  He is wedded to the far left and CANNOT move to the center, even if his own personal ideology would allow him to.  The radical left would, if not abandon him, surely sit out the election in large enough numbers that he couldn't dream of reelection.  They're already screaming bloody murder over his few compromises.

In addition, being too far left is only part of the reason independents are bailing on Obama.  Left-leaning independents desire a moderate Democrat, yes, but, the far bigger problem for the President, is that they desire a competent administrator, and he has not proven himself capable of anything close to that level of achievement.  His greatest achievement to date in policy was the health insurance overhaul (and I say that from his point of view, not mine, as I'm a libertarian and you can guess, therefore, my reaction to being forced to purchase a product by the government).  He had little to nothing to do with actually getting this bill passed.  He pushed the responsibility for it off on the Congress, primarily on Nancy Pelosi (to be fair, she wanted it).  The result of that was that Democrats got shellacked in the 2010 elections.  The result to independent voters is that Obama proved himself to be too willing to delegate the hard choices to others instead of providing leadership.

His only other accomplishment, the killing of Bin Laden, was no great feat of leadership either.  He made the right choice, the right call.  The problem for the President with this is that it shows no great leadership to make an easy decision.  In fact, by some reports, he weighed this decision for several days as if it were a difficult one.  It wasn't.  It was the right decision, and it was the ONLY decision he could have made.  Some in the media trumpeted this as a great feat of decision making.  It wasn't.  

Obama waited almost a month to make a decision on Libya.  He then dithered and debated (with himself apparently) further before fully committing the US to the NATO operation.  Lives were lost in Libya because the President couldn't make a decision quickly, but instead looked for a political angle to use at home and deferred the choice to others.

".....because Republicans have made it clear that they intend to block any action to revive the economy".

Liberals are unbelievably arrogant.  Just because an opponent honestly believes that repeating tried and failed proposals are not particularly intelligent or helpful, doesn't mean that that opponent doesn't want to revive the economy.  There are other ideas out there, believe it or not.  The idea that over regulation might be creating its own problems.  The idea that the more one imposes burdens on the productive sector the less productive it becomes.  Strange concepts in liberal vacuum, but nevertheless, still ideas that haven't been tried.  The idea that maybe Greece et al might actually be evidence of the failure of the same types of policies being embarked up here with gay abandon. 

No, simple disagreement and proposing an alternative view is not even considered a legitimate viewpoint.  It is mischaracterized and dismissed in perjorative terms.  Now we are committed to a course of self destruction, for political purposes.  Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it.

The liberal wing of the Democratic Party constitutes less than 20% of eligible voters in this country, yet that small minority continues to judge Obama as weak and ineffectual because he cannot force the other 80% to go along with the liberal vision.  Newsflash:  that's not how a republic works.  Believe it or not, the other 80% also get a say in things.  And they're not liberal, they don't like the liberal message, they don't agree with what the liberal administration has been doing, and they elected the large Republican freshman class to congress specifically and intentionally to put the brakes on the runaway train that liberal government has become.  Equating that intentional braking process with a "do nothing congress" is just silly.  The reality is, this congress is doing exactly what the majority of its members were elected to do:  stop the liberal agenda from bankrupting the country before the voters can finish cleaning house in 2012 and give us all a little breathing room.

Another supporter who after almost 3 years refuses for Obama to accept any, even on tiny crumb, of responsibility. After his government takeover of our health insurance system (eventual takeover as it was designed) was passed, job creation slowed to a drip. His partisanship is not what the media pretends it to be. As for the debt talks in the recent past, it was mere millions, not the billions reported. TWO scandals ARE of his making. The fast and furious and the "Soil"yndra. The US voters, about half of them, will probably vote for him but just enough will see him to be what he is: a Chicago-style politician who thought he could just make decisions without consequences or consensus. His own party in the Senate does not cooperate with him anymore and the House is slipping away from him.

Another piece written with inherent bias... Quote: "Republicans have made it clear that they intend to block any action to revive the economy ". Well, it seems I've heard the Republicans intending to block OBAMA's actions because they believe his actions are based on flawed economic thinking and simply won't work. That's very different, and very legit. And given their failure up till now, I might be inclined to be pretty skeptical of Obama's actions, too.

Obama needs to be as Trumanesque as he can, that is essential to any chance of re-election. Also he needs a bump from the economy which he may get. Let's remember that The August jobs report is the only thing currently fueling the "malaise-speak". Even modest growth will defray that narrative. The bigger question is how the Republican primary plays out. I think the Republicans are careening towards an internal schism that will leave a damaged Romney as their candidate. I believe the Tea-wing will refuse to support him and possibly even create a splinter group. Obama is still great on the stump. Republicans need to be united to beat him. They won't be.

Cereberal?  Obama was never cereberal.

Dear Mr. Starr,

I refer to paragraph 2 where you claim that Barack Obama has been "cereberal".

I disagree.  Obama is not and has never been cereberal in any way shape or form. 

Despite the frequent media references, Obama was never a professor.  Perhaps the erroneous reporting has influenced you to hold an erroneous belief.

I have never seen any evidence that Barack Obama is cereberal.

Interesting revisionist history. A do-nothing congress? If you check you will see that the House has been very active since Republicans took over. It is Harry Reid and his fellow Democrats in the Senate that have been sitting on their hands and doing nothing. Reid doesn't even want to do anything with Obama's 'Stimulus II: The Waste Continues' legislation, even though Obama has sounded like Rain Man, repeating himself over and over, pass the bill now, pass the bill now, I'm an excellent driver, an excellent driver.

I will admit that it was nice to see that an uber-liberal finally realized that after nearly three years of total incompetency on the part of Obama's attempt to fix a weak economy, and only making things worse, that it is finally time to stop blaming Dubya.

It was a nice twist to see that now the buck is being passed to Europe to create a smokescreen to hide the unmitigated economic disaster Obama has wrought on the nation. Without question, Obama is the worst president in my lifetime. And when I was a child Ike was in the White House so that time frame covers a fair number of presidents.

Obama does not deserve a second term. He never should of had a first. He is the worst mistake the American electorate has made in my lifetime.

"Obama at least had some chance of getting congressional action..." [before the '10 midterms.] At least had a CHANCE? He had a wholly Democratic congress, and even they couldn't agree with his extreme ideas!

"Now the political system has become completely dysfunctional..." Um, Mr. Starr, that is what the American electorate CHOSE - to replace an oppressive Congress with one that would restrain the overbearing regulatory atmosphere that has exacerbated our problems. It is not dysfunctional at all - the split government designed by the creators of this republic built in mechanisms to prevent monolithic, "king's wishes" governance that would overrun the country.

Never ceases to amaze me that when Democrats don't get their way the other viewpoint is called 'obstructionist,' 'uncooperative,' etc. Mr. Starr, accept the fact that you and those who think like you do not hold exclusivity rights to the best ideas. There ARE other points of view - many of which created the prosperity and uniqueness that is the United States. When there is disagreement it is healthy for you and those of opposing viewpoints - now may be a good time for introspection...

I cannot decide whether this article was useless blather or a very scary look at a very liberal mind. Either way, it was purely partisan, absent of facts, with little link to reality.
Government does not create wealth, it collects resources to provide services that the free market will not provide due to lack of profitability. That said, the social programs provided should be approved by the taxpayers who are the true owners of the country, the government, and all of it's assets.
The free market cannot support the endless list of "needs" that the liberals want the government to provide for "free". My belief is that liberals understand this already and have another agenda entirely.

I would like to know where this man has done anything good for the country? I read the different news sites everyday and have not seen one thing he has helped America with,except decline.

You need to be logged in to comment.
(If there's one thing we know about comment trolls, it's that they're lazy)