Consider this: Politically speaking, if a president assumes office during a recession, the luckiest time for him to do so is around twelve months in, when the economy is near rock-bottom and ready to come roaring back. If he plays his cards right, he can take credit for some of the recovery by claiming that his policies contributed to it. What’s least fortunate is to assume office near or before the start of a recession, because then the downturn occurs entirely under his watch and everyone blames him for it.
Harry Truman took office two months into the 1948 recession—a precarious position, because unemployment plunged for a year under his watch before recovering. Eisenhower assumed office six months before the 1953 recession and was forced to serve as the face of twelve months of decline.
Kennedy was fortunate enough to assume office nine months into the 1960 recession, one month before the recovery, the latter of which he sustained by cutting income taxes for all earners.
Nixon assumed office eleven months before the 1969 recession and presided over twelve months of decline. Reagan took office six months before the 1981 recession and endured sixteen months before the recovery. Bush assumed office two months before the 2001 recession and held office through ten months of decline.
When did Obama take office? A whopping thirteen months after the start of the 2007 recession, the longest lag time any president has experienced while assuming office near the start of a recession since the Great Depression. Only Kennedy came close to being as lucky, and he didn’t squander his luck.
The economy had been hemorrhaging jobs for a year before Obama took office; the sharpest decline was behind us. Job losses would have continued for several months under Obama no matter what he did, but no one would have blamed him for that if had he appropriately positioned the country for recovery. Had he governed like a fiscal conservative, à la Bill Clinton, Republicans would have been delighted and vindicated, even if his policies hadn’t yielded immediate results. Democrats would have griped, but they would have covered for Obama.
But that’s not how Obama governed.
Obama blew his chances via massive deficit spending, threats to raise taxes, nebulous business regulations, and expensive new entitlements. Obama was dealt the opportunity of a lifetime to preside over historic recovery and growth, without his having to lift a finger for the country.
Instead, he chose to lift a finger to the country.
Obama was also dealt a dream hand on national security. In their tepid reelection endorsement, The Economist claimed Obama had been “left with a daunting inheritance” from Bush. On the contrary. It was a piece of cake for Obama to end the Iraq War, since all he had to do was follow to the letter the Status of Forces Agreement for the drawdown of troops that Bush had set up for him before he left office. (It was Bush who was dealt the atrocious foreign policy hand: the 9/11 attacks that happened months into his first term and were the culmination of twenty years of Islamist attacks against the West.)
It was easy for Obama to order the surge in Afghanistan—though he dawdled for months doing it anyway—because he had the successful example of the counterinsurgency operation Bush had ordered General David Petraeus to execute, at great political cost, in 2007 (the one Obama opposed and Biden called “dead flat wrong”). It took the Bush administration years to discover counterinsurgency as the optimal strategy for winning the Iraq War. Obama had a textbook example of how to do it in Afghanistan, and the same generals to implement it, right in front of him.
Obama was gifted mountains of intelligence, obtained through enhanced interrogation techniques he opposed, that led the U.S. military to the hideout of Osama bin Laden, and to the call any sane President would have made to order Navy SEALs to kill him.
Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize for delivering fruitless campaign speeches about how he would sit down with dictators and charm them into cooperation.
Obama’s dream hand extended to his party’s majority in the House and supermajority in the Senate, which allowed him to get his stimulus bill, the Dodd-Frank banking bill, Cash-for-Clunkers, the Fair Pay Act, and other major legislation passed. Obama apologists have bragged about how much he got done, in part because of Democratic majorities in Congress.
Obama was given a generalized, all-purpose benefit of the doubt like no other modern president. Months into office, while economic indicators were plunging, everyone on both sides of the aisle lamented what a bad hand he had been dealt. But who would have imagined that his supporters would be reciting that excuse four years later for why unemployment the Friday before Election Day was higher than when he took office? Who would have guessed that the strongest argument for reelecting Obama would be “He was dealt a bad hand”?
Obama had the entire mainstream press except Fox News on his side. Reporters covered for him, asked fawning questions, failed to ask tough questions, kept quiet during long stretches without press conferences, colluded to shield him, and coordinated to attack his opponents. In the final months of the election, Democrats gained momentum and Republicans suffered demoralization from a cadre of shameless, biased pollsters who used ridiculous weighting models to spread the meme that Obama was up 5 to 15 points in key swing states and the election was over.
What other modern American president has enjoyed such a deep reserve of good will, tolerance, patience, and protection from the press, the public, politicians in and out of his party, and leaders and peoples of the free world?
Most presidents would be deeply envious to receive the welcome Obama got when he took office. Fortunately Mitt Romney is tough enough to thrive without it after he is inaugurated.
- In speech after speech, Obama asks for more time (sfgate.com)
- Mitt Romney: Recession May Repeat Under Obama Second Term (huffingtonpost.com)
- Obama’s Record of Failure on Jobs (realclearpolitics.com)
- US election: will economic woes sink Obama as they did Brown and Sarkozy? (guardian.co.uk)
- Okay, It’s Time For Some Actual Facts About Our Economic Recovery (businessinsider.com)