Grading Obama on Home Economics


[ Photo: Supply and Demand by Protonk via WIkimedia Commons ]

In my last piece, I rated the Obama administration’s performance over the last three years on foreign relations, focusing on a few major foreign policy accomplishments.  This week I take a look at some of Obama’s key achievements here at home, on the economy.

Of course, any analysis of Obama economic policies has to start from an understanding of the dire situation he inherited after eight years of the profligate spending of George W. Bush.  Bush ran up the national debt from $5.7 trillion to $8.3 trillion (67% of GDP) with his unnecessary wars and tax cuts for the wealthy.  Despite all that spending, however, he was the only president in recent history to preside over eight years of declining median income (a drop of 4.2%), as well as an increase of 26.1% in the ranks of the poor.  And as far as jobs, a persuasive chart recently put out by the Obama campaign illustrates how millions of jobs were lost under Bush before Obama even took office, millions more were lost before Obama’s policies took effect, and millions have since been regained under his stewardship.

Now that we have in mind the mess Obama was left with, let’s look at some of what he’s done to clean it up:

  1. Helping to Prevent a Second Great Depression.  Although we’ll never know exactly how much Obama’s policies actually did for the economic recovery, we do know that the situation when he took office was bleak, that he acted decisively with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the “Stimulus”), and that the economy has since rebounded dramatically.  Like the public works projects that helped pull us out of the Depression, the Stimulus bill poured hundreds of billions into American infrastructure and other key projects.  Regardless of how much credit you give the Stimulus, the fact is we’ve experienced 23 straight months of job growth.
  2. Putting the U.S. on Track to Double  Exports.  According to a recent NY Times article, over the past few years, the Obama administration has helped set us on a path to double U.S. exports by the year 2015, which accounts for about half of our economic growth since the recession. Although a big part of that has been the devaluation of the dollar relative to other currencies, Obama deserves credit for putting pressure on China to increase the value of its currency and open its markets to American businesses, and for working closely with American companies looking to expand into foreign markets.
  3. Saving the American Auto Industry.  Expect to hear a lot in the general election campaign from President Obama about his rescue of U.S. auto companies Chrysler and GM, and with good reason.  These companies, which were on the verge of collapse at the risk of millions of American jobs, were saved by Obama’s timely approval of hefty federal loans.  Chrysler and GM have since paid back the loans and are now thriving, to the benefit of the U.S. economy and a struggling Detroit.  In touting this accomplishment, Obama hopes to draw a stark contrast between himself and Mitt Romney, who, despite being a Detroit native whose father ran American Motors, penned a 2008 editorial entitled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt”!  (Romney’s point was that a managed bankruptcy was preferable to a bailout, but as with so much of his tone-deaf rhetoric — e.g. “I like being able to fire people” — he managed to cloak a somewhat moderate position in coldhearted capitalist extremism.)  A note of caution:  While I applaud the President’s accomplishments in the manufacturing sector, which has added jobs in the last two years for the first time since the late 1990s, I join many in questioning whether manufacturing is really the best engine for economic growth.
  4. Passing the Affordable Care Act.  The progressive community generally says the words “Affordable Care Act” with a collective sigh for what might have been.  After all, wasn’t Obama the president who was supposed to give us real healthcare reform? Wasn’t he supposed to come out swinging for a single-payer system and make the Republicans beg for a compromise?  But let’s face some facts:  First, none of the 2008 Democratic presidential candidates except Dennis Kucinich ever supported a single-payer system, nor was it ever remotely politically feasible.  Second, Obama faced an unprecedented smear campaign from an energized right wing who managed to convince millions that healthcare reform was going to euthanize their grandparents, and he still managed to pass it.  Third, and fundamentally, Obama succeeded in passing a healthcare reform bill where others failed — including the supposed political mastermind Bill Clinton.  The ACA has already resulted in the coverage of 2.5 million uninsured young people, mandated availability of essential preventive care, and reined in some of the worst abuses of the health insurance industry.  The Act is projected to reduce the deficit by billions over the next decade.  Let’s not take a modest victory and turn it into a defeat.

So what grade do I give the administration in Home Economics?  Well, given the immense difficulties involved in trying to manage an economy the size of the U.S.’s with the challenges we’ve faced, I believe the only fair way to grade is Pass/Fail.  And I give the President a High Pass.

What do you think?  As always, I welcome criticism of these touted accomplishments of the Obama administration — as well as mention of any major accomplishments I’ve left out…


  1. Alan says:

    Thoughtful review, Lenny. I generally concur, though I quibble about whether the economy “rebounded dramatically”. Significantly, yes, thankfully for sure, but the recovery has been rather slow and anemic. Even the jobs growth was hampered by the “stimulus” being so diluted with tax cuts, rather than more purely spending by govt.

    Acting “decisively”? Only during the period after the 2010 election when prompted by the upcoming loss of the majority in the House, did Obama act more decisively and got some important legislation passed quickly. Otherwise, he’s been conciliatory and attempted cooperation with a Republican party that is determined to sabotage and defeat whatever he proposes, giving up alot of ground in the process, often before the negotiations even get going very far.

    I’m pleased with him for the most part, yes, but also wish he was more engaged, outspoken,and confrontive with his domestic opponents.

  2. Allison Tupper says:

    Yes, Lenny, we must applaud the victories, even though they were tempered by circumstances. (I have some complaints–rounding up immigrants and putting them in the Cheney-build detention centers, waterboarding). I wish the news media would give Obama the time and attention they’re giving to the Repub primary and its lies. There are those who believe the economy’s getting worse.

    We all need to do everything we can to return Democrats to Congress along with the pres.

  3. Betsy Malcolm says:

    Thank you!

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