Barack Obama: How Good A President?

One of the common talking points on the right is that Barack Obama is the “worst President in history.”  (This talking point is rather ironic in light of the fact that many of the people saying it voted for George W. Bush two times.)  Just who are the worst Presidents in American history?  What made them so bad?  How does President Obama’s record compare to their records?

Franklin Pierce is widely considered to be one of the worst Presidents because he signed into law the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.  This law was highly controversial because it blew up the hard fought Missouri Compromise of 1820 which had barred the introduction of slavery into the territories.  Because the Kansas-Nebraska Act made it possible for the southerners to take their slaves into the territories it significantly inflamed an already simmering controversy over slavery.

Pierce’s successor – James Buchanan – is also considered to be one of our country’s poorest Presidents.  Buchanan further inflamed sectional tensions by maneuvering  behind the scenes to help create a pro-southern majority in the infamous Dredd Scott case and by relentlessly pandering to the interests of the southern slave holders over the “Bleeding Kansas” debacle.  The 15th President sided with a pro-slavery government in Topeka which had clearly stolen the election in which it was “elected.”  Once the southern states began to leave the union, Buchanan took the position that he lacked the power to stop them and stood idly by while his pro-Confederate War Secretary allowed the Confederates to loot federal military arsenals to arm themselves.

Historians also widely regard Herbert Hoover as one of our worst Presidents.  Hoover stood by during the Great Depression and did nothing to aide the unemployed and to shore up the banking system.  Instead, Hoover pursued an austerity policy of tax increases and budget cuts to balance the federal budget.  Hoover’s refusal to intervene to mitigate the worst effects of the Depression was based entirely upon his laissez-faire ideology.  He believed it was the responsibility of the private sector and charity – not the federal government – to assist those who were unemployed and suffering.

The U.S. suffered it’s most serious economic crisis since the Hoover Administration during the Presidency of George W. Bush.  That’s one of the reasons why a consensus is emerging that Bush was one of the worst Presidents in U.S. history.  Bush inherited a projected 10 year surplus of $5.5 trillion from President Clinton and turned it into a record annual deficit of $1.4 trillion by the time he left office.  Moreover, Bush mismanaged two wars and presided over an economic and stock market crash during his last year in office.  The economy was in a state of free fall by the time he left the White House.

A significant portion of President Obama’s tenure has been consumed with cleaning up the mess he inherited from Bush.  Fortunately, the country is now much better off than it was 6.5 years ago thanks to President Obama’s leadership.

The economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month in December 2008 and it has since been creating over 200,000 jobs per month over the last 1.5 years.  In May alone, the economy created 280,000 jobs.  This is the best job growth the U.S has experienced since President Clinton’s second term.   Obama has created more jobs in his first six and a half years in office than were created by the last two Republican Presidents combined.

George W. Bush also bequeathed to President Obama a health care system in shambles.  During his two terms in office, Bush stood idly by and allowed 8 million Americans to lose their health insurance policies.  Since the implementation of the ACA in late 2013, 17 million formerly uninsured Americans have gained health insurance coverage.  In addition, medical inflation is seeing it’s slowest rate of growth since the 1960s.

We’ve also seen a similar dramatic turn around on the fiscal front.  Obama inherited from his predecessor an annual deficit of $1.4 trillion which was 9.8% of GDP.  By 2014, the deficit had been reduced by nearly 2/3 to $484 billion or 2.8% of GDP.  It is the fastest deficit reduction in U.S. history since the late 1940s.

President Obama’s record on spending and taxes stacks up well when compared to his recent predecessors.  In Obama’s  7th year in office, federal taxes as a share of GDP equal 17.7%  and are lower than year seven for  Reagan (17.9%), Clinton (19.2%), and Bush43 (17.9%). Obama is projected to spend 20.9% of GDP in 2015 – less than Reagan’s 21% in his 7th year.

The bottom line here is that President Obama has an impressive list of domestic accomplishments and has built a successful Presidency.  Any allegation that he is the “worst President in history” coming from the right is nonsensical – at best.  If a Republican President had compiled this list of accomplishments, the usual suspects on the Right would want to name everything after him and put his face on Mount Rushmore.

It is important that we Democrats message President Obama’s impressive record.  As Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman said: “Progressives are much too willing to cede history to the other side. Legends about the past matter. Really bad economics flourishes in part because Republicans constantly extol the Reagan record, while Democrats rarely mention how shabby that record was compared with the growth in jobs and incomes under Clinton. The combination of lies, incompetence, and corruption that made the Iraq venture the moral and policy disaster it was should not be allowed to slip into the mists.’..There’s a reason conservatives constantly publish books and articles glorifying Harding and Coolidge while sliming FDR; there’s a reason they’re still running against Jimmy Carter; and there’s a reason they’re doing their best to rehabilitate W. And progressives need to fight back.”

If we are to win the 2016 elections, we Democrats need to run on our accomplishments –  as well as talk about our vision for the future.  If we don’t mention our achievements, voters will believe that our elected officials haven’t accomplished anything and will consider voting for the Republicans.   We can’t count on the media to point out our accomplishments.  We have to do it ourselves.

The stakes in next year’s elections are very high.  We can either continue to make progress in moving our country forward or we can go back to the policies that wrecked the economy in 2008.  Are we going to hand over our country once again to the people and policies that crashed our economy before and or are we going to build on the policies that have improved our country?  That is the choice next year.   Now let’s get to work!