Obama's Legacy: Selling Us on Fluff in the Face of Crisis
On January 20, 2009 (the day Barack Obama was sworn into office) the country was in pretty rough shape. We were in the depths of the Great Recession. Millions of Americans were losing their jobs, companies were shutting down left and right, the stock market was tanking, 12.5% of Americans were living in poverty, and 34 million Americans were receiving food stamps. Our national debt was over $10 trillion. And even with a new president coming into power - one who had an approval rating of over 70% - only 40% of the country thought the nation was headed in the right direction.
I wonder what I would have thought back then, if someone could have looked five years into the future and told me what kind of issues were on the agenda of a re-elected President Obama in the year 2014. According to the president's State of the Union address, those things are the injustice of rich people becoming wealthier at a faster rate than non-rich people, the need for legislation to deal with women being paid 9 cents less on the dollar than men (not 23 cents as the president stated), and the raising of the minimum wage.
I'm pretty sure that I would have thought something like this: My God. This guy must have been the greatest economic president in the history of our nation! If these things are our country's greatest economic hurdles in the year 2014, he must have ushered in a level of prosperity and economic solvency that no one could have ever imagined!
Unfortunately, that's not what happened.
After five years of President Obama (and 4 1/2 years after the Great Recession ended), our national debt is over $17 trillion - $7 trillion more than when he took office, and $8 trillion more than the amount Candidate Obama told us was both "irresponsible" and "unpatriotic". The debt is projected to reach $20 trillion by the time Obama leaves office, much in part to the refusal of the administration and the Democratic party to reform our entitlement programs - the leading drivers of our debt.
The U.S. poverty level under Obama has broken a 50-year record, sitting at 15% for three straight years. 47 million Americans now receive food stamps - 13 million more than when Obama took office. Again, this is 4 1/2 years after the recession ended.
The labor force participation rate is at a 35-year low with 1.3 million fewer jobs than when the recession began. This means that if the labor force participation rate were the same as it was when the recession started, the current unemployment rate would be around 11% right now - not the much lower number the administration is now bragging about.
Since Obamacare has been signed into law, the cost of healthcare has continued to rise. Insurance premiums and deductibles have also risen as a direct result of Obamacare. Several millions of Americans (with millions more to follow once the employer mandate kicks in) have been thrown off of their insurance plans, again because of the law.
It sure seems that there are lots of economic challenges out there are far more pressing than the income gap between the rich and the non-rich (which has grown four times faster under Obama), a trivial income discrepancy between genders, and raising the minimum wage. Yet, those are the primary issues being focused on by our president as we head into the 2014 midterm campaign season, and perhaps the most glaring absurdity of the whole thing is that few people find that weird.
Even with only 30% of Americans now believing this country is heading in the right direction (10% less than when President Obama took office at a very chaotic time in our country's history), the national narrative is centered around small-ball, abstract, petty issues that no one would rank at the top of their list of concerns. Yet, they're reliably at the top of the media's concerns, along with the tiresome War on Women nonsense, so that's likely what we'll all be talking about until November.
The political pundits often state that Obamacare will define Obama's legacy as our president. I understand why they say that. After all, the law (which has never had popular support) affects nearly 1/5 the U.S. economy and is changing (for better or worse) the healthcare system in this country for each and every one of us, either directly or indirectly.
I'm of a different opinion, however. I believe the legacy of Obama, when the true state of the union is looked back on years from now, will be his astonishingly successful knack for distracting Americans from the big, historical challenges our country faces - challenges that he has never had an appetite to deal with. I believe his legacy will be his ability to convince a large portion of the country (with a lot of help from the media) that their problems could be solved with aimless pursuits of economic fairness and equality, for which his policies only made less attainable in a capitalistic society that already lends its citizens the best chance of achieving both.
Regardless of what you think about President Obama, there's little doubt that he's an incredibly impressive individual, especially when you recognize how completely impotent his rhetoric has rendered the opposition party. Even now, as more and more people are waking up to the unfortunate realities of Obamacare and are realizing that the president can't be trusted to make the right decisions (2/3 of the country according to a recent poll), he's still able to set the national narrative with his smile, his eloquence, and a litany of poll-tested slogans that we've been hearing for years now.
President Obama is undoubtedly a masterful salesman. I just wish my countrymen weren't the marks being conned.