To truly judge and understand a President’s place in history takes decades and sometimes a century to truly evaluate. Time is the ultimate judge of their impact. That does not stop historians and others from early judgements. With that in mind here is ours on Obama fifteen days before he departs. Today we will focus on domestic policies and tomorrow foreign affairs.
The early polls of his fellow citizens show about a quarter saying he will go down as one of our greatest Presidents, and an equal number saying he is among the worst. The remainder are in the middle. Let’s take a look at the two areas that will matter starting today with domestic policy.
Domestically will be Obama’s claim to fame. If you recall he came to office at a time of true economic upheaval. One of the two worst periods since the Great Depression. (1980 was the other when interest rates were 21%, inflation 12% and pundits said stagflation was unsolvable). In 2008 when Obama came to office the country and world sat on the economic brink. George Bush had thrown in the towel and John McCain, Obama’s opponent just about admitted he had no solution. Unemployment was rising, institutions were close to default and the stock market plunged. Obama calmed people, invested in GM to keep it afloat, supported banks and passed a trillion dollar stimulus package. In the ensuing eight years finances have steadied. We recovered, the world followed and the stock recovered and soared to new heights. In our opinion, that is Obama’s highlight.
However, the recovery has been weaker than past recoveries. Though unemployment numbers dropped, the percent of people in the workforce approached all time lows. Growth was negligible and never reached 3%, the first time in a century this failed to occur. The trillion dollars did not produce shovel ready jobs as promised, but did drive the deficit up. Obama came to office decrying George Bush’s deficit as unpatriotic and wrong. Yet in his eight years he doubled the national debt as it went from $10 trillion to $20 trillion under his watch. Think about that. Ten trillion for all Presidents added up, and another ten trillion added by Obama. Despite that wages stagnated and manufacturer jobs continued their exodus from the U.S.
In addition, domestic racial strife grew. It was thought the first minority President would bring people closer, but the opposite occurred. Obama and his attorney generals appeared to take the side of citizens against the police and a deep divide resulted. An example was the false narrative of Ferguson, MO, “Hands up don’t shoot”. After exhaustive riots and businesses were destroyed, it was determined the police officer acted as he should have and simply protected himself. In 2016 there was a large uptick in police officers killed. 135 died in the line of duty, 64 from shootings, a 68% increase from the year before.
Obama gave his opposition fodder for their feelings and thoughts on him. He never attended a police funeral, or that of a deceased Supreme Court Justice (Scalia), or former First Lady (Nancy Reagan).
In what was called the great divide, the top level of economic earners did better and the lower level did worse in his eight years. Here are some statistics for black Americans
- During Obama’s tenure, the percentage of black Americans struggling below the poverty line has advanced, according to the most recent Census Bureau data, from 25.8 in 2009 to 26.2 in 2014 — up 1.6 percent.
- Real median income among black households during those years, according to the Census Bureau, sank from $35,954 to $35,398 — down 1.5 percent.
- The number of black food-stamp participants increased from 7,393,000 to 11,699,000, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports — up 58.2 percent.
- Also, from Obama’s oath of office through 2015, the percentage of black Americans who own homes floundered from 46.1 percent to 41.9 percent, according to the Census — down 9.1 percent.
So Obama’s economy did not help the people he wanted to help raise in the country. Adding over 50% of the people to food stamps is not raising them out of poverty.
He raised the tax rates and added some additional with the Affordable Care Act. His IRS became political and businesses stashed dollars overseas because bringing it back to the U.S. was too tax heavy. As Trump lowers the business tax burden we’ll see which policy works best for people.
Businesses also complained about regulations put in place by the Obama administration and said it hampered investment and growth. “The man really believes in regulating the private sector as opposed to structural remedies, and those regulations have hurt Main Street,” said Peter George Morici Jr., an economist and international business professor at the University of Maryland’s R.H. Smith School of Business.
We already see a market reaction to Trump’s promises to lift regulations.
Morici offers an example where he says Main Street is struggling. Access to banks and capital. “His banking regulations are so opaque and complex that small banks can’t cope with them, so they sell out to bigger banks,” he said. “And so what you’ve got is a situation where the focus of banking [is] shifted from Wall Street to Main Street. Regional banks now have less money to lend because there are less of them. That takes banking away from Main Street — from builders and people who would buy homes.”
Finally to his domestic agenda, add Obamacare. This was the single domestic act that was going to seal his legacy. With Hillary losing, it is now clear that this will be over turned. It leaves a memory of higher costs, questionable care and daunting challenges. When it is replaced and a new Healthcare Act put in place Obama will lose the signature piece of legislation he counted on.
Then there was his impact on the electorate. He came into office with a 59 – 41 Democratic senate edge; and a 257 – 178 seat advantage in the house. He leaves with 52 -48 Republican Senate and 241 – 194 Republican congressional edge. He came in with 29 Governors being Democratic and leaves with only 18 in office. In addition Republicans now control both houses of 31 states. Clearly Obama’s personal popularity did not help his party.
So in the end you can see why he is so upset that his party lost the White House. The government is about to go in the opposite direction he took it and most of what he did domestically will be over turned. Without the Presidency, senate or house his long term impact will be lost.
Our domestic grade for Obama today is a C-, giving him that only because of his leading us through the 2008 mess he inherited.
Tomorrow Obama’s legacy grade for foreign affairs.