Thursday, September 8, 2011

What Happened to Obama?

I asked myself this question today and found this op-ed piece by Drew Westen posted last month in the New York Times.  Westen paints a broad historic picture which Obama has failed to live up to.  There was no question that the President had a good first 100 days, passing an historic budget plan that offered badly needed relief to a devastated economy.  Unfortunately during the health care debate, Obama lost his momentum and hasn't been able to recover it since.

It appears that Obama is more a product of his press handlers than he is himself.  This man who presented himself as a "blank slate" onto which you could project your hopes and aspirations has left few people satisfied after nearly 3 years in office.  I'm reminded of The Candidate from 1972, in which Robert Redford was able to project the aura of a leader Californians were looking for, only to ask his advisers "what next?" when he pulled off his improbable Senate victory.

Obama has the opportunity to stimulate the country once again with his speech to a joint session of Congress on his proposed American Jobs Act.  At $300 billion, it doesn't sounded overly promising, but if he can assert himself and make Americans feel he has their best interests in mind, maybe he can turn a corner and put the onus back on the Republicans, who have effectively hijacked government since taking the House last year.


  1. Good speech. Better than I expected.

  2. "He urged lawmakers to slash Social Security taxes for tens of millions of Americans and for almost every business to encourage hiring."

    Lost me right there. We already have the lowest tax level as a percentage of GDP since 1942, and he continues to toss out these carrots despite tax cuts having no discernible impact on the economy. And, SS tax no less, this despite the shortfall in the early retirement pension. It is really nothing more than a shell game Obama is playing. There is no New Deal or Frontier behind his plans. They just come from the little round tables he has with his advisers as to what sounds good.

  3. I have given him every benefit of the doubt but no more. Not that there are any better choices out there. I even heard Cheney pitching Hillary for 2012. The old goat just can't contain himself.

    They got their man in Obama. He continued their wars, their Draconian immigration policies, and their tax cuts. There has been little change in policy since 2008. Even Gitmo remains in place, and now it seems we will simply shuffle military forces from Iraq to Kuwait, in order to maintain our presence in the region. Awful!

    It seems Cheney says these things just to keep Obama in line. I've long wondered what transpired that fateful day in the White House when Obama met with Bush and Cheney. It is like some secret pact was signed between them.

  4. Uh oh, Gintaras, you're starting to sound like me.

    BUT ... the speech was a series of real jobs programs that had at one time both democratic and republican support. A good strategy given this current climate. His ending was also encouraging, contrasting the idea that some in Congress would rather give tax breaks to the wealthy than keep teachers in schools. If he really goes on the road to sell this idea, he may save his presidency. Having watched the Republican "debate" in its entirety, let's hope he does.

  5. You are a glutton for punishment, av. No way I could have sat through that whole thing.

    Yes, there looks like there is something for everyone in this proposed bill, but once again tax cuts dominate it, as they did the Stimulus Bill. Westen noted in his op-ed piece what a waste all these tax breaks are. This isn't stimulating the economy, nor do I think will it help create more jobs. I think mostly it is attempt to put the onus on the Republicans to take a more active role in shaping a jobs bill, rather than just holding up placards like "Drilling = Jobs," What a joke!

  6. I know -- I was feeling slightly queezy yesterday a.m. Not sure if it was the glass of wine I needed to sit through it, or the effects of the so-called debate.

    My guess is the so-called tax cuts are really a form of stealth stimulus, since a good chunk will go to working people. The $1000 to $1500 in payroll tax cuts right now will most likely go back into the economy.

    I don't even object to tax cuts for small businesses who hire, particularly those out of work for 6 months, or whatever it is. That may indeed be a shell game, with people moving employees around, but at least a few more people will be working.

    It may not be all I would have wanted, but it seems like he's got a great argument with this approach. If the GOP doesn't want to support its own ideas, he can (I hope) point this out to the American people who, as he noted in the speech, can't afford to wait 14 months for another election.

    Somebody has to do something besides working to kill the economy with the goal of bringing the president down with it.

  7. My worry about the tax cuts this time is that they directly impact Social Security. Of course, businesses have long been complaining that they pay too much in FICA, but then they have figured out how to get around it by contracting work (no FICA) rather than taking on hired staff (FICA). So, I really don't see much incentive here to hire.

    It seems this is mostly a gimmick to get the Republicans to act in Congress. Most of what is contained in this so-called "jobs bill" is right down their alley.

    There is only $75 bil earmarked for government programs such as the $50 bil for new infrastructure projects, which sounds like the "roads bill" he was pushing earlier this year.

    This is basically an artfully crafted tax cut package, which will drain even more money out of government without making much impact on the economy. It seems at this point, Obama and the Democrats are too afraid of their own shadow to promote anything big out of fear of backlash at the voting booth next November.

  8. Joe Nocera has a good Op/Ed column in today's New York Times about the tight-fistedness of banks these days. Difficult to grow a business and add employees if the banks won't loan you any money.

    And then there's Ben Bernanke who expressed "surprise" on Thursday at "how cautious consumers remain more than two years since the recession officially ended." As if the fact that "the recession officially ended" means anything when the real rate of unemployment is about 17% when you factor in the involuntarily underemployed and the discouraged job seekers. I can't decide if Bernanke is clueless or a total idiot? Feel free to weigh in on that.

  9. I think the backlash comes when the economy tanks even more, so the administration is suddenly desperate to get some money into the economy.

    The business tax credits I was thinking of are those going to people who hire someone new, particularly those who have been unemployed for more than six months. There's also something extra in there to hire vets. Each dollar helps get something back into the economy. Even the payroll tax cut, which is like the $200 Bush sent everyone, puts a little more potential stimulus in the economy, only this time it's over $1000 which adds up.

    Personally I'd like to see something bigger that hires people on the spot to do meaningful work in the National Parks, Forest Service, etc., but there's no chance the Republicans will pass anything I'd like. And I doubt Obama is up to any initiative like that in any event. This at least gives the bill a fighting chance since republicans are on record in favor of all the parts -- or will (hopefully) take the republicans down with their sudden opposition to it.

  10. Rick, I think they are all basically clueless in Washington. I don't think they realize how tough it is out here right now.

  11. And I should add, how scared a lot of people are about their economic future.

    I have friends who live on social security, and they regularly say if the republicans kill social security they'll all be homeless. I try to counter that the republicans wouldn't dare touch current recipients, but that doesn't make them feel secure enough to rush out and buy a new car. The future looks very bleak.

  12. Seems everyone wants to blame the consumer, as if he isn't living up to his end of the bargain. Meanwhile BoA plans to cut 10s of 1000s of employees and now doubt further tighten lending. Seems to me Bernanke should be scolding the banks.

  13. A friend of mine recently defended the banks by saying that TARP didn't mandate that they do anything more than hold on to the funds in order to strengthen their balance sheets. That is "business model" thinking in a nutshell: if no one is going to make us do something, we won't. And yet when business people want something, what do they all say? We want to be good corporate citizens. Unless, of course, we don't have to be good corporate citizens. Then it's, "Screw you!"

  14. So much for banks regulating themselves.