Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy holidays, Barack Obama

There's finally a caesura in the narrative of Barack Obama's presidency. The stimulus was signed when he'd barely taken charge, leading to an early partisan divide that only became sharper as the months progressed. His first December break was interrupted by a would-be terrorist trying to blow up an airplane. Earlier this summer, with the jobs situation looking grim as ever, an oil well blew up and, though it wasn't the government's fault, Obama's image took a beating. His vacation in Maine and his wife's trip top Spain around that time got them a shellacking from the Right. It's been twenty three months of perpetual crisis.
Now he can relax for a few days knowing he's already fulfilled most of the promises he made during his campaign. OK, it's pretty difficult to live up to statements like, The world will look back to this time as the moment our planet began to heal. But Obama couldn't have got elected without making such grandiose claims, so he has to accept the inevitable feeling among ardent (and naive) supporters, of being let down.
A presidential campaign is like a ramp show with impractical and unwearable but hugely creative clothes on display. It's a hypothesis that needs major adjustments after practical tests. The question is: does the Obama pret line look sort of like his ramp show? I'd say it's a close enough variant and, after the DADT repeal, maybe some on the Left might begin to agree.
The biggest let-down of these two years has been, of course, unemployment. But a President can't create jobs out of thin air, at least not in the long term. The stimulus kept job losses down, the Fed's actions helped keep the economy growing, and now he's managed a second huge stimulus package. Estate tax cuts may be about the worst way to stimulate jobs growth, but there was no realistic path forward without giving in to some Republican demands, pretty much everyone agrees with that. At this point, Obama just wants the unemployment rate down to between 7 and 8 % in two years; if it remains around 10%, he's likely to lose the next election. I doubt any man could be re-elected President after having near double digit unemployment for virtually the entire term of his presidency.
To get unemployment down, companies have to start hiring. And for companies to start hiring, they have to feel a sense of stability. The health care law and new financial regulations appear to have created a sense of insecurity among entrepreneurs. They will not expand while they feel uncertain, any more than an old-time trading vessel would leave port during a storm. Having pushed through much of his long-term agenda, Obama requires to calm public discourse so owners of firms feel they can chart their own course without interference.
The START victory gives him the impetus to turn seriously to international affairs, where Republicans will provide less opposition. Unfortunately, both Israel and Iran are saddled with the worst imaginable regimes, so progress in the Middle East, which should be his first priority, looks improbable.
It'll be interesting to see how he decides to steer. Meanwhile, I hope he gets some deserved rest, without some lunatic attempting a terrorist strike against American citizens.

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