Credit where credit isn’t due: President Obama

It’s not his fault…it’s not his achievement, either. 

As we get into actual election year, it’s natural for people to start reviewing where we are so that we can more or less choose the party that has performed well or needs to be ousted from the White House. Naturally, we look at the economy and other factors to see how things are going. And for the Dem supporters out there, it means highlighting how well things are going as of the last year of the Obama administration.

We may like the way President Obama has handled several key issues, but comparisons like the above meme are problematic because they’re simply not his doing.

  1. The unemployment rate and GDP growth
    Of course the president cares a great deal about this, and has wanted to do his bit to get it this low. But let’s not forget that the spending package he managed to get through Congress was back in 2009, and the recovery did not really get into motion until 2012 or 2013. Since 2011, government was actually a drag on the economy, not because that’s what the president wanted, but because Congress was austerity-crazy. Either way, the good economy is not much his doing. In contrast, the Federal Reserve has done three rounds of quantitative easing, the last of which ended in late 2014, and since then interest rates have remained incredibly low. It might not even be the Fed’s doing, in which case the private sector eventually bounced back on its own timing.

    Unemployment rate (U3). Source: BLS


  2. The price of gas
    Again, this is not Obama’s doing–it is the shale revolution, which has increased oil production in the U.S. and subsequently in the Middle East (notably Saudi Arabia), and brought prices to historic lows. In fact, to some extent, oil prices are low because they used to be so high–high prices encouraged firms to enter the market and use newer technology and turn a profit.

  3. Oil imports
    See above: Increased domestic production recently has reduced the need to import foreign oil. Going farther back, it could be argued that the administration’s green energy policies had some hand in reducing reliance on oil. It seems to me that would have an at best modest effect on oil demand (we’ll see about coal). And in fact, demand for foreign oil may be rising this year.
  4. Uninsured rate and Teen pregnancy
    I yield on this one. I’m not getting into if and how the Affordable Care Act did its job (mainly because I’m too lazy), but it’s arguable this did something to the uninsured rate (though of course, if you lost your job in 2008-09, you probably lost your insurance…). As for teen pregnancy rates, the decline has been going on for a while now (except during the Bush years), so we can give the president some credit for continuing to drive this forward.
  5. Iran’s centrifuges
    I yield on this one, too. The  a hallmark of his presidency. But though the number of centrifuges is an important figure, it’s too complicated an issue to boil down to one number.
  6. Dow Jones
    This is among the dumbest ways to size up a president. We have no idea whether the market is in for a nasty correction this year, in which case the Dems will quietly slip this number out of view when appealing to the voter. On top of this, the tendency is to blame President Bush for the sorry, sorry shape of the economy in 2008–while there were things he certainly could’ve done, especially with regulation, to mitigate the risk of the financial crisis, you cannot argue that it was his idea to lend recklessly to subprime mortgages (it could be argued that was the Dems…man, I am really hating on the Dems today!), package those mortgages into billions of dollars of MBS, stack them into collateralized debt obligations,  and then expect housing prices to go up forever. Okay, maybe you could, if you’re a conspiracy theorist. But try and argue that Obama could see the same thing coming. He’s a smart guy, but most people were blind to this, and it’s hard to hold any one person or institution responsible (yes, even Wall Street*).

Look, at the end of the day, I’m not here to bash Obama as is especially popular with many people. I think Obama supporters are arguing that all this has happened in spite of conservatives saying the sky was going to fall, which is fair in my eyes.  I am here to bash the perceived importance of the presidency–it may be easier, but we really ought to be better than pinning everything on a single person.

*though mostly Wall Street.


2 thoughts on “Credit where credit isn’t due: President Obama

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