Tuesday, February 10, 2009


What's left for Obama? He butchered the stimulus; that was his Depression, his WWII, his Civil War. He might (I think the odds are against it, but it could happen) end up coming out of it OK, but I don't see anyone looking back and writing that he handled it brilliantly or anything. Economic forecasting is little removed from fortune telling, but the size and composition of the stimulus package, compared to the size of the output gap, suggests we are going to be mired in slow or no growth for years. What else? Maybe some kind of breakthrough in the Middle East, maybe changing the course of US - Israel relations -- but such a move would require big balls, and Obama doesn't have them. He's already turned his back on civil liberties, while his healthcare plan isn't anything exciting, and the Republicans are going to kill it, anyway. After a few short weeks, he's Bill Clinton in 1994, a defensive, tactically-minded president. But Clinton at least went down after getting a good hack in at universal healthcare, whereas Obama, starting from a commanding position, has gone down after trying to do ... not much of anything at all. Anybody could have gotten the stimulus package Obama did through Congress; I suspect most people would have gotten a lot more through. I just don't see the value Obama's election has added to progressive aims -- he's done moderately worse, I think, than a generic Dem would have in his position.

I'm very aware that he's only been in office for a few weeks, but they weren't ordinary weeks. The challenges Obama faced are the sorts of things that ordinary presidencies might run across in a few years: it's as if we have seen several years of the man compressed into a short time period. I can't say I'm impressed, and I don't see how any dispassionate observer could be impressed, while the odds of some new event coming along to give him another opportunity to excel aren't very good.

The one caveat to all this is if the Dems pick up more Senate seats in 2010, and are then able to jam through a good healthcare bill. That would be a big win -- but Obama needs those extra Senators to achieve it, which is rather the point. If he was the man he had been billed as during the election, 58 Senators and his own brilliance would have been enough. Again, judging him against a hypothetical generic control, there's just nothing special there.