April 12, 2024

Obama as Truman



Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Obama as Truman

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – It was seen as a mistake by the political pros when President Obama told a friendly audience in his home state of Illinois that while he is not on the ballot this November, his policies are. With an approval rating of 41 percent, Obama isn’t welcome on the campaign trail. The last thing most Democrats want to hear is that they’ve got to defend his policies when all they’re interested in doing is spending the considerable money he’s been raising.

It must be frustrating for Obama to have his policies seen as a drag on the economy when he can point to a series of statistics that demonstrate the country is better off than it was six years ago. Unemployment is down to 5.9 percent and the stock market is roaring. Interest rates are lower than ever and gas prices at the pump are coming down, which makes consumers happy.

These are numbers that should buoy the president’s party as Democrats head into the midterm elections. Instead, Democrats are running with the wind in their face. Trying to figure out why that is so, and why Obama is having such trouble taking credit for overseeing the country’s climb out of the Great Recession, requires an understanding of psychology in addition to politics and the economy.

Obama took office in January 2009 in the midst of the greatest downturn in the U.S. economy since the Great Depression, and with the highest expectations for his performance since John F. Kennedy swept into Washington with the Best and the Brightest. It didn’t help that Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., preempted any Obama honeymoon with his assertion that defeating Obama was his number one priority.

The Republicans didn’t succeed in denying Obama a second term, but they have thwarted much of his legislative agenda. House Republicans won’t take up any Obama proposals, not even the strongly bipartisan bill on immigration that passed the Senate more than a year ago. Republicans instead feed the echo chamber that is Washington and the cable news networks about how Obama can’t get anything done, that he can’t get along with Congress, and how he’s inviting a constitutional crisis by resorting to executive orders.

There are real problems with the economy, most notably the unequal income distribution with the top 20 percent doing extremely well, while the rest of the country, a staggering 80 percent, makes do with stagnating wages, lost home values, and spiraling college costs. Still, you’d think Obama shouldn’t have to shrink from the stage when second quarter GDP growth came in at 4.6 percent. These numbers don’t lie; almost everyone is measurably better than they were six years ago, or even two years ago.

But elections don’t follow graphs and flow charts or the first President Bush would have been reelected in 1992. He had won a war, and the country was coming out of a mild recession when Bill Clinton challenged conventional wisdom to run against a president whom most saw as unbeatable. People vote with their emotions as much as or more than they do on issues.

If people voted strictly on their pocketbooks, those policies Obama cited in his speech should carry Democrats over the finish line. But the threat from ISIS and from Ebola is in the headlines, and 70 percent of Americans according to polls say the country is on the wrong track. Obama’s final two years may well come to resemble those of Harry Truman, when fears of a “Red Scare” gripped the nation, the Korean War sapped morale, and it wasn’t until years after he left office that his presidency underwent a resurgence.

It would be better if Obama could get a fairer evaluation before he leaves office. For better or worse, his policies are on the ballot.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.




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