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Obama is a Bad President: An Answer to Jonathan Alter

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Progressive Jonathan Alter is outraged that everyone is ready to “fire” Obama.

“I want to know,” wrote a snippy Alter on Bloomberg.com, “on a substantive basis, why you think he deserves to be in a dead heat with Mitt Romney and Rick Perry and only a few points ahead of Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann in a new Gallup Poll. Is it just that any president -- regardless of circumstances and party -- who presides over 9 percent unemployment deserves to lose?”

I was tempted to treat Alter with the “What? You got to be kidding,” routine. Any Republican should be way ahead of the president. But Alter seems to be one of the few still genuinely shocked that Obama has lost support from all segments of the American public who consider hugging the president to be inappropriate.   

So, since Alter asked sincerely, I will answer with five reasons based on substance, although I could probably come up with twenty reasons easily.

But for now, five will do.  

Each reason will come in two parts. The first part will be substantive arguments as to why Obama is a bad president because of a failed or flawed policy. The second part will put that argument into context with a campaign promise.

Reason Number One: Obamacare

Part One:

Obamcare legislation is flawed. Badly flawed. It doesn’t address the real need to bring down costs in the healthcare.

There were two reasons to reform healthcare in this country. The first purpose was to bring down runaway costs; the second was to expand coverage. At this point, it’s fair to say that even if fully implemented, no one knows what the exact outcome of Obamacare will be as to costs, although it’s safe to say coverage will expand.

Then-House Speaker Pelosi was right when she said that no one would really know what was in Obamacare until it was enacted. If that’s not an indictment of the legislation crafted by the president, I don’t know what is. I think at a minimum legislation ought to have known outcome, especially something as ambitious as Obamacare.

Instead of the “less than trillion dollars” figure that was trumpeted when Obamacare finally passed, the CBO says that the figure for the first ten years will come in north of $2 trillion. The increase will have to come from tax increases and benefit cuts.  

This isn’t a “narrative” or message problem. This is continued unease by the American public that was relatively happy with their healthcare choices and costs. And they were forced to take a replacement that isn’t going to work.         

And more and more evidence is cropping up that suggests that Americans’ fears that they would not be able to keep their current insurance under Obamcare was a legitimate concern. Because of the mandate provision, businesses are starting to make the simple decision to get rid of coverage, which is what critics said would happen.  

Poll after poll shows that 70 percent or more of Americans were already happy with their health coverage. And candidate Obama promised to make sure that Americans could keep their insurance if they were happy with it.

It was a key difference between the candidates Obama and Clinton during the primary.

“But the big difference is mandates,” wrote Paul Krugman in the NYTimes in February 2008, “the Clinton plan requires that everyone have insurance; the Obama plan doesn’t.”

“If Mr. Obama gets to the White House,” continued Krugman, “and tries to achieve universal coverage, he’ll find that it can’t be done without mandates — but if he tries to institute mandates, the enemies of reform will use his own words against him.”     

Because of the mandates that candidate Obama said he didn’t favor- and that is the key provision of Obamacare- the legislation is the largest expansion of federal government power since the Great Society, maybe ever. It imposes draconian measures on people who refuse to buy something from the federal government.

This is something that candidate Obama said he wouldn’t do.  

Bad president, bad, bad president.

Part Two:

“Under my plan to reform healthcare,” says candidate Obama under this hypothetical, “we’ll imprison anyone who doesn’t buy health insurance. And to enforce the requirement we will put 16,500 more IRS agents on the street.”

Reason Number Two: Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq

Part One:

Say what you like about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Bush did secure Congressional approval for the military actions there. Obama didn’t even bother to consult Congress before fighting a de facto war in Libya.

You can try sophistry to argue why Obama took the measures he did, but it’s only that, sophistry. Any other president would come under the same scrutiny, especially when they argued previously that to fight a war without Congressional approval would be unconstitutional.

Bad president, bad, bad president.

Part Two:

“As president of the United States,” says candidate Obama in the hypothetical, “I will deploy our forces in and around Libya. I will authorize the use of force in Libya for a period not less than six months without first- or ever- securing the approval of Congress because you can’t make me.”

Reason Number Three: If You Can’t Budget You Can’t Govern

Part One:  

Despite having big majorities for the first two years of his presidency, Obama has failed to get any budget passed. Ever. His last budget didn’t even get one vote in the Senate. Not one.

Obama’s Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt said in 2006 “If you can’t budget, you can’t govern.”

That might be the reason why we have historic budget deficits without much to show for it. The reason why the public got so involved in the debt ceiling debate is directly tied to the indiscipline shown by the White House when it comes to budgets. 

There is give and take in any budget process that’s key to building support in any organization. Too often it’s Obama’s way or the highway. And the country ends up drifting.    

John Spratt was defeated for reelection in 2010 after first being elected to Congress in 1983. That was Obama’s bad.

Bad president, bad, bad president.

Part Two:

Under my plan for economic growth and recovery,” says our hypothetical candidate Obama, “we won’t even pass budgets. We’ll run up historic deficits and raise the debt ceiling, something that I condemned my opponents for. But we’ll do it without any systematic support or budget process.”

Reason Number Four: Regulatory Overhang

Part One:

We’ll leave aside the great uncertainty that Obamacare is creating amongst businesses and concentrate on two other industries that are vital to economic recovery: Banks and Energy.

Like it or not, banks and energy are vital parts of the economy. If you want to understand why the economy is struggling to create jobs, you only have to look at what’s happening in those sectors to get why Obama’s policies have failed.

Banking: The president has used the full faith and credit of the United States to essentially guarantee the banking industry and below that real estate, which is the cornerstone of banking. Despite the guarantee and despite huge amounts of cash, banks aren’t loaning money. Part of that is demand driven, but part of it is the uncertainty surrounding Dodd-Frank banking reform.

It was clear from the mortgage crisis that banking needs better regulation. But it was also clear that part of the problem in banking was that the federal government became a partner in crime, so to speak, along with taxpayers and home buyers. Everyone was happy that the price of homes and real estate was going up. And the government created the framework for that to happen by originating about half the mortgages in the country.

The sub prime mortgage market that was created was inconceivable without the government providing the inflationary oomph that only government liquidity can really stoke.

Dodd-Frank was supposed to fix that. But it hasn’t tried to address the systemic problems of too-big-to-fail in any real way.  In fact, the administration has pandered to public outrage by demonizing bankers while keeping the banking system intact, warts and all.

We now have fewer banks in fact with larger pools of concentrated assets.

What could Obama do differently? He could break up the banks. He could bring back Glass-Steagall. Glass-Steagall was specifically designed to prevent the too-big-to-fail scenario by allowing banks to operate only in contiguous states and by forcing them out of the investment business. And it worked, until European mega-banks, not encumbered by Glass-Steagall, forced US banks to lobby for repeal saying this time things were different.

The way to address too-big-to-fail is not through Dodd-Frank, which doesn’t really touch the subject, but to make sure any one bank isn’t so big to force the rest of the system to fail. Dodd-Frank regulates every part of the banking business except for the part that keeps it from failing.  

Included in that reform should be the break up and private sale of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The government should be out of the mortgage business entirely with the exception of VA loans.

You can only get rid of too-big-to-fail by addressing the too-big part first.

Bad president, bad, bad president.

Energy: The president- and the left- has a huge ideological blind-spot when it comes to energy. The result of his policies in energy have been to make energy more expensive, to kill jobs in the US in energy and subsidiary industries at a time the country can’t afford it.

But really, there is no time the country can afford the rainbows and unicorns plan the left is following. Despite decades of research and promise, the magic bullet of renewable, plentiful, without-cost energy isn’t attainable. Ever.

After a much ballyhooed speech on energy policy that was supposed to lay out a new vision for energy in America, the New York Times was forced to issue the following correction:

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 30, 2011

A previous version of this article misstated how many of the president's proposals to reduce the country's reliance on imported oil were new in his speech on Wednesday. None of them were, not one of them.

The president can’t have it both ways.

He can’t claim that his sole focus is on jobs while he’s shuttering the power plants and oil rigs, sources that account for most of the energy we produce while he has no viable alternative of his own. America has the resources to be importing less foreign energy while creating real jobs.  

The president should stop getting in the way of developing those resources.    

Bad president, bad, bad president.

Part Two:  

"We won’t pursue natural gas, oil, coal or any other fossil fuel development under my administration. Instead we’ll focus solely on developing ‘alternative’ energies like solar and wind power by giving select companies loans, grants and cash subsidies. It hasn’t worked before but this time is different. We’ll make the alternative energy business so big that it will be too big to fail.”

Reason Number Five: The Selective Presidency

Obama is president when he wants to be, and AWOL when things are hard.

Here’s an example.

On the debt debate he was unengaged until the last minute. Then he compounded his error by scolding members of Congress like they were lazy- all while he planned vacations.

I don’t begrudge a guy a vacation, but to pretend that when Congress goes into recess they are slacking off is playing politics with it. The president doesn’t come across as the offended innocent then when he packs off to Martha’s Vineyard as the stock market tanks because of dissatisfaction with the cuts in the debt deal.

Where was Obama on the debt deal in February when he was presenting a budget that called for much bigger deficit spending?

Again: Obama wants it both ways. He wants to call for more spending in February, but in July he’s a deficit fighter. Which is it? People expect the president to have some core principles that he sticks to, that they can rely on. If he truly thinks that another $2 trillion in spending can get us out of the hole on unemployment, then he should argue for it.

Part Two:

“If I don't have this done in three years, then there's going to be a one-term proposition.”- actual statement of Obama from an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer on Feb. 1, 2009.

Make a case for it, be presidential.     

Instead, Obama lectures and preens and blames everyone else. It’s S&P’s fault, or Congress’, or George Bush’s, or the rich’s, or it’s the greedy bankers, or oil companies, or insurance companies.

He’s one of the most eloquent presidents that we’ve had during an age when eloquence can reach everywhere. Yet few people now believe anything he says.

What does that say?

Bad, bad president.

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