Calvin Freiburger

The Obama Presidency in Review, and a Sneak Preview of Hope and Change 2012

Posted on April 4 2011 6:00 pm
Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College. He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.
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To nobody’s surprise, President Barack Obama has formally announced that he will seek reelection with a video that’s clearly geared toward motivating fans rather than attracting newcomers, as it’s decidedly light on reasons why the incumbent Democrat should be given four more years in the White House.

Fortunately, Newsweek White House correspondent Daniel Stone gets a bit more specific on the Daily Beast, laying out the case he expects Team Obama to make. Let’s take a look at his points, as well as the flip side.

Last week’s economic report showed an unemployment rate continuing to fall—incredibly slowly. It’s not good enough, but it still is progress, Obama will say. Defending the actions the administration took—especially the $987 billion Recovery Act—will fall to Joe “the stimulus sheriff” Biden, who will be fortified by a team of crack researchers preparing colorful graphs showing lines with positive slopes. Obama the president had trouble arguing the hypothetical that “we’d be worse off if I did nothing,” but Obama the candidate might have better luck. Any Republican will publicly doubt him, but would only be able to offer the same hypothetical that he or she would have done any better.

On the other hand, Obama’s going to have to explain the fact that he explicitly claimed his stimulus plan was needed because it would prevent unemployment rising to 8%, we passed it…and unemployment rose past 8% anyway. He’ll have to answer for record job losses. And while the latest economic news is encouraging, it’s tentative—labor force participation is still low, and Obama is unlikely to support one policy that could accelerate recovery further still:

The United States has stood alone while the rest of the developed world has moved forward with a pro-growth strategy of slashing corporate tax rates. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports that its 30-nation membership cut corporate tax rates an average of 7.1 percentage points in the past decade, and the United States will have a federal corporate tax rate one-third higher than the OECD average of 25.7 percent.[2] When Japan’s corporate tax rate is lowered, the United States is one of three nations that will not have reduced the rate.

Corporate taxes are considered the most inefficient of all tax systems. They increase the cost of capital and slow economic growth. Nearly every economist believes that that tax burden falls on individuals, namely the workers and shareholders of the company. A more efficient corporate tax system would increase economic growth and boost the labor market.[3]

Stone continues:

Most partisans either love or hate Obama’s controversial policies. But some of the independents who occupy the valuable middle ground can still be swayed. Don’t know what to think about health care reform? Here, look at this video about a family it saved from disaster. Doubt the success of the auto bailout? Read this story about GM bouncing back. From the stimulus to the war in Libya, Obama’s oppo researchers will be armed with reasoned explanations in snazzy multimedia packaging.

I’m sure we’ll see many such prepackaged stories about the miraculous impact of Obama’s policies on the lives of the American people, but whether or not they’re true is another story (anecdotes from socialized medicine proponents have this funny tendency to get debunked), and the president’s challenger will have no shortage of less pleasant consequences of ObamaCare to reply with. (There’s also the little detail that ObamaCare’s biggest, most disastrous provisions don’t take effect until after the election…) The president’s foray into the car industry will be similarly challenged. And while the polls on Libya are too mixed to make firm guesses about the political ramifications, Obama’s conduct thus far in the conflict is ripe with pitfalls, from his inability lay out a clear national interest or concrete objectives to confusion over who exactly we’re supporting among the rebels and concerns over how much we’re serving the United Nations rather than the United States.

Obama is likely to embrace the problems posed by the annual deficit and long-term debt, laboring to show that he’s more concerned about America’s fiscal issues than his GOP challenger. But the difference between them, Obama’s team will say, is his level-headed approach to solving them. Where someone like Paul Ryan wants to cut $4 trillion dollars over the next decade by taking a knife to Medicare and Medicaid, Obama may head toward the more populist ground that we can’t turn our backs on our seniors—and will hope to pick up their votes.

In other words, Obama’s going to appeal to emotion as a way to avoid making tough choices. We’ve been over ad nauseum the trillions in new spending Obama keeps calling for (speaking of which, did you hear we have to double federal conservation spending?), so it’s hard to imagine many people other than left-wing ideologues taking a good look at Obama’s credibility on the issue without laughing.

George W. Bush staked his reelection on the rationale that “you don’t change horses midstream.” Obama’s will be something akin to “so much more to get done.” A second term gives the president significant leeway to move beyond fear of re-election, and Obama’s team will woo the party base and valuable donors with a new list of wants: Immigration reform that is fair and works. Energy and climate policies that actually have teeth. Gun control that makes sense and solves perennial problems.

That’s a good message for motivating diehard leftists who’ve thus far been underwhelmed by Hope ‘n Change, but as a general election message, promising a hard leftward shift is riskier. Have they forgotten 2010, the healthcare town halls, and the rise of the Tea Party movement already?

When Republicans hammer Obama by pointing out that Washington is more dysfunctional than ever, the president’s team will hit back with a simple message: patience. Campaign volunteers will be given a list of ways Obama has made Washington more open and transparent, like posting White House visitor logs online, speedier responses to Freedom of Information Act requests, and the administration’s Open Government Directive. But the big change doesn’t happen in two years. In fact, they’ll say, it takes more than four.

I’d love to see Obama run on transparency, given that it’s one of many, many campaign promises he’s broken since taking office. As for the “give me time” argument, there’s some truth to it, but in order to make it stick, you need to have something to show for your efforts, something that suggests things have at least been headed in the right direction. And on that score, Obama comes up short.

Most of Stone’s analysis alludes to the perennial question, “are you better off now than you were four years ago?” And while that’s valid and important, I’d like to suggest that there’s another question, related yet distinct, that none of these points speak to, but Americans should ask themselves just as seriously: are you freer than you were four years ago?

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