Barack Obama: A Mediocre President

In 2008, I believed all year long that Barack Obama would win the presidency. Even when Hillary Clinton was still the favorite to win the nomination, I thought Obama’s charisma would ultimately win him the Democratic nomination, and then the presidency. The night before the election I wrote that I thought he would capture more than 300 electoral votes (he got 356) and would beat McCain by more than 100 electoral vote (the margin of victory was 192 electoral votes). On the night of the election, I wrote a post congratulating him. I was happy to see him elected. But in the same post I also predicted that he would disappoint many.

There is no question that Obama inherited a mess of an economy from the previous administration. And if McCain had been elected, I would probably be writing the same story about him. I think that 100 years from now, history will look back on Obama as having broken important racial barriers. His election inspired hope around the world. But it seems that the ability to give a charismatic speech does not necessarily translate into being a good president. I believe history will judge Barack Obama as a mediocre president.

Naturally Republicans are going to view Obama negatively, but he has come under harsh criticism within his own party. Jon Stewart summed it up like this:

(CNN) – Count Jon Stewart among the legion of frustrated supporters of President Obama.

Appearing on Fox News’ The Bill O’Reilly show Wednesday, the liberal comedian said he thought Obama would do a better job when he voted for him in the 2008 presidential election.

“I think people feel a disappointment in that there was a sense that Jesus will walk on water and now you are looking at it like, ‘Oh look at that, he’s just treading water’ … I thought he’d do a better job,” said Stewart.

Stewart, who maintains he ultimately does not regret his vote for Obama, said he is “saddened” the president hasn’t done more to change the structure of Washington.

“I thought we were in such a place [in 2008], much like the Tea Party feels now, that the country … needed a more drastic reconstruction – I have been saddened to see that someone who ran on the idea that you can’t expect to get different results with the same people and the same system has kept in place so much of the same system and same people,” he said.

Stewart has elaborated that one of his biggest disappointments is that many people who were responsible for getting the country into our current financial state have been left in place to fix the problems they created: “I thought he understood the corrosiveness of the system that existed, and I thought he was going to do more to blow the system up.” New York Magazine just published a sharp critique of Obama’s policies on this very topic, namely that his “failure to demand a reckoning from the moneyed interests who brought the economy down has cursed his first term, and could prevent a second.” The article noted:

“What haunts the Obama administration is what still haunts the country: the stunning lack of accountability for the greed and misdeeds that brought America to its gravest financial crisis since the Great Depression. There has been no legal, moral, or financial reckoning for the most powerful wrongdoers. Nor have there been meaningful reforms that might prevent a repeat catastrophe.”

But while Obama has given the financial system a free pass for losing huge sums of money and requiring large taxpayer-funded bailouts, there is one system that Obama has tried to blow up. He has essentially declared war on our domestic oil companies since taking office. This is not surprising; he had campaigned on this theme as well. That was the largest beef that I had with then candidate Obama; that he was so willing to marginalize and demonize the companies that provide over 90% of the nation’s transportation fuel. It is hugely ironic that the billions in taxes paid by the oil companies helped make some of these bailouts possible (as I noted in this story) — yet the oil companies are the ones Obama has chosen to attack.

I expressed concern throughout the presidential campaign over Obama’s energy policy proposals. I felt that he was exceedingly naive, and that campaign naivety has shown up in his energy policies as president. Policies — such as his recent decision to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) — run counter to many of his other positions (e.g., reducing dependence on oil, promoting renewable energy), and increase the risk of future supply shocks. Many observers have already pointed out that oil prices are now higher than they were prior to the SPR release. As this article succinctly put it (subscription required), during a financial crisis you can print more money, but “you cannot print oil.”

As a former Democratic state representative recently said to me “I think Obama’s problem is that he is largely uninformed about energy.” It would be nice, though, if he took some time to inform himself. We know that he has an affinity for visiting renewable energy companies. I wonder if he has ever thought about visiting an oil refinery? He might learn that they make his trips on Air Force One possible.

I think the result of being uninformed is that Obama believes that if he marginalizes our domestic oil companies, that this will lift the fortunes for renewable energy. In fact, far more likely is that as our domestic oil companies are placed at a competitive disadvantage to their foreign competitors, they will curtail production and shelve marginal projects, and we will look to oil imports to fill the gap. That is why I am against policies that I believe will place our domestic oil companies at a disadvantage; this will ultimately weaken the U.S. (I am not, however, against policies that raise the price of oil across the board; those are the kinds of policies that I believe will truly incentivize renewable energy).

But as I scan the Republican field, I don’t see anyone who can beat Obama in the 2012 elections. Palin? Bachmann? No way. (I made my feelings about Palin clear here, and I thought it was a huge mistake for McCain to put her on the ticket. Blame him for unleashing her on the public). Romney? Too liberal for even large segments of his own party, particularly the far right. The Tea Party faction will support Palin or Bachmann, but some of the more moderate Republicans would likely abstain before voting for them.

So what does this all mean? I think Obama gets reelected in 2012, and we must endure mediocrity until at least the end of 2016. I am a firm believer that past performance is a good indicator of future performance, and thus we are unlikely to see any dramatic changes in his policies. Further, unlike his first two years when he had a Democratic majority, he now has to work with a Republican majority who will oppose him at every turn.

That also means 5 more years of naive and counterproductive energy policies. We will probably be treated to more futile releases from the SPR (I wonder when he plans on refilling it?), and a country that is weaker and more dependent on foreign oil at the end of his term.

But Osama bin Laden was eliminated on Obama’s watch. At least that’s something.