In many sports, players are advised always to “keep your eye on the ball.” In 2008, we took our eye off the ball; as a result, we chose a president, and an administration, that did the same.
In the 2008 election cycle, voters were fed up with George W. Bush – and certainly not without some justification. They were ready to vote “not Bush” and “not Republican.” However, in a time fraught with enormous economic difficulty and peril, we elected a president whose background showed no particular familiarity with or interest in economics, and whose record revealed that he was likely to pursue, and to prioritize, the very sorts of policies he has in fact pursued.
For a man who has been president of the United States for nearly a full term, there is much that is not known about Barack Obama. What we do know, however, and can say with some certainty, is that Obama sees himself as a transformative figure in American history. His deepest and most abiding
concerns are with his perception that the economic system is unfair and demands reform, particularly in the form of more social benefits to those he sees as in some way underprivileged, a larger government role in the regulation of business, and higher tax rates for high earners.
Viewed from this perspective, it is easy to see how Obama and his administration lost their way. At a time when the American economy cried out for attention and a skilled hand on the rudder, Obama’s focus was always elsewhere and his best skills lay in other areas. During his first term, with nearly veto-proof majorities in both houses of Congress, Obama concentrated on passing a health care reform act that was never widely popular, expending enormous political capital to pass it.
Moreover, the economic efforts he has made were often ideologically driven: enormous sums were invested in “green” energy goondoggles, for example. Likewise, the GM and Chrysler bailouts were shaped by the administration’s desire to please the UAW – at the expense of bondholders.1 A scintilla of business experience would have suggested that inducing unpredictable risk into the bond market during a recession was not a policy designed to encourage investment; but despite his frequent statements about how important the economy was, Obama’s actions belie his statements.
Read more: The Perils of Inattention