Barack Obama isn’t very popular anymore. Gallup pegged his job approval rating over the weekend at 41 percent, twenty-seven points below his Inauguration Day numbers. It’s not Obama’s approval nadir—he dipped below 40 percent several times last year—but one can’t help but notice the downward trajectory. If Obama were a stock, America would be short selling.
Why doesn’t Obama provoke the thrill up the leg that he once did?
The answer can be found in a new book, Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Be Stopped?, by James Antle. Therein, Antle, a veteran reporter who serves as an editor for the Daily Caller, chronicles the expansion of the federal government during the Obama presidency. “Big government has never looked so invincible,” he contends. But as the summer approaches its end one might revise: big government has rarely looked so vulnerable. At least that’s true for the once-formidable political figure who personifies big government. Obama isn’t popular because his animating philosophy doesn’t work.
The president has grown the state. The economy? Not so much. And as the previous successful Democratic presidential candidate reminded itself, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
On the economy, Obama launched his presidency by signing the largest spending bill in human history into law. The stimulus worked as a sleeping pill.
The president’s health care law, has similarly unleashed unintended consequences. Examples include employers reducing worker hours to avoid paying for their medical coverage and insurance rates that “could double or even triple” for healthy people who buy plans on their own, according to Louise Radnofsky of the Wall Street Journal. The Affordable Care Act makes care less affordable.
The administration’s fetishization of public “investment” in private projects has harmed both sectors. Green jobs have been a boondoggle for crony capitalists, perverting entrepreneurship toward pleasing the bureaucracy instead of the market. To put the federal government’s foray into auto manufacturing in perspective, Antle points out that Ford sold ten times as many Edsals as General Motors has sold of its Volt. For whatever reason, Edsal is a punch line and Volts still roll off assembly lines.
Such failures often prompt Washington to double down when they should fold. “Big government is the only institution that is touted as the solution to its own failures,” Devouring Freedom explains. “If there is a major national security breach because some government agency didn’t do its job, the immediate response is to give the agency more power. It’s as if, at the height of the Enron scandals, people concluded that the problem was that Ken Lay didn’t have enough authority.”
The effects on the economy, health care, and the cars driving on the roads weren’t what the administration hoped for. Neither was the effect on the deficit, which has skyrocketed from under $11 trillion to almost $17 trillion during the Obama presidency.
The president, who brought a wealth of experience in government and the classroom to his office, never worked in private enterprise. Not familiar with what it takes to create a job, Obama unsurprisingly appears obtuse to the concerns of job creators. With unemployment at 8 percent or more for in excess of three years of his presidency, Obama oversaw the longest period of high unemployment since the Great Depression. The gross domestic product expanded at 1.7 percent for the second quarter after growing by an anemic 1.1 percent during the first three months of 2013. Stocks approach record highs. So do the number of young people living at home. If Obama were a Republican, this would be an opposition talking point. He’s a Democrat, so it remains an unspoken irony.
At various times during his tenure, the president has blamed his predecessor, amorphous “headwinds,” the Arab Spring, European instability, the Japanese tsunami, and Republicans in Congress for the stalled economy. The man historian Michael Beschloss labels the “smartest guy ever to become president” surely isn’t the most introspective person to hold the office. Considering whether his policies cause his, and the country’s, problems seems beyond him. The pivot never comes for those stuck in their ways.
That’s why the morass in which Obama finds himself, much like the morass in which many Americans find themselves, may be the new normal—at least until a change of administrations. Surely the president isn’t about to change his mind on the virtues of an activist state. “As government grows beyond its constitutional boundaries,” Antle concludes, “it really does devour freedom.” It eventually devours job approval numbers, too.
Daniel J. Flynn is the author of The War on Football: Saving America’s Game (Regnery, 2013).
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