Thursday, June 16, 2011

Barack Hoover Obama?

"Many of the administration's pet stimulus programs have joined Jerry Ford's 'Whip Inflation Now' buttons on the junkpile of history: green jobs, cash for clunkers, debt relief for homeowners, and now, by the President's own admission, 'shovel–ready' infrastructure projects."

Walter Russell Mead
The American Interest

No matter what you think of Barack Obama or the Republicans who are vying to replace him, you should read Walter Russell Mead's piece in The American Interest.

Mead's article caught my attention because, ever since it became apparent in 2008 that, first, Obama would be the Democrats' presidential nominee and, second, he would be elected, there has been no shortage of those who were eager to label him the second coming of another American president — during and after the campaign, he was going to be "another Lincoln" as he tried to heal the nation's racial wounds or "another FDR," as he resolved an economic crisis.

For awhile, it was said that he would be "another JFK," picking up the progressive torch that Kennedy dropped in Dallas in 1963. And, in the aftermath of the setbacks Obama's party suffered in last year's midterms, there have even been comparisons to a Republican icon, Ronald Reagan, who was re–elected in a landslide two years after a midterm drubbing.

Obama continues to inspire comparisons — only those comparisons have turned in a more ominous direction — which brings me back to Mead's article.

Now, The American Interest is a largely nonpartisan publication that focuses on foreign policy issues and international economics — so you might want to keep that in mind whenever you read any opinion pieces that appear on its pages.

But give Mead's message some thought.

Obama, he writes, misinterpreted the results of the 2008 election, and that set in motion a potentially catastrophic series of events for his presidency.

"Midway through 2010, President Obama looked less like Lincoln redux and more like a Clinton manqué," opines Mead. "By the end of that year, the penultimate dissing of the President began; friends and foes began to ask whether President Obama might not be, gasp, the new Jimmy Carter."

(Now, personally, I liked Carter. I thought he was a decent guy, and I thought his policies had the country on sound footing. Like today's Obama defenders, I told people that all Carter's policies needed was time.

(But I was young, and I soon learned that voters have little patience when the economy turns mean.

(And it's a lot meaner now than it ever was under Carter.)

Carter's image has been rehabilitated considerably since he left the White House three decades ago, but he remains a political anathema. The mention of his name conjures up images of failure, of malaise (even though Carter never used that word) — even among those who have always considered themselves his supporters.

That the Obama Administration could end up being remembered by history as an early 21st century version of the Carter presidency is a "best–case scenario" for the Instapundit blog, Mead points out — and, in the minds of most Americans who remember Carter and the beating he took from Reagan when he sought re–election, that can be damning enough.

But Mead worries that a more dire specter hovers over the president and it ought to send a chill down the spine of every Democrat — "the ghost of Herbert Hoover."

If there is a name that is linked in American history with economic disaster, it is the name of Herbert Hoover.

No president wants to be remembered as his generation's Herbert Hoover.

Mead starts by pointing out all the surface similarities — and there are plenty of those — between two men who were elected 80 years apart.
  • Both Hoover and Obama were products of broken homes;

  • both were widely traveled;

  • both had wives who were "unusually well educated and assertive;"

  • both were "unconventional candidate[s] who came into office on a tidal wave of support;"

  • both had modest political resumes and "went deep into enemy territory" for support when they were elected, winning states that hadn't voted for their parties in many years;

  • Hoover was seen as the "great progressive of his day," Mead writes;

  • and Hoover's ticket — with a Native American running mate — was the "most diverse" in the nation's history until 2008.

  • In fact, no matter how he may be perceived today, Hoover came to the presidency with a sense of idealism that would rival Obama's.

    Hoover "was a strong supporter of disarmament ... began the withdrawal of U.S. forces his predecessors had committed ... sought to avoid confrontational U.S. statements and to downplay possible grounds for conflict" and his "strong humanitarian instincts ... made him reluctant to use force but also left him concerned about the well being of people in other countries."
Well, that mostly addresses foreign policy. How about economics? That, writes Mead, is what "should worry" the White House and its supporters.

"[D]espite his long record of progressive politics, his personal appeal and his sympathy for the downtrodden," writes Mead, "President Hoover is best remembered for failing to master the Great Depression."

It isn't hopeless for Obama, Mead says. "The Great Recession is not as crushing as the Great Depression," he writes, "but President Obama's problems in the face of economic turmoil are beginning to look Hooveresque."

However ...

"Like Hoover, President Obama faces the possibility of a devastating second downturn due to economic problems in Europe — and like President Hoover, President Obama can't do much to prevent it. Like Hoover, President Obama is harried by a domestic populist revolt against his leadership and the policies he supports and like Hoover, President Obama's once unassailable popularity is being slowly ground down by economic bad news."

But time is getting short for Obama.

"Lincoln, Clinton, Carter, Hoover: that is a trajectory no President should want," Mead writes, "nor will the country benefit from 18 more months of Presidential subsidence."

No comments: