In less than three years since he left office political scientists now rank Barack Obama’s performance anywhere from eighth to twelfth of forty-five American presidents. This is amazing considering the short time since he left office.
Soon after taking office in 2009 the new president was told by his advisors that his legacy would depend on his preventing the second Great Depression. No president had faced such challenges since Franklin Roosevelt tackled the Great Depression in 1933.
As a result of George W. Bush’s permissive eight years, the nation’s mortgage lending establishment was in a state of economic free-fall and the automotive industry was facing wholesale bankruptcy. From a combination of bad executive and technological decisions, two of the nation’s three major automakers, GM and Chrysler, were in deep trouble. There was little time to debate and consider alternatives. The situation called for immediate, decisive action. But while failure could prove disastrous, the prevention of an economic meltdown might produce few political rewards and might even go unnoticed. What a dilemma for an incoming president!
Obama’s advisors generally agreed that his first move should be to launch an aggressive economic stimulus package to stop the bleeding and get the economy moving again. In uncertain economic times people tend to hoard their money, thereby reinforcing the economic slowdown.
By appealing to the better natures of GOP moderates, Obama was able to push his stimulus package through Congress on Feb. 17, 2009, only four weeks after he took office. But still unaddressed was the other cause of the crisis: a banking and investment sector rife with ill-considered risk, wild speculation and outright dishonesty. With investment schemes so complex that even other investors couldn’t understand them, certain Wall Street firms had marketed extremely risky investments as though they were completely safe. A Bush bank bailout enacted one month before the 2008 election had prevented a total meltdown, but the basic problem remained unaddressed.
At least as threatening as the financial crisis, General Motors, the nation’s largest automaker, and Chrysler were facing immanent bankruptcies that would spill over into failures of suppliers and massive layoffs throughout the country. Obama tendered help, but only if the automakers committed to radical, sweeping changes. These included the sale of Chrysler to Fiat, a new CEO at General Motors and bringing GM’s overgenerous employee compensation package more in line with industry averages. This accomplished, the auto industry’s health was restored by the second quarter of 2012 and the bailout loans were soon largely repaid. Thus, a new era of American industrial and commercial growth began. Decreasing unemployment and growing private-sector job creation began in 2012 and have continued uninterrupted through the present time. This new prosperity, of course, also created a phenomenal stock market boom.
The complete story here that Republicans adroitly repress is that Bill Clinton left George W. Bush with four consecutive balanced budgets and a healthy 2001 budget surplus. But Bush promptly squandered this windfall on his lopsided tax cuts for the wealthiest and his mindless, foolish Iraq War. Bush was our only president ever to declare war and cut taxes in the same year. But, equally outrageous, Donald Trump now takes full credit for the present economic prosperity and continued shrinking unemployment, all created entirely by Barack Obama. Trump created nothing; he simply inherited an Obama miracle.