The President Is No B+. By Karl Rove
In fact, he's got the worst ratings of any president at the end of his first year.
WSJ, Dec 17, 2009
Barack Obama has won a place in history with the worst ratings of any president at the end of his first year: 49% approve and 46% disapprove of his job performance in the latest USA Today/Gallup Poll.
There are many factors that explain it, including weakness abroad, an unprecedented spending binge at home, and making a perfectly awful health-care plan his signature domestic initiative. But something else is happening.
Mr. Obama has not governed as the centrist, deficit-fighting, bipartisan consensus builder he promised to be. And his promise to embody a new kind of politics—free of finger-pointing, pettiness and spin—was a mirage. He has cheapened his office with needless attacks on his predecessor.
Consider Mr. Obama's comment in his interview this past Sunday on CBS's "60 Minutes" that the Bush administration made a mistake in speaking in "a triumphant sense about war."
This was a slap at every president who rallied the nation in dark moments, including Franklin D. Roosevelt ("With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph"); Woodrow Wilson ("Right is more precious than peace and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts"); and John F. Kennedy ("Any hostile move anywhere in the world against the safety and freedom of peoples to whom we are committed . . . will be met by whatever action is needed").
This kind of attack gives Mr. Obama's words a slippery quality. For example, he voted for the bank rescue plan in September 2008 and praised it during the campaign. Yet on Dec. 8 at the Brookings Institution, Mr. Obama called it "flawed" and blamed "the last administration" for launching it "hastily."
Really? Bush Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and New York Fed President Timothy Geithner designed it. If it was "flawed," why did Mr. Obama later nominate Mr. Bernanke to a second term as Fed chairman and make Mr. Geithner his Treasury secretary?
Mr. Obama also claimed at Brookings that he prevented "a second Great Depression" by confronting the financial crisis "largely without the help" of Republicans. Yet his own Treasury secretary suggests otherwise. In a Dec. 9 letter, Mr. Geithner admitted that since taking office, the Obama administration had "committed about $7 billion to banks, much of which went to small institutions." That compares to $240 billion the Bush administration lent banks. Does Mr. Obama really believe his additional $7 billion forestalled "the potential collapse of our financial system"?
Mr. Obama continued distorting the record in his "60 Minutes" interview Sunday when he blamed bankers for the financial crisis. They "caused the problem," he insisted before complaining, "I haven't seen a lot of shame on their part" and pledging to put "a regulatory system in place that prevents them from putting us in this kind of pickle again."
But as a freshman senator, Mr. Obama supported a threatened 2005 filibuster of a bill regulating Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He doesn't show "a lot of shame" that he and other Fannie and Freddie defenders blocked "a regulatory system" that might have kept America from getting in such a bad pickle in the first place.
The president's rhetorical tricks don't end there. Mr. Obama also claimed his $787 billion stimulus package "helped us [stem] the panic and get the economy growing again." But 1.5 million more people are unemployed than he said there would be if nothing were done.
And as of yesterday, only $244 billion of the stimulus had been spent. Why was $787 billion needed when less than a third of that figure supposedly got the job done?
Mr. Obama also alleged on "60 Minutes" that health-care reform "will actually bring down the deficit" (which people clearly know it will not). He said his reform reduces "costs and premiums for American families and businesses" (though they will be higher than they would otherwise be). And he claimed 30 million more people will get coverage through "an exchange that allows individuals and small businesses" to purchase insurance (though 15 million of them are covered by being dumped into Medicaid and don't get private insurance).
Mr. Obama may actually believe it when he says, "I think that's a pretty darned good outcome" and congratulates himself that he could succeed where "seven presidents have tried . . . [and] seven presidents have failed."
But voters seem to have a different definition of success. And they are tiring of the president's blame shifting and distortions.
Mr. Obama may believe, as he told Oprah Winfrey in a recent interview, that he deserves a "solid B+" for his first year in office, but the American people beg to differ. A presidency that started with so much promise is receiving unprecedentedly low grades from the country that elected him. He's earned them.
Mr. Rove, the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, is the author of the forthcoming book "Courage and Consequence" (Threshold Editions).