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Obama, Mr. Conservative by Default

Obama, Mr. Conservative by Default

Former President Barack Obama (AP Photo)

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Monday, 23 January 2017 09:13 AM Current | Bio | Archive

History has a funny way of judging our presidents, and Barack Obama's presidency will give rise to its own revisionism, including one view the former president's economic record was "conservative."

As he departed the great stage, his Republican critics still derided him, some calling him socialist — or even "the Antichrist," as Obama recently put it.

I believe Obama's heart and soul are liberal to the core. If he had his way, he would have changed America leftward. But he didn't.

While some of his Democratic supporters see him as a true progressive, many on the left view him as an establishment president who, at best, thwarted the Tea Party insurgency.

For sure, Obama probably wishes to be remembered as an iconic liberal president like FDR. He could cite a litany of achievements to prove it.

Obama pushed through universal healthcare, spent over $800 billion in his stimulus program, raised taxes, saved the auto industry with a massive federal intervention, regulated Wall Street, granted de facto amnesty to more than 10 million undocumented workers, and pushed a liberal social agenda that expanded civil rights, including an executive order on transgender bathrooms.

But we cannot ignore the fact many of Obama's most celebrated achievements came with Republican DNA.

George W. Bush first responded to the 2008 fiscal crisis with a $152 billion stimulus. Obamacare was modeled on a 1989 conservative Heritage Foundation plan, one later implemented by Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (Romneycare, like Obamacare, was backed by the big insurance companies because the laws required mandatory private insurance for all adults while putting no caps on premium increases.) It was Bush who first deployed $17.4 billion in TARP funds to bail out GM and Chrysler. And Reagan's 1986 Immigration Control and Reform Act gave 3 million aliens amnesty.

During his recent farewell address, Obama referenced his signature Affordable Care Act, 2009 Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and Dodd-Frank. But he offered no other major legislative achievements. This is because there were none.

Obama and his allies have blamed House Republicans and the Tea Party for the political gridlock. But the truth is Obama's early decision to cut out Republicans from writing the Obamacare and stimulus bills first collapsed the idea of bipartisan dealmaking.

Like previous presidents, Obama didn't work Congress. Behind the scenes, both Democrat and Republican Congressmen have talked of how little interaction Obama had with them. No surprise, as his presidency grinded on, he found little support on the Hill.

Obama's inability to compromise gave Republicans a surprising gift. No major legislation has meant no new programs, no new entitlements, and no social engineering.

Conservatives won with a standstill president!

Obama was also a boon to Wall Street, ending his presidency with the Dow near record highs. How could this be?

Early on, Obama decided to continue the Bush administration economic policies by giving the Federal Reserve a free hand.

Key was Obama's 2009 re-appointment of Ben Bernanke, President George W. Bush's Federal Reserve chairman. Bernanke, upon his appointment by Bush, made clear his priority "to maintain continuity with the policies and policy strategies during the Greenspan years."

Alan Greenspan, the Reagan-appointed Federal Reserve chairman, has described himself as a "small government, free-market economist." He has cast shadow over the U.S. economy for the past three decades.

Facing a possible depression in 2009, Obama embraced Greenspan's antidote of low interest rates. Greenspan had dispensed a version of this formula in the wake of the dot-com crash and 9/11.

Greenspan's monetary policy starved bond holders with low yields, forcing investors to seek greater returns in stocks, real estate, and other assets. As asset values grew, it created a "wealth effect" — people felt wealthier, spending and investing more, driving economic activity.

Greenspan argued its validity in 2010, saying, "If [the stock market] continues higher, this will do more to stimulate the economy than anything we've been talking about today or anything anybody else was talking about."

Indeed, the Fed's zero-interest-rate policies have been the sine qua non of Obama's economic playbook. Such policies staved off, or delayed, a major depression and fueled a wobbly recovery.

But these same zero-interest-rate policies also helped create the very income disparities Obama has railed against. They have failed to weed out debt excesses or stimulate real wage growth. And low rates have created new asset bubbles primed for popping once again.

Obama also subscribed to Greenspan's view that deficits are dangerous. Obama embraced Republican fiscal constraints and became something of a deficit hawk. During his presidency, his 2010 deficit of $1.6 trillion had fallen to $438 billion by 2015.

While Obama would not fall into the Kemp-Laffer-Kudlow school of supply-side economics to which I subscribe, his economic policies have been well within the traditional GOP orbit.

While in office, we often put our presidents into an ideological box. Later, historians often take a more balanced and factual view.

Truman was despised, but today is considered a titan. Liberals have become more amenable to Ronald Reagan's presidency, as some conservatives have with Bill Clinton's.

Already, President Trump is fraying the ideological edges by embracing a major infrastructure program, calling for universal healthcare coverage, and even offering a hand of friendship to Putin.

Trump's economic team, led largely by Goldman Sachs executives who backed President Obama in two elections, are just one signal the president will continue the establishment monetary policies of his predecessor.

Framed by a Trump presidency, we will soon look back at the Obama presidency and see it for what it was.

Once talking about his first-term accomplishments, Obama's then Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner reportedly told the president, "Your accomplishment is going to be preventing a second Great Depression."

If that turns out to be true, Obama can thank the Republicans who played a large role in making this outcome.

Christopher Ruddy is CEO of Newsmax Media, Inc., one of the country's leading conservative news outlets. Read more Christopher Ruddy Insider articles — Click Here Now.

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We cannot ignore the fact many of Obama's most celebrated achievements came with Republican DNA.
deficit, legacy, conservative, Republican
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2017-13-23
Monday, 23 January 2017 09:13 AM
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