Before and After Obama: 10 Signs of a Diminished America

TIM SLOAN, Anthony Behar-Pool/Getty Images

The media acted as if Donald Trump’s campaign slogan of “Make America Great Again” was an incomprehensible emotional outburst from people who didn’t realize, or wouldn’t accept, just how great Barack Obama was. President Obama has spent his final months in office giving juvenile speeches full of excuses for why nothing bad since 2009 was his fault, while everything good was his personal handiwork. Why, if you just ignore all the terrorist attacks that happened on American soil over the past eight years, you can believe his carefully-phrased assertion that there haven’t been any terrorist attacks!

In truth, everyone paying attention could see the signs of a diminished America, and they knew exactly what Trump was talking about. A new Gallup poll finds that American believe the country slid backwards in 14 out of 19 policy domains, with the worst deterioration in the national debt, crime, income inequality, and race relations.

The four areas of improvement Gallup found were in the situation for gays and lesbians (Obama’s only truly high mark), energy (which got better despite his policy preferences, thanks to the private sector), climate change (whose partisans scream that it’s getting worse!) and the economy. “Health care” was a complete wash, which is awful, given the amount of money Obama spent on it.

The new administration has its work cut out for it to repair the damage caused by eight years of Obama’s policies in the following ten key areas.

1. Terrorism: Let’s start with terrorism, since Obama has made such a fetish of implying it’s not worse, even though his heavily-lawyered denials merely claim that a highly specific and unusually organized sort of attack hasn’t been taking place. In essence, Obama wants congratulations because the Islamic State hasn’t marched an army across the Rio Grande and sacked San Antonio, or sent a squad of terrorists to take out a shopping mall with signed, dated, notarized orders from Raqqa in their pockets.

Obama’s factoid about zero “foreign-directed terror attacks” is based on the highly contentious notion that soldiers of Allah (even the one who had “Soldier of Allah” printed on his business card, Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hassan) aren’t truly operatives of ISIS or al-Qaeda because they weren’t in constant two-way communication with the terrorist high command. (In Hassan’s case, even that weak excuse falls apart, because he was in touch with jihadi guru Anwar al-Awlaki.)

In truth, the number and frequency of deadly terrorist attacks on U.S. soil grew substantially worse under Obama. The raw number of fatalities under his predecessor, of course, is distorted by the horrific carnage of 9/11.

No one knew what a “lone wolf” terrorist was until Obama came along. The departing President seems to think “lone wolves” are less of a problem than big-ticket, carefully-planned professional atrocities like 9/11… but that’s the exact opposite of what his own intelligence community says. They’re warning that isolated extremists using the Internet to connect with global terrorist ideologies are difficult to spot in advance, and our resources are stretched to the breaking point keeping tabs on them.

The situation worldwide is even worse, with the number of annual terrorist deaths increasing over 400 percent since Obama took office. ISIS happened on Obama’s watch, while al-Qaeda and the Taliban are resurgent. The hellish mess he made of Syria will threaten the security of Western nations for years to come.

2. Cybersecurity: It should be clear by now that information security was, at most, a political annoyance to Barack Obama. His primary concern was controlling the public-relations fallout — keeping cybersecurity disasters off the media radar, because they made his administration look bad. Who can forget how the administration lied about the extent of the Office of Personnel Management data breach, leaving millions of victims vulnerable, while it scrambled to contain the P.R. damage? And remember, the intruders had been creeping around that gigantic, vital government database for a year.

The one-two sucker punch of Obama going nuclear over the menace of Russian hacking and WikiLeaks to delegitimize the 2016 election, and then springing alpha WikiLeaker Chelsea Manning from jail three decades early, should cement his careless and destructive infosec legacy forever — as if supporting his former Secretary of State’s presidential run after she trashed security protocols with reckless abandon wasn’t bad enough.

Obama apologists will say the Internet has become a bigger part of our lives over the past eight years, so it’s natural there would be more information-security controversies.The problem with that excuse is that the big cybersecurity disaster headlines were so often traced directly to administration policies — the OPM hack, the Clinton email scandal, the NSA/Edward Snowden controversy, software vulnerabilities kept secret by the government so it could exploit them, and others. The risky handover of Internet domain control to international control was Obama’s brainstorm.

Not every infosec threat since 2009 is his fault, but the gap between the rhetoric in his speeches and the way he coped with actual cyber disasters is. So is the way online adversaries have been emboldened by his failure to take action against them. We can’t even turn on our smartphones without worrying about Chinese spyware.

“On Obama’s watch, the State Department was hacked, the White House was hacked, the Department of Energy was hacked, and the National Nuclear Security Administration was hacked. A Government Accountability Office report found that cyberattacks against government agencies climbed 35% between 2010 and 2013,” noted Investor’s Business Daily in a November 2016 review of how cybersecurity grew worse under Obama.

IBD went on to quote an Inspector General report that OPM’s cybersecurity situation actually got worse after the attack, in keeping with the Obama tradition of talking big and doing little. His most comprehensive cybersecurity plan was rolled out in April of his last year in office, in an obvious example of passing the buck to his successor.

3. The U.S. Workforce: We’re going to have partisan arguments about job numbers until the end of time (or until robots are doing all the work, whichever comes first), but there’s no denying the U.S. workforce contracted significantly under Obama, and that is not good.

Dips in the headline unemployment rate, while huge numbers of Americans departed the workforce for good and dropped off the government’s reports, were a staple of the Obama era. Most “improvements” in the unemployment rate during his re-election campaign were a result of people giving up on looking for work, which made them invisible to the Bureau of Labor Statistics within a few months.

Even after the job market started looking more-or-less healthy, during the later months of Obama’s second term, enormous numbers of people were still departing the workforce. Analysts scratched their heads in confusion, weakly suggesting that some of them were retirees, surfing the edge of the Baby Boom demographic shift, but no serious observer thinks that explains all of it.

“It’s a combination. There’s no question a lot of them are retirees,” said Peter Broockvar of the Lindsay Group in a note quoted by CNBC, after the November jobs report revealed another 446,000 prospective employees had taken a powder, leaving the number of Americans out of the workforce at an eye-popping 95 million.

However, Broockvar continued: “No one wants to say, ‘I want to get fired and sit on my butt.’ But when people do lose their jobs, they’re not being incentivized enough to go back to work, compared to the benefits they get by not being at work.”

CNBC also quoted Euler Hermes North America chief economist Dan North: “I have a problem with people saying we’re at full employment. We have a record 95 million people sitting on the sidelines. To me, that’s hardly full employment.”

4. Poverty: Poverty unquestionably grew worse under Barack Obama, leaving his apologists to hilariously claim that the poverty rate doesn’t look so bad after you throw in the skyrocketing value of the welfare benefits that grew explosively under his administration.

Note to everyone peddling this talking point: spending more on welfare benefits is a bad thing, especially when those expenses are soaring at the same time Obama partisans claim the economy improved. How can anyone wave off a 10.7 million increase in the number of food stamp recipients, at a cost to taxpayers exceeding $16 billion, at a time when employment was supposedly getting better?

But yes, the poverty rate hit a historic high of 15.1% under Obama, before slipping back a bit, but remaining higher than it was when he took office. The 2010 spike will, of course, be blamed on the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath, but not even Obama dead-enders can use that excuse to explain why the poverty rate has floated at 40-year highs throughout his term of office.

The major reason for the 2008 financial crisis was a madcap effort by politicians to lower the standards for credit, so that more people could buy homes, on the theory that home ownership is an effective antidote to poverty. Well, home ownership rates have been slipping during the latter Obama years, after the expected post-crisis recovery. This lead to the quiet abandonment of the “ownership is good” mantra we heard from Democrats for years, to be replaced with convoluted arguments that fewer home owners is good, because they have more equity in the properties they own. To the extent those arguments are valid, they are an utter repudiation of the reasoning that led Democrats to set the subprime-mortgage time bomb during the Bush years.

5. Race Relations: One of the outgoing President’s most surreal claims is that race relations improved on his watch — perhaps the clearest instance in modern history of a politician saying, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

Looking through a timeline of racial crises across the Obama years, and comparing it to conditions before his arrival, it’s painfully clear that relations have deteriorated significantly.

Polls show most Americans think race relations have gotten worse — in fact, the percentage that finds them poor today is almost equal to the percentage that found them in good shape when Obama took office. Also, public perception that the government makes racial tensions worse (prominently including the police force) has grown more negative.

Some of this is due to factors beyond the President’s control, but every time Obama got involved directly, he had a knack for ratcheting up tensions and resentments. Most trenchantly, Sheriff David Clarke accused him of launching a “war on the police.”

The less incendiary versions of this criticism fault Obama for indulging the grievances of demonstrators and helping to perpetuate divisive mythologies, such as those surrounding Trayvon Martin in Florida and Michael Brown in Missouri. At key moments when Obama could have used his office, and unique influence as the first black President, to reduce tensions and stand up for law and order, he waffled or fell silent.

That’s the opposite of what most Obama voters were expecting. His election was supposed to be an act of redemption. Even his critics thought it was great that black Americans felt excited by his election — it was a genuine bright spot in an otherwise bitter election cycle for Republicans in 2008. The bloom was coming off that rose by the halfway mark of the Obama presidency.

It is, to put it mildly, a staggering disappointment that racial tensions grew worse under the President who was supposed to be a historic healer, and that black Americans seem so widely disappointed with their situation as 2017 dawns. (And that’s not just a matter of opinion — there are hard numbers on black employment, median income, home ownership, and welfare dependency to back up their sense of dismay.)

This critique could be expanded beyond race to encompass social harmony in its entirety. Is there a social issue that is less contentious today than it was in 2008? Is there any sense in which the American people are less divided? Rest assured that if such divisiveness had accumulated under, say, President John McCain or President Mitt Romney, the media would have no trouble blaming the occupant of the Oval Office for it. You would be reading a thousand Hot Takes this week, lamenting the failure of a Republican president to use the “bully pulpit” to “bring us all together.”

6. Government Debt: The national debt was $10.6 trillion when Obama took office, while complaining that George W. Bush’s deficits were not only too high, they were downright unpatriotic.

“The problem is, is that the way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children, driving up our national debt from $5 trillion for the first 42 presidents. Number 43 added $4 trillion by his lonesome, so that we now have over $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back — $30,000 for every man, woman and child. That’s irresponsible. It’s unpatriotic,” Barack Obama declared in 2008.

Obama would go on to add more debt than Bush in just three years of his spendthrift presidency. He leaves office with a national debt of $19.7 trillion, coming just shy of doubling the debt all by himself… and all we got for it was a mediocre economy, dwindling workforce, and sky-high welfare dependency. And the annual deficit started getting worse again in his last year, hitting $587 billion in fiscal year 2016, nuking Obama’s laughable claim to be a deficit-fighter.

7. Education: No one seems to want to talk about this, but the performance of our education system ranged from stalled-out to getting worse throughout Obama’s presidency, even as he enjoyed lavish support from the teachers’ unions. Democrats are raking Donald Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, over the coals in confirmation hearings, when they should be apologizing en masse to the American people for their awful performance on education.

While politicians feud over how much money should be spent and how to measure educational performance, data from the School of Hard Knocks keeps flowing in, and it’s not pretty. We’re constantly told the “skills gap” drives chronic high unemployment, both in general and for specific groups, and better education is the answer. We’re constantly told we must import more skilled, and more determined, workers to do the jobs Americans can’t or won’t do. This is a damning indictment of our education system, which no stack of carefully-worded government reports from the Department of Education can paper over.

Another troubling aspect of our education system ties into the race-relations deficiency mentioned above, and a big story the media didn’t want to report at the end of 2016: the wave of young people rioting at shopping malls, and how it reflects on poor classroom discipline. Again, you don’t need to pore over thousand-page printouts from the bureaucracy to see that education is in deep trouble after eight years of Obama — just look at what’s actually happening out there in the real world.

8. Foreign Relations: Terrorism is worse under Obama because he bungled foreign relations comprehensively, in every corner of the globe, agitating and emboldening sinister forces. He clocked out when ISIS rolled into Iraq, made a bloody disaster of Libya, watched Yemen come apart at the seams, poured American credibility down the rat hole of Syria, let the Taliban come back in Afghanistan, responded with Twitter hashtags when an ISIS affiliate pulled off mass kidnappings in Nigeria, brought Islamists to power in Egypt, delivered pallets of cash to the terror masters of Iran, stabbed Israel in the back, and sent an aging folk singer to serenade Paris after a terrorist massacre.

Obama and his foreign policy team were driven by the weird conviction that they could fix the world by doing the opposite of what every previous administration had done. Beating up on America’s allies was much easier than fighting its enemies. Obama would make history by being the first American leader to seriously entertain the grievances of anti-American groups around the world.

Now we have a new Russian-Iranian axis reshaping the Middle East, and scooping up Turkey along the way, which will do a lot more damage to NATO than any criticism Donald Trump could level about its funding scheme. While Obama pats himself on the back for the cleverness of his “leading from behind” philosophy, those who lead from the front are filling the space where America used to be.

9. Health Care: No amount of Democrat spin can conceal the breathtaking disaster of ObamaCare, which spent $2 trillion to achieve the goose egg of net improvement in Gallup’s poll. (The cost projections get worse every year, too. The 10-year Congressional Budget Office projection in 2016 was $136 billion more expensive than it was in 2015.) Remember when the liars who foisted the Affordable Care Act on us claimed it would be revenue-neutral?

The same Democrats who spent the past six years resolutely ignoring the victims of ObamaCare — the millions who lost good health care plans, paid wildly inflated premiums and deductibles, or paid a hefty tax for the privilege of not buying a lousy product they didn’t want — will now line up human shields and scream about how they’ll lose coverage under any repeal plan. Never has a more callous group of people pretended to be “compassionate” less convincingly.

ObamaCare is imploding, with so many insurers fleeing its mismanaged markets that many Americans are dealing with functional monopolies. Nothing close to this desperate situation existed before Obama seized control of the health insurance industry. It’s not easy to think of a less efficient, more costly, more liberty-destroying way to help the fairly small group of people who couldn’t get decent insurance policies in 2009. (Forcing the people who didn’t want to buy insurance to make a purchase at gunpoint is a very different matter.)

Deceptive statistics about how many people “got insured” because of ObamaCare don’t address the question of how actual medicine is changing, and how much it costs people to access their health care benefits. In 2012, the Left told us “access” to birth control was impeded if women had to pay too much (or anything) for it. How much “access” to health care does ObamaCare provide, if customers can’t afford their premiums or gigantic out-of-pocket expenses?

10. Trust in Government and Media: Both are at all-time lows, although it should be noted trust levels for both have been low for a long time, and trust in government tends to shift along partisan lines.

Obama’s presidency clearly hurt both metrics. He produced a string of expensive big government flops that shook public faith in Washington, prominently including ObamaCare and its train-wreck launch. Big media burned away its credibility protecting Obama, pushing Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, and getting the 2016 election spectacularly wrong. Their conduct since the election — pumping out Fake News stories, falling for hate-crime hoaxes, loudly announcing that investigative reporting was about to make a comeback after eight years in hibernation — has only confirmed the public’s distrust.

A devoted libertarian might say that Obama did Americans a favor by destroying their trust in big government and big media. (Devoted Republicans definitely appreciate Obama’s decimation of the Democrat Party, which is closely related to flagging trust for the state and media.)

However, a paranoid and resentful society has trouble achieving the harmony required for liberty to flourish. Spirited debate withers when everyone assumes everyone else is lying. Good ideas for governance will never be found if citizens fear government is a racket rigged against them. President Trump will have a hard time Making America Great Again if he cannot first make government tolerable, and media doesn’t become believable.


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