President George W. Bush’s presidency began to unravel in the autumn of 2005, after the Hurricane Katrina disaster seemed to affirm much of what critics had said about the administration’s cronyism and inattention to domestic affairs. Likewise, President Barack Obama’s fifth-year fall, with Obamacare suddenly falling apart, is vindicating critics of his big-government policies and his hands-off approach to the presidency.
The difference is that Obamacare was a “man-caused disaster” (to adapt administration parlance). Faced with the option of delaying the launch of the Obamacare website, the administration decided to push ahead, despite warnings from its own technical advisors and despite the fact that conservative Republicans had offered a one-year delay as a way to avoid a federal government shutdown when funding expired on Oct. 1.
The media are being unusually forthright in their criticism of the Obamacare rollout–perhaps because they wanted government-run health care to succeed, and are venting frustration at the Obama administration’s problems in general. Politico ran two lead stories side-by-side on Tuesday, one decrying Obama’s “passive voice” in dodging responsibility, and another on the “bunker mentality” that had seized the White House.
Without Obamacare, the “signature” domestic achievement of the Obama administration, the president’s list of accomplishments looks even thinner. The stimulus? A big waste, according to the National Bureau for Economic Research, which published a working paper that concludes that it would have been better for the government to provide “private sector tax relief and to matching aid to states for lower-income support.”
The recovery? It never materialized, as the unemployment rate still remains high, and the primary reason it is not much higher is that millions of Americans have left the workforce. Obama didn’t “save” the economy, as his campaign claimed in 2012. Rather, he changed it into one more dependent on government transfers, one where part-time work dominates, one where labor force participation has plunged to historic lows.
The media’s consternation with Obama will not last. A similar bout of frustration in 2011 ended when the press jumped on the Occupy bandwagon. But the pattern is the same: they want to save liberalism from the ill fortunes of the Obama presidency. And right now, the only defense left to them is the weakness of the opposition. That may not last, as Obamacare’s failures cast Ted Cruz’s stand in a more favorable light.