President Obama took office facing more challenges than any president in three generations. In the midst of two stalemated wars, the worst economy since the Great Depression and a hemorrhaging job market, the American people desperately needed a government that could take the bold action needed to halt foreclosures, end the recession, and get employers hiring again. Yet, while the new president buckled down to solve these catastrophic challenges, the GOP embraced a simple four word mantra: "I hope Obama fails." Two years later, unemployment remains tragically high, the President's signature accomplishment is widely misunderstood by voters, and Republicans rode a wave of discontent back into power. Simply put, this did not happen by accident; it was part of a concerted strategy to undermine the President's agenda and blame him for its failure.
A CAMPAIGN OF OBSTRUCTION: When the economy was spiraling out of control, Republicans filibustered the recovery. When out-of-control health premiums threatened to sink the entire federal budget, Republicans conspired to make health reform Obama's "Waterloo." When persistent unemployment cried out for a more aggressive Federal Reserve, Republicans blocked Obama's Nobel Prize winning Fed nominee. Even something as basic as regulating the same Wall Street banks that nearly destroyed the American economy nearly fell before a GOP filibuster. This campaign of obstruction was not limited to big ticket items. As of last August, fully 372 bills had passed the House -- many of them unanimously -- but few of them are likely to every receive a vote in the obstructionist-laden Senate. Meanwhile, Obama's judges are being confirmed at only half the rate of President Bush's, and Republicans even stalled key economic policy makers in the midst of a recession. As this campaign of obstruction began to undercut the economic recovery, the GOP doubled down. Republicans repeatedly blocked job-creating and small business-promoting legislation, often killing essential measures or requiring ambitious plans to be pared down into nearly nothing. And this obstructionism helped keep in the economy in the doldrums, the obstructionists' standing in the polls steadily grew.
FLOODING THE AIRWAVES: Republicans did far more than simply blocking Obama's agenda, they also waged a multi-billion dollar disinformation campaign to poison the electorate on this agenda. Emboldened by the Supreme Court's egregious Citizens United decision, the right-wing U.S. Chamber of Commerce waged a $32 million campaign to defeat the President's allies in Congress, and this campaign was just the tip of a massive iceberg of disinformation. Right-wing front groups like 60 Plus and future Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) Conservatives for Patients' Rights waged a multi-million dollar campaign to tarnish health reform -- often making outlandish claims that the Affordable Care Act would slash Medicare benefits or outlaw private coverage or euthanize grandma. This disinformation campaign was not limited to health reform. Republicans blanketed the airwaves with attacks on President Obama's successful program to save the auto industry -- a program which saved more than one million jobs. The Recovery Act saved approximately 1.2 million jobs and even right-wing economists believe that it boosted the economy by 4 percent, but Republicans have done everything in their power to ensure that no one knows about these successes. Republicans have manufactured economists who deny the effectiveness of the stimulus. They falsely claim that it has not created a single job, and they repeatedly label it a "failed stimulus" -- even if they also have no compunctions about stealing credit for the law's success whenever it benefits them politically to do so. Two years of disinformation has taken its toll. Although only one-quarter of voters oppose the actual provisions of the Affordable Care Act, pluralities have been so convinced that the law is poison that they now embrace repeal. Likewise, two-thirds of voters share the false belief that the Recovery Act either hurt or did not affect the economy.
OBAMA'S UNFORCED ERRORS: To be clear, Obama's presidency has not been error-free. Obama's own economic advisor, Christina Romer, determined that $1.2 trillion in stimulus spending was necessary to spark a robust economic recovery. While such a large proposal may not have survived Congress without being cut down, Obama himself now suggests that he did not bargain hard enough with the legislature. Rather than proposing a stimulus package laden with tax cuts, the President says he should have "'let the Republicans insist on the tax cuts' so it could be seen as a bipartisan compromise." Similarly, Obama could have done more to modify his signature anti-foreclosure program in order to ease the anxieties of voters caught in the housing crisis. To date, just $600 million of the program's $50 billion has been spent. Additionally, yesterday's announcement that the Federal Reserve will launch a $600 billion effort to invigorate the economy is a reminder of the role monetary policy can play in rescuing a weak economy. One can only speculate on whether this effort would have been launched sooner if several Fed Board seats hadn't remained vacant for most of Obama's presidency, but the Obama administration's failure to fill these vacancies early in Obama's presidency certainly did not help the economy. Yet, while Obama did not always pursue the robust progressive policies needed to lift the economy from its knees, it's important to acknowledge what he has accomplished. The Recovery Act did grow the economy and rescue hundreds of thousands of jobs. The Affordable Care Act will slow the unsustainable growth of health costs and drive down long term deficits. Credit card companies, sexist employers and Wall Street banks are much less able to exploit ordinary Americans because Barack Obama is president. These accomplishments were not enough to save the Democrats' majorities, but they moved the country in the right direction -- something that will not continue if Obama embraces the GOP's call to reembrace the failed policies of George W. Bush.