Obama Presidency To Endure <br> Years After Obama Himself <br> Has Retired From Office
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
NBC chief White House correspondent and political director Chuck Todd recently declared, about President Obama, “the public is saying, hey buddy, your presidency is over.” The pronouncement was met with a banner headline on the Drudge Report. Senator Rubio, Republican of Florida, ratified the sentiment by telling Sean Hannity on Fox News, “I saw a commentator say that these polls, what they reflect, is that the Obama presidency is over, and I agree with that. I think it is, in general.”
Alas, with all respect to Senator Rubio and Mr. Todd, and even more respect to Matt Drudge’s shrewd news judgment, Yogi Berra had it right when he said “it ain’t over till it’s over.”
In the case of President Obama, it won’t even be over then.
We all will be living with the effects of his presidency for many years to come, long after the Obamas have retired to New York City and Martha’s Vineyard. Senator Rubio and Mr. Todd look at the president’s sagging poll numbers and see an impotent lame duck. But the reality is that even if President Obama doesn’t accomplish another new thing in the next two years, the actions he has already taken make him one of the most consequential presidents ever.
Over? Far from it.
The federal debt held by the public has grown on President Obama’s watch to about $12.6 trillion from about $6.8 trillion. The Obama presidency won’t be “over” until that nearly $6 trillion in new debt is either paid back or defaulted on. As a percentage of gross domestic product, the federal debt held by the public has soared to 73.8% today from 43.8% before he took office. The Obama presidency won’t be “over” until that figure returns to the status quo ante. Don’t hold your breath.
On health care, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act known as ObamaCare remains the law of the land, at least those parts that haven’t been waived or unilaterally rewritten by the Obama administration (more about that later). Congressional Republicans have funded its implementation and have no consensus on an alternative. The health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, major hospitals, the states, and major employers have invested enough in adapting to it that a full-scale rewrite or repeal would raise a cry about transition costs and uncertainty. A mere 20 Senate candidates have signed the pledge to repeal ObamaCare.
The power of inertia and framing means that repealing ObamaCare now becomes, at least in the press, a fight in which opponents of the law are depicted as taking away health coverage from sympathetic cancer victims, sick children, and other needy patients. That one’s not going to be “over” soon, either.
On immigration, too, Mr. Obama’s actions will be hard to undo. His signaling of a path to legal status for illegal immigrant children has attracted a wave of unaccompanied minors. A recent Los Angeles Times article estimated 60,000 will come this year, many of them resident in government shelters. Mr. Obama, in his diminished political state, may be unable to win passage of a law to increase levels of legal immigration or change the laws to create a path to citizenship for illegals. But he’s somehow managed to crack open the gates nonetheless.
On foreign policy as on the economy, President Obama and his team kept blaming George W. Bush for problems so often and for so long to the point that it became a laugh line for Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto. But if the next president has to confront a radical Islamist terrorist threat newly strengthened from operating bases in Iraq, in Syria, and in an Iran on the verge of nuclear weapons, he will have some genuine justification for blaming Mr. Obama, whose retreat will be remembered in the Middle East and beyond for years to come.
As for the economy, the chances of a repeal of the Dodd-Frank financial regulation legislation are slimmer even than for a repeal of ObamaCare. So the 13,000 employees that JPMorgan Chase has added in the past couple of years to handle “regulatory issues and compliance” are likely to remain with us, in what passes for job-creation, Obama-style. So, too, is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that Dodd-Frank created with a permanent funding stream from the Federal Reserve. The CFPB is spending $145 million to renovate a new headquarters. It won’t be “over” anytime soon.
The most enduring and dangerous Obama legacy, though, may be the expansive way he has suspended, waived, and rewritten laws, particularly the health care law. “A lawless president,” was the headline the Washington Post placed over a recent George Will column. If that practice outlasts the Obama administration, the left may come to regret it: Imagine a President Ted Cruz citing Obama’s actions as precedent for suspending other parts of the ObamaCare or Dodd-Frank laws.
Whether in the laws he signed or the cavalier way that he disregards them, the Obama presidency is far from over. It will be with us for quite some time yet, alas.
Mr. Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com.
Mr. Stoll was a founding partner in the New York Sun and its former managing editor.