How Conservatives and Liberals Rank Obama

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Lately my conservatives friends have told me that Barrack Obama is the worst president the country has ever had. I ask them how they come to that conclusion. They just say he is the worst, and everyone knows it. I point out he did win two terms, so by that metric, he’s ahead of all the one term presidents. Most people think it’s much too early to judge Obama’s legacy, but I wondered if there are yardsticks by which we can measure on-going presidential success.

Some conservatives are quite hard on past presidents, such as this book, Recarving Rushmore. They judge presidents by very narrow value systems and personal opinions, and would remove Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt from Mt. Rushmore. I did find some conservative news sources basing their judgment of Obama on an opinion poll taken by Quinnipiac University. It has a sample size of 1,446 and a fair spread of demographic diversity. But is current opinion any real measure of actual performance? It would be better to say the poll showed Obama has low popularity at that moment. If the same poll was taken after the recent Supreme court rulings it might be very different.

If you search the web you’ll find two kinds of presidential evaluations. Opinions and numbers. That old saying about actions speak louder than words apply here. The only real measuring of reality is with numbers reflecting action.

Forbes Magazine took a numerical approach, effectively using statistics and graphs. By gathering a variety of economic measurements they showed Obama outperformed Reagan on job creation, economic growth and investing on Wall Street. Here’s just one of their charts – see all here.

Reagon v Obama investing

A personal way to numerically measure a president’s performance is to look at your retirement savings. Mine took a beating under Bush, but has rallied nicely under Obama.

Once we get away from opinions and into numbers, Obama’s track record looks much better. By using money as a measuring stick, Forbes also ran a story back in 2013 “Economically, Could Obama Be America’s Best President?” This makes me wonder how many quantitative yardsticks I could find. If we use health insurance as a measuring tool, millions more Americans are protected now. Just look at this article from New Republic, “7 Charts That Prove Obamacare Is Working.” Or this article from Vox,Barack Obama is officially one the most consequential presidents in American history.” Politicians have been trying to find a way to provide Americans with health insurance for over a hundred years, and Obama was the first to succeed.

We really should ask what we want from the captain of our political ship. For some requirements, we all want the same thing, whether conservative or liberal.

  • Economic Stability
  • Peace
  • Social Stability
  • Law and Order
  • Maximum freedom for all
  • Opportunity for all
  • The promise of a secure future

Economic stability means reasonable growth with no bursting economic bubbles or inflation. What conservatives want is unfettered growth that allow them to get rich quick. That has always led to disaster. What we really want is a stable steady-state growth and low unemployment. And it’s become very apparent that wealth equality is important to overall economic stability. Minimum wages that cover living expenses is good for long term economic stability.

We all want to live in a safe society, and a peaceful world. Law and order without corruption is the key to social order. Stable societies have corruption free police, national guards and armies. Societies where everyone is treated fairly have a great happiness index. As we bring political equality to all, we should have less social unrest in America. If we could stop arguing for a few years over what is marriage and how to give everyone health insurance, we might find less polarization in our society. If religious beliefs and sexual relationships were private affairs there’d be a lot less anger.

Many conservatives hate Obama for personal reasons. Because he’s black, or think he’s Muslim, or believe he was born outside the country, or he doesn’t support some pet personal belief. I also think a lot of conservatives hate Obama because of team mentality. Like rabid football fans who passionate hate rival teams, I feel some Republicans just can’t accept anyone who plays for the Democrats. Personal traits and party affiliation should not be considerations in evaluating a president’s performance.

In 2016 we want to elect a president that can keep the country peaceful and prosperous. Every four years we want to elect a president that will enact policies that will continue that security into the future, and even the far future. Refusing to deal with climate change now, puts future America at risk. If you think about the United States surviving for a thousand years, or even a million years, we can’t use up all the resources now, or destroy the environment or climate.

I think we need to get away from opinion polls. We need to start measuring political success impartially by statistical indicators in as many ways as we can find data to track. It would be great is we had a governmental site that had a whole range of graphs like this one from the Washington Post.

ConventionEconomy

The power of infographics is constantly improving. Just look at this one at Bloomberg Business. I can’t copy it here because it’s an animation. Go to the site, and then slowly scroll down and watch the show. I find the use of numbers more persuasive than opinion.

If you go to this Google search you’ll see hundreds of graphs that measure all kinds of indicators that prove Obama is not the worst president – not even close. In terms of creating a stable economy and providing more freedom, jobs, security and opportunity to the most people, Obama has done an extremely good job.

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Where are the Economists in the 2012 Election?

I have memories of past presidential elections going all the way back to 1960, and it seems to me that past elections spent more time with actual economists in the spotlight?   Have you seen any economist this election year?  In the past, CBS, NBC and ABC would routinely interview economists about politics, but I haven’t seen hide nor hair of them this year.  Has politicians and the public given up on the Ph.D.s of the dismal science?

We have numerous computer climate models to predict the weather, and we have gigantic cosmological models of the universe, telling us how our universe was formed 13.7 billion years ago, so why don’t we hear about super computers contemplating the economy?  You’d think both the Republicans and Democrats would offer some kind of scientific proof to back their economy philosophies.  Are we supposed to just believe what the candidates tell us without reference to academic authority?

economic-model

From what I’ve read, economists work with computer models all the time.  They have been refining their equations for decades.  So why don’t we see economic superstars interviewed on television?  Why aren’t their computer models shown on the nightly news?

First off, it’s impossible to predict the future, but we can model rough trends.  Modeling complex systems is hard.  Modeling the Big Bang and the formation of the universe is easier than modeling the weather, which is more successful than modeling the economy, but modeling the world economy should not be impossible.  Most Americans would want a model of the U.S. economy, but I would imagine it wouldn’t be very accurate without it being part of the model of the world economy.  No matter what Romney or Obama get to do for Americans, it will affect the rest of the world, and then they will affect us right back.

I know very little about economics, but I wonder why economists can’t build an economic model that allows the average citizen to understand  how various tax plans would affect the economy.  What would happen if Romney did get to kill off PBS and Big Bird?  What would happen if we added three trillion to the national debt while the economy recovers?  What would balancing the budget do to the economy?

Here’s the thing about computer models, the more data points the more accurate the model.  A data point would be like a weather station collecting all kinds of measurements.  The best economy model would contain 311,591.917+ data points, one for each citizen of the United States, and to be really accurate, have 7,043,958,151+ points for every person in the world.  We also need one data point for every business in the world.  Another for each aspect of government.  And each data point would measure many factors, such as various tax rates, incomes, assets, debts, etc.  And we’d need equations for every interaction.  So if we lower the corporate tax, how would it affect all other data points?

For example, Romney claimed his criteria for deciding on government spending was:  Does the cost of a program justify borrowing the money from China?

Okay, I can accept that.  But how do we decide for each program?  It can’t be just whim.  Let’s take PBS.  I heard that $450 million of the Federal budget goes to PBS, and that’s just 15% of it’s funding.  What do we get for borrowing $450 million dollars from China by giving it to PBS?  If we had an economic model, could we calculate the early childhood educational benefit of Sesame Street?  PBS teaches me a tremendous lot about American History.  How valuable is American History to American citizens?  Can you put a dollar amount on it?  PBS teaches me a lot about science and nature.  Does that have value?  Can that kind of educational TV be quantified as expanding the economy in some way?

PBS might be an economic powerhouse of early childhood and adult education that generates many times it’s $450 investment.  Just because conservatives want to save a few bucks on their tax returns are we being penny wise and pound foolish to get rid of PBS?  Can we really know without numbers?

I hate it that politicians expect us to take their opinions as facts.  I also hate that so many of my fellow citizens think opinions are facts.

Romney tells people we should say no to PBS, but other than his opinion, what’s backing that idea?  Is his opinion about PBS right?  I’d like to see an economic study done on the impact of PBS before I’d accept cutting  PBS from the budget.  Even as a jobs incentive program, how many jobs are created with that $450 million dollar investment?

Economics might be the dismal science, but I’d rather hear facts and figures about the economy from an economist than a politician.  I just can’t accept opinions from the left and right, I want some hard cold facts to chew on.

JWH – 10/6/12

He’s No Hitler

I don’t know why some Tea Party protestors want to compare President Obama to Hitler. I never liked it when liberals compared President Bush to Hitler either.  Why do angry, political powerless, protestors feel they are using their trump card when linking their enemies to Hitler?  The protest placards are far more damning to their makers than those they target.  Few leaders in history can be compared to Hitler.  His evil qualities are so extreme that its simple-minded to use Hitler as any kind of measuring stick to gauge the average politician.  It’s like comparing firecrackers to H-bombs.

If the Tea Party people want to make comparisons they should compare Obama to a previous President they think pursued the same goals they hate.  I would imagine that would be Lyndon Johnson, or even FDR.  Strangely, the reason why I didn’t like President Bush was because his Iraq War was a whole lot like LBJ’s Vietnam War.  Our political landscape needs no comparison to Germany, Russia or China, we’ve been fighting our own unique issues since George Washington became President.  What’s sad is the Tea Party people scream so much about 1776 but they can’t see how we got from then to now and why we can’t go backwards.

The political right’s seeing red over Obama actually has little to with the man, but is just a continuation of a long term Hatfield and McCoy like feud.  Obama is just the liberal figurehead that sits in the Oval Office at the moment.  The righteous indignation of the conservatives always thinks liberal leaders, especially strong ones, are as evil as Hitler or Stalin.  Conversely, extreme liberals compare strong conservatives to Hitler when they are in office.  We need to analyze why?  (And who was the ultimate evil bad guy before WWII used in insults?)

Shouting the name Hitler is about as creative as people who use both phrases: “that’s some good shit” and “that’s some bad shit” in their day-to-day lives.  Comparing people to Hitler is only meaningful is you’re talking about Stalin, Pol Pot, Chairman Mao, Idi Amin and to a lesser degree, Saddam Hussein.

The Tea Party movement is really just sore losers crying over spilt milk.  Sarah Palin has nothing constructive to say politically.  What Obama has done while he is in office is not significantly different from what a conservative President would have done except for the healthcare bill, and if Republicans won the White House every term even they would have had to passed healthcare reform sooner or later, and it might not have been that much different from what the Democrats created.  The healthcare bill had no public option and is built around private insurance, an idea originating with Republicans.  Changing times force political changes, not ideology.

The momentum of economic reality rolls on no matter which party is in the White House.  So far we’ve been lucky and had no real Hitlers.  If Obama was like Hitler, Fox News would be shut down, and all their commentators dead.  Also, if any of our Presidents had really been like Hitler, the U.S.A. would have collapsed.  Our diversity could not support such extremism.

It’s much too early to tell how good or bad a President Obama will be.  Anyone blaming Obama for our present situation really needs to blame hordes of politicians, from both parties, going back decades.

What we have to worry about is the educational level of people comparing any of our Presidents to Hitler.  In fact, I think we should discount any political protestor or commentator who can’t reference a realistic comparison to past American political leaders and policies, and make reasonable links to previous problems and solutions.   People who use the name Hitler in protest are just people who have forgotten history, or never really knew it in the first place.

Evoking the name of Hitler is a kind of terrorist tactic, or Chicken Little exclaiming that the sky is falling.  It depresses me.  I’ve seen TV coverage where Tea Party people are outrage at the media coverage they get, and are even becoming critical of their own who go to extremes.  They don’t like being call racists or crackpots, and who can blame them, but it’s the extreme protest signs and rhetoric that get them on the news.  I’d take their protests more seriously as a third party if they didn’t make those extreme attacks on President Obama. 

The policies of any President are always open to criticism, but comparing any President to Hitler or Stalin is low IQ.  I’ve always hated Michael Moore political tactics too.  People have really sunk to a low point if they use Sacha Cohen’s tactics to attack one another.  It’s strange when conservatives follow in the footsteps of Abbie Hoffman, but then I’m sure there have always been mean spirited, underhanded, attackers protesting the power holders in Washington.

I guess I’m just overly sensitive to hot blooded, emotionally charged people.  I found it amusing the other day on the news when a roving reporter asked a Tea Party protestor about his sign comparing Obama to Hitler.  The guy said quietly that he meant no disrespect.  I wondered if he was actually embarrassed.  I bet he’d wished he had created a more creative slogan, equal to “Don’t tread on me” or “No taxation without representation.”  I guess the Tea Party has yet to find their Tom Paine or Ben Franklin.  It’s a shame the best they can do is a brunette Ann Coulter.  

JWH – 4/17/10

The Economics of Inefficiency

During bad economic times people seek ways to get more for their money – in other words they try to become efficient spenders.  The trouble with that thinking, it’s bad for the economy.  What we want is a thriving economy where there’s a chicken in every pot and the future is rosy.  Woefully, a thriving economy is highly inefficient.

Take saving money.  All money advisors advise people get out of debt, save a portion of their salary and only buy what they’ve saved up for – good Puritan ideals.  If everyone followed this advice we’d fall into a world-wide depression.  The economic success of all depends on everyone spending as much money as they can.  If we had a world where the only credit card spending was paid off at the end of the month, people wouldn’t buy nine-tenths of the crap that they do.  That’s a lot of people out of jobs.  And when those folks lose their jobs, even more bad things happen, and a recession becomes a growing snowball rolling down hill.

There’s always a silver economic lining, even to bad things.  If everyone was honest we wouldn’t need jails, police, lawyers, judges, counselors, bail bondsmen, mystery writers, cop show producers, and so on, as I’m sure you get the idea.  I hate the idea of crime.  Crime is the true terrorism in America.  But ending crime would be like one of those stories about a person finding a Genie in a bottle and getting a wish that turns out disturbingly screwed up.  If someone did get to make that wish and tomorrow all illegal activity stopped we’d have a whole lot of honest people out of work, and a lot of criminals previously not working, would be looking for jobs too.  Could the world’s economies handle the impact of so much ethical behavior?  I’d much prefer a crime-free efficient economy and the main way to reduce crime is for the economy to produce a lot of good jobs.  It’s a Catch-22.

The same reverse philosophy could be applied to the advice about eating right and pursuing healthy lifestyles.  If everyone ate healthy, how many people would be out of work when all the fast food restaurants went belly up?  Add in the junk food makers, their related industries, vending machines, packaging, salesmen, suppliers, warehouses, etc.  And then think about all the health care workers that clean up after we lead lives of poor healthy choices.  Sure, we’d produce a lot more sport fitness jobs, but would they make up for all the lost careers selling evil calories?

What if everyone bought the store brands instead of the big name brands?  What if everyone jettison their designer clothes and shopped at Target and Penney’s?  What if everyone wore sensible shoes and drove practical cars?  What if people gave up vanity, putting the make-up makers and cosmetic surgeons out of business?  What if everyone stole their MP3 songs and DVD movies?

Certain things in life are vital:  air, water, food, shelter and jobs.  And maybe jobs should be listed third because getting food and shelter without a job is very difficult.  Right now America is in a panic over an economic downturn and we see everything about the future through the spectacles of fear.  It doesn’t seem to matter that there’s more peace and prosperity now than at any time during all of history.

Everyone is wailing and gnashing their teeth that gasoline costs $4 a gallon.  Forecasters have been predicting that for forty damn years – so why all the tantrums?  Nor do people seem to notice that the high price of gasoline comes just at the perfect time when we need to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels because of war and global warming.  It’s a good thing.  It’s our second warning before economic hell comes to town.  We knew back in the 1970s that living off of cheap oil was like borrowing from the Mafia.  Is it so surprising they’re breaking our legs right now?  And we really haven’t had a true oil crisis, because no one is going without yet.  Wait until there are oil shortages.  That’s when they chain cement blocks to us and throw us in the ocean.  Are you ready for the day when there will be no gasoline for sale at the pumps?  Gas lines are just one terrorist act or hurricane away.

Cheap fossil fuels made for wonderful sensible things like wooden toys made on one side of the planet, practical to sell to people on the other side of the globe.  See where the economics of inefficiency come in?  We use cheap fossil fuels to move our fat asses, which desperately need exercise, around in 6000 pound vehicles, instead of vehicles, if they were efficiently designed, weighing in at 500-1000 pounds, and use renewable energy instead of molecules sequestered by the Earth millions of years ago to get carbon out of the atmosphere and allow life to blossom.

We may be the smartest creatures in creation, but heck, we ain’t smart enough not to poison our only habitat.  When you live in the basket with all your eggs, eating omelettes every day is dangerous.

To pull ourselves out of this economic mess we need to learn to consume more while using less, a Zen koan if there ever was one.  Moving music to MP3 files is a perfect example.  Distributing MP3 music requires an infinitely small fraction of the resources it took to make and sell CDs.  The demise of the CD puts a lot businesses and people out of work, but if the music industry worked it right they could eventually create a lot more jobs.  This economic theory fails if you steal the MP3s.

If everyone had solar panels on their roofs it would require the creation of whole new industries and millions of jobs.  To feed and educate all the needy people in the world would create more millions of jobs.  To build houses that withstand hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires and severe weather of the changing climate will create more millions of jobs.  There is no end of jobs to be create because of need.  There is plenty of economic activity, both efficient and inefficient if you have the vision to see it.

I know a lot of Americans are suffering because of the current economic crisis, but I have to agree with Phil Gramm that part of our economic recession is a “mental recession” and we’re doing too much whining.  Hell, we’re not living in Afghanistan.  What happened to that American spirit of when the going gets tough, the tough get going?  I’m voting for Obama, but I didn’t like his quip about not needing another Dr. Phil.  We need all the positive thinkers we can get.  There’s lot about McCain that I like, and if he wins I won’t be too unhappy, but his spin-control pandered to voters rather than exploring the point I think Gramm was trying to make.

During election times all voters become beggars looking for handouts demanding that their politicians promise and promise and promise.  Politicians get nowhere if they aren’t leaders.  Of course sometimes they lead us off the cliff into places like Iraq, but didn’t George Bush take us there because he was playing off the country’s fear?  We’re living in the current economic chaos because of greed and the refusal to think and pay attention.  Do we really need brilliant hindsight to know that making house loans to people who can’t afford them is silly or owning SUVs are a bad idea when oil was predicted to run out forty years ago?

Our crazy economy reminds me of the classic science fiction story, “The Midas Plague” by Frederik Pohl, where consumerism drives the economy so much that the poor are forced to change clothes several times a day to keep up with production – because to make less would hurt the economy.  In this bizarro world, the rich get the freedom to live without being consumers, but the poor must consume like hamsters on a wheel to keep the economy going.

Who’s fault is it if we take the most powerful and prosperous country in the world and run into the economic ground because we all like to make bad choices?  For decades we have built an economy on inefficiency.  What happens to China when we stop buying all that crap we don’t need?  What happens to the U.S. if China suffers an economic chill?  It’s like “The Midas Plague,” we could stimulate the economy by forcing the poor to go into debt and buy a new HD TV every month.

Right now everyone is panicking and cutting back on their spending, but if you wanted to help the economy, you should be doing just the opposite.  Now, here’s the crucial part – your economic decision has impact.  You can make an efficient choice, or a wasteful choice.  If you buy a new HVAC that uses 1/3 the energy as your old one, then you have stimulated the economy and reduced the demand on fossil fuels, plus saved yourself some bucks.  If you fly to Paris for a vacation, you have helped the airlines, but hurt the rest of us by increasing the demand for oil.  You can’t win for losing sometimes.  But if you had the choice between flying on a plane fueled by green technology or old technology, your choice could build a new industry.

We need to cowboy up and channel our ancestor’s pioneering spirit.  We need to take responsibility for our actions.  Like the old Pogo cartoon said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”  Whether gasoline is $2 or $4 or $7 a gallon, the choice is made by us, we set the price.  If you want gasoline to go to $7 a gallon, keep burning oil like there’s no end of it, live like the oil companies will always find new resources, use it like we’ve been doing for the last thirty years.  Keep panicking over the economy and oil prices will rise.  Keep advocating going to war with Iran and oil prices will rise.

We need to get our heads together, overcome fear like FDR taught us, become frugal like our Puritan forefathers, develop green technologies, and oil prices will come down.  If gasoline went to $10 a gallon, but we had cars that got ten times the mileage, it would be like getting $1 a gallon gas.  When gasoline was $2 a gallon we could have been driving cars that made it equal to 50 cents a gallon, but we didn’t.  We collective decided to drive cars that would force gasoline to become $4 a gallon.  Our choice – so why bitch and moan now?

The other lesson of this current economic crisis is the world changes.  We built our current economy psychology, retirement system, investment system, and all our financial expectations around the idea that the world won’t change and growth would be predictable. How stupid is that?  Our current state of economic fear is because we’re having to deal with change.  Change is as constant as time.  People hate change, but we’re the dominant species on this planet because we’re adaptable.  Humans can handle habitat change that puts all other species into extinction, but that’s at the species level.  Cultures go in and out of existence like TV series.  Because the U.S. is a very diverse culture, we can take quite a beating and still keep on ticking.  Go study your Douglas Adams and Adam Smith, and don’t panic.

Jim