Obama At His Best—and Worst?

It seems pretty ironic that just after my previous So How’s Obama Doing? post went up, two events occurred that could well come to define his presidency. One of these was his very impressive Cairo speech. Given how keen George W. was to go to war with the Muslim world, I think it’s pretty hard to argue that Obama represents more of the same. Cynics will say it’s just another one of his charming public performances, but the reality is, when it comes to diplomacy, speeches like this do matter—a lot. He has once again demonstrated his remarkable diplomatic skill in negotiating his way between what are in many ways opposing ideologies, which is exactly what is needed if there is to be peace between the west and the Muslim world. While Bush burnt more bridges than perhaps any other US President in history, Obama has what it takes to rebuild them as few other people do. Yes, a lot of it does come down to charm, but once again, in matters of diplomacy this is a very positive attribute. Plus it’s not as if his speech lacked substance anyway, and I think his expressed intent is genuine.

I have far less positive feelings about the other major Obama-related event that occurred in the last week, however: his “date night” with wife Michelle in New York. At first blush, this trip comes across as a colossal waste of taxpayers money, but in fairness, for security reasons the US President has to travel anywhere by government jet. And it’s hardly as if he’s the first US President to travel at the taxpayer’s expense and enjoy a bit of leisure time—indeed, he has had far less time off so far than Bush, who spent a very large percentage of his presidency on holiday. Still, the reason few people talked about that was because he (like most Presidents when engaged in leisurely pursuits) tried to keep it low profile. The same definitely cannot be said for Obama’s night on the town with Michelle though, and while you could say that’s more honest and open, it also comes across as irresponsibly extravagant, especially in these tough economic times. Let’s not forget that many people who voted for Obama were quite poor, and even a lot of relatively wealthy people have had to tighten their belts during the current economic crisis. Still, once again he is hardly the first President to do this kind of thing. He may be the first to be so public about it, but then and again, there’s more media interest in Obama’s private life than any President since at least Kennedy, so perhaps it just can’t be helped.

While I still feel Obama is doing a very creditable job so far, I hope he isn’t blinded by his own myth.

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Just like the dog, this trip to New York, was a campaign promise. The media loves this stuff, so they decided to cover it to the maximum amount it could. Detractors like to point at the cost, but everytime the President moves across town, to go to a media event, or to see a play, buy a hamburger, see a basketball game or other “OTR” activities the same types of resources must be mobilized plus or minus the gulf stream jet.

Here is the vacation time for the past 5 administrations:
George W. Bush (8 years – 879 vacation days as of March 4th, 2008)
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/blog/2008/03/04/BL2008030401392.html

William Jefferson Clinton (8 Years – 152 vacation days)
http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/393469

George H. W. Bush (4 Years – 543 vacation days)
http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/393469

Ronald Reagan (8 Years – 866 vacation days)
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/blog/2008/03/04/BL2008030401392.html

Jimmy Carter (4 Years – 79 vacation days)
http://hnn.us/articles/202.html

I have a feeling that Obama plans to be closer to Clinton and Carter than Reagan, Bush & Bush Jr. in terms of vacation time used.

  
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That’s interesting, the Republican Presidents took far more vacation than the democrats, what does that tell us?

  
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Boy, Bush’s vacation stats are even more attrocious when you consider there was still another ten months of his term to go when these stats were taken, and for only four years, his dad’s time off was worse still! How do Republicans defend such blatant irresponsibility from their Presidents I wonder? They outholiday the Democrats by a ratio of five to one!

  
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I am simply putting the expenditure of Obama’s night out in perspective to the number of trips other Presidents have previously taken for “non-Presidential Business” or vacation purposes. Perhaps the number of times moved (to and from) these locations would be more useful, or help elaborate this point. These are out of Washington D.C. movements, requiring the exact same planning, travel arrangements using air and ground components and security arrangements not related to campaigning, or presidential business.
The estimate for each move including the use of jets (all would have the designation Air Force 1) is: one way is between $34,000 to $59,000 coming out of the White House Travel Budget. There may be other costs coming out of other budgets, but those may be included as part of City budgets (Police escorts/security), Secret Service detail budgets, Air Force Budgets etc.)
http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=67027

Obama – (4 months – 2 Moves)
~$80,000

George W. Bush (8 years – 428 moves as of March 4th, 2008)
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/blog/2008/03/04/BL2008030401392.html
(Annual White House Budget Vacation Travel Expense Estimated
~$5.2 Million)

William Jefferson Clinton (8 Years – 32 moves)
8-1 week vacations, 8-2 week vacations (various sources)
(Annual White House Budget Vacation Travel Expense Estimated ~$250,000)

George H. W. Bush (4 Years – 212 moves)
(various sources)
(Annual White House Budget Vacation Travel Expense Estimated
~$3.6 Million)

Ronald Reagan (8 Years – 335 moves)
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/blog/2008/03/04/BL2008030401392.html
(Annual White House Budget Vacation Travel Expense Estimated
~$1.4 Million)

Jimmy Carter (4 Years – 8 moves)
4 – 3 week vacations to Georgia
http://hnn.us/articles/202.html
(Annual White House Budget Vacation Travel Expense Estimated ~$80,000)

What do these numbers tell us?

I guess it tells us that the Democrats believe being in the White House as President is important, while the most recent Republicans seem to believe it is not as important to be at the White House, just that it is important to be President. It also seems that the most recent Republicans prefer running their Presidencies from their own residences/retreats as much, if not more than being at the White House.

As for the expenditure, I think it points out that the Democratic Presidents take the issue of non-Presidential Office Related activities/travel much more seriously than the Republican Presidents have. It also seems to contradict much of the Republican’s own rhetoric on being fiscally conservative in their own private conduct and affairs. The Republican Presidents seem to regard the use of the transport/security as their personal prerogative, rather than the resources of the people of the country that is provided to ensure the safe and effective means for the Office of the President to do the people’s business.

I don’t like sounding like a political partisan, as I have a great deal of respect for what Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt, Lincoln and others did who have represented the Republican Party according to their stated principles, but that is what the data tells me is currently going on. If I am mistaken in my conclusion, please direct me as to how I am not looking at the data correctly or in finding data that could lead me to another conclusion.

  
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You won’t get any argument from me – the idea that neo-conservative Republicans are more fiscally responsible than Democrats could very well be the greatest myth in the history of American politics.

  
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Even though many eagerly supported Obama in the election, and did see great potential value in his charm, I also believe this prophetic page speaks of something that has been true all along –

http://www.larryflynt.com/mycms/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=21&cntnt01returnid=15

Other web pages of similar tone cast The Man as a classical Chicago politician — a dancer upon myriad 180 degree pivot-points created by sincere and impressive campaign promises. Also square with the characterization, from socialist novelist Upton Sinclair (as in “The Jungle”, playing out in Chicago about 1904), is the man with the “greasy necktie”. And in years in between (ca.1926) was Al Capone (his real Italian name was far more complicated), who was mentioned by Mario Puzo in “Godfather”, where Capone is quite carefully made out to be a sort of local crime franchise operator rather than the Godfather himself. The real boss, of course, would be in Corleone territory in New York City, convenient to Wall Street services, and that could prove to be one George Soros in relation to Obama.

Some say that the women of the country elected Obama. That’s plausible, and again a tribute to the power of charm. But some voted with the vague sense of existence of some sort of “Presidency” that was really the greater “presidential team” created by not just the President, but also Cabinet members and other advisors, and that this was somehow shaping up to be a good thing. The overarching aura of charm was very auspicious for diplomacy and solidarity of the nation around a charismatic ceremonial head of state, even as evidence abounded that some things were horribly wrong in the big picture. Now, that presidential team included Biden, various Unknowns, Hillary Clinton, and last but not least, the First Lady. How many male voters out there would be willing to admit, in retrospect, that Michelle was a defining figure in helping make a choice, on the subliminal and semi-concious levels (if not fully conscious in some cases), and in bringing on the much-craved sense of joining in on the winning side? Some believed that Jackie Kennedy held that kind of power in her time.

  
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@Patrick – It tells us that they were just puppets who were not really necessary other than as figureheads. The real people in charge didn’t need them around and were probably glad to have them gone so that they would not interfere within the true power structure. I will never understand the worship by so many of Ronald Reagan, who was merely a class B actor, who acted only as a mouthpiece to recite what the power elite gave him to recite. Sometimes I wonder if everything the public knows about our Presidents is only myth.

  
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I couldn’t agree more: when I saw the polls that say Reagan was one of the most popular Presidents ever, I had to laugh – and cry. Like George W., Reagan was a laughing stock for the rest of the world.

  
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@Sachiko – If we look at “Pop-Culture” during any given time-frame we will usually see a moment in the ridiculous. Reagan was just another “Pop-Culture” mythic hero for many, simply because of THE WALL coming down during his Presidency. Timing is everything.

  
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Yeah – the timing of Reagan’s Presidency certainly was very lucky. It seems to me that all the great things that happened during his term happened almost in spite of him – certainly not because of him.

  
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Hi everyone. Long time no see. ;)

On the issue of Presidential vacations, I must say that I don’t counter the argument at all. It is clear that the nation voted for a hands-off approach to the Presidency in 1980, 1984, 2000, and 2004 by electing individuals who took a hands-off approach to their governorships. It really shouldn’t surprise any Americans that Bush and Reagan spent so much time outside of the office, as that is exactly how they did it in Texas and California, respectively.

I’m not saying it’s right, and I’m not going to bother justifying it. I’m just saying that the American people knew what they were getting when they voted for these individuals. To paint the entire party based upon the leadership approach of two men seems unreasonable and unfair.

Now to the more important issues…

Obama is being a great diplomat to the Middle East. He is being a terrible domestic President, however.

During his tenure in office, Barry is expected to deficit spend at a rate of $1 Trillion per year for his first four years. Assuming he is still in office after those four (which shouldn’t be a stretch, as neither party has major names coming through the pipeline… maybe I should run for the Presidency), he will probably be able to trim the deficit to $500-700mm per year through additional levy of taxes.

The statement of Obama being the favoured son of the poor is not entirely true. While it is true that blacks and Latinos showed unified support for Obama’s campaign, I think the larger impact was the fact that 20 percent more black voters showed up in this election than in any in the past, coupled with the hard-line conservatives not showing up at the polls. Many conservatives viewed McCain as a liberal who happened to sit on the Republican side of Congress. For this reason, some chose not to vote at all.

Given the following conditions (2004 data sets), the black voters accounted for 20 percent of the total voting population. A 20 percent increase over that would bring the total black vote to around 23 percent. Assuming 95 percent of black voters chose Obama over McCain, that would give Barrack Obama 22 percent of the vote versus McCain’s 1 percent, just on the black voters alone.

With the youth and new voters turning out at a nearly 2:1 ratio in support of Obama, the election was one more of philosophy of change than one of political interpretation.

Obama’s six percent overall margin of victory would indicate that he lost 16 percent on non-Black votes. This is absolutely astounding when one considers that he took the Latino vote by nearly 40% in raw numbers.

Given that McCain held a 12 percent edge among white voters, this would force an indication that Asian voters supported McCain by over four percent raw weighted votes. Given that I think Asians account for 10 percent of the vote, that would indicate that over 70 percent of Asians voted for Senator McCain over Senator Obama.

This does not surprise me, at all, since first and second generation Asians (who would be the most likely to vote, as they have not been disillusioned by the spectre of the US media) still hold many of their racial prejudices. They believe that if you vote in a black President, the majority of spending will go toward helping the black communities advance, at the expense of other groups.

Given that President Obama has taken every opportunity to spin financial results to favour his constituents (GM pensions getting preferential treatment over bond holders, bailouts granted to those banks whose Board of Directors openly supported Obama, etc), perhaps they weren’t so far off.

As Obama continues to release dollars into the money supply, he perpetuates the idea that Democrats will spend to create a perfect world, under the assumption that a government’s debts need never be paid.

  
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Originally Posted By Dane
As Obama continues to release dollars into the money supply, he perpetuates the idea that Democrats will spend to create a perfect world, under the assumption that a government’s debts need never be paid.

Welcome back Dane! Still, you aren’t trying to perpetuate the myth that Democrats are big spenders while the Republicans are fiscally responsible, are you? Because as you should know by now, that’s a complete load of rubbish. Obama is spending big, yes, but he has a very good reason to, just like every other developed country right now – it seems to be the only way to avert a depression. Unlike his Republican predecessor Bush, who spent big to fund tax cuts for the rich and support a stupid, senseless war, leaving Obama with by far the biggest debt in US history and a major financial crisis.

  
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First off, thank you.

That said, it’s not a myth that, with the exception of Bill Clinton, Democratic spending has a tendency to be of the “if we spend now, it will get repaid eventually” mentality.

As you know, my area is in finance, and Obama’s decision making with respect to GM is absolutely appalling. He basically told the bond holders (who under US securities law are senior to shareholders in US bankruptcy court) that their bonds would be deemed virtually worthless, while granting GM pensioners and 401k participants (who were large shareholders in GM) that they would be granted preferential rights in the new GM.

While this sounds cheery on the surface, the reality is that many of GM’s bond holders were retirees from other companies. These were individuals who placed large portions of their retirement into GM bonds which were supposed to be secured against the assets of the company. Instead of helping these retirees out, Obama decided to give preference to the retirees of the UAW, since they were one of his main campaign supporters (both in donations as well as rallying votes).

Now, the problem is that Obama’s solution is to print more money and issue stimulus packages (~$300 per household) while getting rid of tax cuts.

When the lowest tax bracket returns to 15 percent (from the current level of 10 percent), every person who earns more than $6000 a year (after standard deductions) will be paying more in additional taxes than that palsy stimulus check.

Giving the American people a $25 a month bonus paid in arrears (since this is a $300 tax rebate against 2008 taxes, paid in 2009) in exchange for a minimum of 5 percent increase in taxes on the lowest bracket. That means that the only people who stand to benefit from said stimulus are those very near to the poverty line.

Families who earn $80k a year, are considered middle to lower-middle class in America. A couple who earns $80k a year can expect to see their tax liability increase by around $6k a year. So, in exchange for this wonderful stimulus package, the average American gets the privilege of paying the US government 7 percent more per year in taxes AND see the value of the US dollar decline due to anticipated inflation rates of 5-7 percent above current levels.

Blaming the current economic situation on Bush shows a drastic misunderstanding of monetary policy. The Federal Reserve increased rates to hedge against inflation, but not as quickly as was necessary. This was not the problem. The key problem was the fact that banks and mortgage lenders kept interest rates artificially low. This was exacerbated by people who thought they could buy a house for free, or in some cases be paid to live in a house (Option ARMs).

Now, blaming the future economic crisis (inflation on a scale of 10 percent per year) on Obama fits, as it is his primary solution to the problem. Rather than allow the issue to fix itself (force the banks, mortgage lenders, auto manufacturers/lenders, finance companies to answer to their solvency issues which they self-manifested), he has chosen to taken on all the bad debt of the last seven years and allow the banks to walk away clean.

This will further extend the ideals of entitlement, as, now, corporations as well as individuals will seek governmental hand-outs. One CIO, who I personally respect, placed his opinion of the TARP and TALF quite bluntly when he had his company apply for assistance from the government:

“Our books are quite solvent. We don’t need the money. However, if the US government is giving hand-outs, it would be at our strategic disadvantage to not attempt to get our share of the pie.”

The US government effectively gave a carte blanche to the finance industry. Rewarding those companies which created the financial nightmare opportunities to grow their assets at the expense of the everyday US citizen.

The problem is not with stimulating the banks. They won’t lend, no matter how much money the US government throws at them. The problem is with the American people being of a perpetual debtor, as opposed to a saver, mindset. We always believe that things will get better and that “American ingenuity” will save the day.

No one (save the extremely conservative fiscally) will ask the tough questions or seek the tough answers. Why? Because the reality is that the financial markets need to be cleansed. A correction is necessary.

Real estate prices, historically (dating back to the 1600s) grow at 2 percent per year. This was the historical basis for inflation. Equity investments historically grow at a rate of 5-7 percent per year. Commodity prices historically maintain pace with real estate prices, with the two having somewhat inverse growth patterns (one goes up when the other goes down), but their net correlation is 2 percent upward.

Even accounting for the recent turmoil in the markets, the DJIA is just about on pace for growth since 1993, witnessing 137% aggregated growth over that time period. We’ve seen 5.5-6 percent annualized growth over the last 16 years. That includes three major market downturns, and does not account for dividend distributions.

So, the markets (from a trading standpoint) were never in much danger, yet the government threw unacceptable sums of money at the problem hoping to fix it. Instead, we now have two problems:

1) Banks are still going to fail due to poor asset management with respect to their financial book-keeping.
2) The government must find a way to pay for all of this.

If Japan, China and the rest of Asia take a serious look at the ability of the US government to pay on treasuries, they will see the problem.

  
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Originally Posted By Dane
That said, it’s not a myth that, with the exception of Bill Clinton, Democratic spending has a tendency to be of the “if we spend now, it will get repaid eventually” mentality.

Except that it is a complete myth – it seems that the idea that Democrats spend and Republicans save is so deeply ingrained, no amount of facts can shake it! And the financial crisis happened on Bush’s watch, partly as a result of relaxing financial regulation for his constituents far too much.

  
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Sachiko, just because one says it’s a myth does not substantiate the claim that it is a myth.

I believe Bill Clinton was the only Democratic President who actually sought to create growth within the economy when there was none. The other Presidents merely went about their way to increase the span and scope of government.

Also, the comment about the stimulus on my part was dumb. It was Congress, not the President, who pushed for that.

  
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I don’t just say it’s a myth: the statistics show Democrats generate far less debt than Republicans.

  
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I’m actually doing research into that. I’ll email you what I find. :D

  
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Did everyone see that the 2009 deficit is going to be $1.94 TRILLION???

  
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