(This article first appeared on the Baltimore Post-Examiner)
Take Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations and add the Obamacare launch fiasco, which it assuredly was and the lesson is clear, 2013 was not a poster year for Barack Obama. But despite all the premature political obituaries from the usual brainless po-faced pundits on the Sunday morning talk shows and the usual New York Times and Washington Post BPM (boring, predictable and mediocre) columnists, it really wasn’t a bad year either.
In fact when you look beyond the BPM crowd, it’s remarkable how much went right for the president – and for the great nation he serves as chief executive.
First, while economic recovery was still slow, it was real. In particular Midwest manufacturing continues to benefit from the president’s generous use of TARP funds early in his first term and from his entirely correct decision to bail out the big automakers in Detroit. According to Adam Smith, George Will and Milton Friedman all those moves should have bankrupted us four years ago. But that sainted crowd of ignorant phonies were just wrong as usual. The world is a more complicated place than a blind superstitious faith in the “invisible hand” of zero government intervention. No other major nation in the world safeguards its vital economic interests that way, and neither should we.
The amazing truth is that Wall Street’s raw numbers love this president even though the Wall Street Journal and company are too numerately illiterate to see it. Over the five years of his presidency so far, Barak Obama continues to rate among the top six presidents of the past century for the percentage improvement in the Dow Jones Index during his time in office. Of course, George W. Bush and his team had witlessly driven the Dow so low after September 2008 that any improvement would look good. And there has been nothing like the wholesale massacre of the domestic manufacturing sector that defined Bush 43’s (tax policies) shamefully feckless “let them flip burgers” two terms in office.
Second, the president resisted the usual predictable tsunami of moral outrage from the armchair warriors and cheap moralists of both the left and the right and, with a lot of help from his exceptionally shrewd and still underrated secretary of state John Kerry, avoided getting America’s exhausted and depleted military getting swept into yet another futile war in the Middle East, this time on the side of the Muslim Brotherhood and the other Islamist extremists who dominate the rebel opposition in Syria.
President Obama achieved this not through heroic so-called principled stands and gallant orations from the bully pulpit but through complicated and at-the-time embarrassing U-turns and retreats from previously stated positions once he saw the political opposition was mounting against him.
Now, clearly Michael Beschloss and other future cheerleaders for “Presidential Courage” in the hackneyed old Stephen Ambrose tradition will discretely ignore that complicated and less than inspiring episode. But the cold truth of it was exceptionally revealing and surprisingly encouraging:
Barak Obama wasn’t afraid to back down off an exposed limb when he realized he’d climbed out too far ahead of public opinion and his own sound instincts. Franklin Roosevelt, most successful president of modern times, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Sainted Ronald Reagan and Cunning Bill Clinton were all famous for similarly reversing their stands on key issues when political necessity and rational calculation called for it. Now Obama joins Eisenhower on Indochina in 1954 and Reagan on Syria in 1983 as a president who successfully withstood major pressures, even from within his own administration, to plunge the country into a completely un-necessary and potentially catastrophic war.
This is a roll of honor, not shame: Contrast Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam half a century ago and George W. Bush in Iraq a decade ago and thank God for the difference.
Third, despite all the Tea Party prophets of doom and GOP fat cat hypocrites’ warnings to the contrary, the president has not unleashed a plague of inflation that would destroy the economy. Given that spending continues at almost record highs and the annual budget deficit, while coming down, is still appallingly high, how has he pulled this off?
The key reason is: bad as the U.S. government deficit is, those of Japan and most euro-zone countries are far, far worse. This means that international capital, especially from China and Japan, still finds U.S. Treasury bonds a far safer place to bank their money than comparable and rival sources. Indeed, in the second half of 2013, China’s purchase of Treasuries reached a new record. And this confidence has left the financial standing of the U.S. government looking good. As Min Zeng reported in the Wall Street Journal on January 2, “U.S. Treasury bonds shook off an earlier price decline and ended the first session of 2014 on a high note.
“Buyers stepped in after the benchmark 10-year Treasury yield rose to its highest level in more than two years.”
Fourth, 2013 was the year Barack Obama channeled Gary Cooper in “High Noon” and won. He faced down the Republican majority in the House of Representatives over the 17-day government shutdown and he won. General GOP approval ratings plunged to their lowest level in history. A chastened House GOP for once bucked their own Know-Nothing crackpot extremists and gave their budgetary guru Rep. Paul Ryan the green light to craft a compromise deal with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington to prevent any more childish and potentially ruinous deadlocks or shutdowns for at least two years.
If this was a bad year for the 44th POTUS, just think what a good one will be like.
Martin Sieff’s most recent book “That Should Still Be Us: How Thomas Friedman’s Flat World Myths are Keeping Us Flat on Our Backs” (2012) is available from amazon.com
Martin Sieff is a former senior foreign correspondent for The Washington Times and former Managing Editor, International Affairs for United Press International. Mr. Sieff is the author of “That Should Still Be Us: How Thomas Friedman’s Flat World Myths Are Keeping Us Flat on Our Backs” (Wiley 2012) and “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East” (Regnery, 2008). He has received three Pulitzer Prize nominations for international reporting.