In the midst of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt took office and immediately embarked on a whirlwind of activity, rushing bills through a compliant Congress to implement sweeping socialist programs which were promoted as attempts to deal with problems of the depression like unemployment and bank failures, but which largely resulted in extending the economic crisis for years of additional suffering. Following that model, President Obama has attempted to use the fear generated by our current economic crisis to ram through massive amounts of unnecessary spending and socialist legislation designed to fundamentally change many of our institutions and certain to prolong and intensify our economic problems.
FDR was dealing with a much more severe economic situation than we currently face, but many of his extreme measures were actually less extreme and considerably less expensive than what the current administration is implementing. Even so, his honeymoon period lasted only a little bit more than 100 days, starting with his inauguration and ending in the last week of June with the passage of the Frazier-Lemke Farm Bankruptcy Act. After that, Congress and the Supreme Court and the American people had grown weary of unjustifiable economic experimentation and shut him down.
Obama has not attempted to launch as many different programs as FDR, but the cost and scope of his efforts may be even greater. But as happened in June of 1933 for FDR, there are signs that Obama’s “honeymoon” period is coming to an end.
The most significant sign is increasing resistance inside his own party in Congress to the programs he has been advocating. On his most recent major initiatives, the energy and health care bills, large numbers of Democrats have become “blue dogs” balking at the huge expense and fundamental societal changes which those bills would generate. The bills have been watered down and heavily debated and are at real risk of not passing at all or passing only in an emasculated and unrecognizable form which doesn’t meet the standards which the president has been stridently demanding in his increasingly shrill and angry statements.
It is quite clear from his increased efforts to appeal to the people for support that Obama realizes he is losing momentum on these issues and is running out of political capital. This is reflected in his rapidly declining strength in the polls. It’s not so bad that his personal approval rating has dropped from 78% in January to the low 60s today. That’s still pretty good. But his job rating has dropped from 78% to 55% and support for his specific programs has dropped more dramatically. Support for health care reform has dropped from 57% to 49%, opposition to his handling of the economy has increased dramatically from 34% to 46% and opposition to cap and trade has risen from 34% to 46%.
Right now the numbers still break Obama’s way, but in all of these polls there is a clear trend of a swing of 10-12 points against Obama in a period of about four months. That’s a longer honeymoon than FDR got, but it is clear that it’s coming to an end. In his Wednesday press conference Obama seemed shrill, disillusioned and desperate, ultimately giving in to congressional demands for delay on healthcare. Just as the old saw “healthcare delayed is healthcare denied” is true about the rationed care we would see under ObamaCare, it looks likely that deliberation delayed may mean legislation denied as well.
Calling this Obama’s Waterloo as some have done may be overstating the case, but there is reason to hope that the summer of 1933 will repeat itself and Congress will reject the remaining budget busters and recess fed up with being pushed around by the administration and return to do-nothing business as usual when it returns.
Don’t get too hopeful. There’s a caveat. When it became clear that Roosevelt’s programs from his hundred day honeymoon did not save the country and in fact probably contributed to the economy becoming significantly worse, after a year of waiting to see what would happen, public desperation gave FDR a second honeymoon period in 1935 where he was able to pass some of his most destructive and draconian legislation, including the Social Security Act, the Public Utility Holding Companies Act which put public utilities under government control, the National Labor Relations Act which massively expanded the power of unions and his single most expensive program the Works Progress Administration which cost the equivalent of close to a trillion dollars when adjusted for inflation.
The current economic crisis is not as bad as the Great Depression was, so perhaps Obama’s somewhat longer but less intense honeymoon period will end without a sequel and we can move on to clear some of the deadwood in Congress in 2010 and see about eventually reversing the worst of the damage and putting the country back on a sound economic footing before Obama exits the White House like a second Jimmy Carter in 2012. At the very least we can hope that his period of governing almost by fiat is over and some rationality and bipartisanship will minimize the damage henceforth.