Whatever Mr. Obama promised in that famous first Inaugural Address, any sense of a nation united and raised up is gone. This isn’t normal second-term blues. It’s a sense of bust.That's what rent-seeking and bipartisanship lead to, but there's more.
The formal measure of all this appeared last week with the release of the Pew Research poll, whose headline message is that trust in government is kaput. Forget the old joke about the government coming to “help.” There’s a darker version now: We’re the government, and we’re here to screw you.
Liberals think the right is gloating at Mr. Obama’s end-of-term difficulties. No one is gloating. The nation is either furious (the right) or depressed (the left) at eight wasted, wheel-spinning years whose main achievement is ObamaCare—a morass.And Dean Clancy suggests that perhaps winning the presidency next year has a lot in common with playing sheepshead for leaster.
Mr. Obama will go off to do something else, but he leaves behind a country littered with public and private institutions in disrepute. Whatever the cumulative causes for this, a president bears responsibility for maintaining some bedrock level of respect for institutions that are the necessary machinery of the nation’s daily life.
Instead, Mr. Obama spent much of his presidency vilifying the private sector—banks, insurers, energy producers and utilities.
The public’s low opinion of Congress is well known, but consider: The Pew study reports the favorable rating for the Department of Justice is just 46%. That not half the country respects something called the Justice Department is a travesty.
Mr. Obama has repeatedly mocked institutions he didn’t control and abused the powers of those he did. Almost always, the ridicule and condescension came in front of cheering audiences. It’s hardly a surprise that Donald Trump is exploiting and expanding the loss of public faith. Mr. Obama spent seven years softening up Mr. Trump’s audiences for him.
Our 44th president is as a political albatross and increasingly reminds one of the hapless Jimmy Carter in his final, miserable days. Indeed, the parallels with 1980 are eerie: Russia on the march, Iranian mullahs chanting “Death to America,” the economy stuck in the doldrums -- and so on. At this late date it’s hard to see how Mr. Obama could alter the judgment that his has been a failed presidency.Read, understand, agree or disagree. Two intrigue me. The non-stimulus stimulus and the pathetic economic recovery over the past seven years come as no surprise. Then comes the fallout from the so-called Affordable Care Act. It might be a stalking horse for single payer. But advocates of a government takeover of health insurance might profitably study the coming of Conrail. First, hem in the railroads with regulations. Then create a public agency to pick up the pieces. The transition will not be pretty. On the other hand, a future Ronald Reagan might see the opportunity to sell the agency off.
And what exactly is his legacy? A collection of ticking time bombs, left behind to be defused or cleaned up after by his unfortunate successors. The list is seemingly endless, but ten strike me as particularly urgent and worrisome.