Obama's Real Legacy: Ten Ticking Time Bombs

Every president is finally remembered by a single sentence. George Washington was the father of our country and the first president.  Abraham Lincoln saved the Union and freed the slaves. Ronald Reagan revived the economy and defeated the Soviet Union. Bill Clinton reformed welfare and balanced the budget. 

What about Barack Obama? How will he be remembered? He was our first black president and killed bin Laden? He screwed up our health care? Not quite Mount Rushmore material, I’d say.

Still, it would be unfair to call President Obama an underachiever. He boasts a rather impressive legacy, in the negative column. How many presidents, after all, have managed to increase federal spending by one-fifth and the national debt by two-thirds? What president can compete with him on having expanded presidential power via executive action, often without legal authority? Next to him, Nixon and LBJ look like schoolgirls. And who even comes close to his electoral record? Under Mr. Obama, Democrats have lost 69 House seats, 13 Senate seats, both houses of Congress, 12 governorships, 30 state legislative chambers, and more than 900 state legislative seats.  Let no one say this man was inconsequential. 

Is it premature to define his legacy? Not really. Although he has nearly fourteen months to go, he is already the lamest of ducks. Just listen to his would-be Democratic successors: one strains to detect any proud talk of “the Obama Record” or spirited cries of “Win one more for Barack.” Our 44th president is 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.

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.

1.  Another Iraq war. With the Friday the 13th Paris Attacks, it’s clear we are once again at war in the Middle East. And while some of the blame must go to George W.  Bush for needlessly toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003, a good share of the blame must accrue to Mr. Obama, for having mismanaged the withdrawal so badly that a kind of Neo-Mordor has been able to erupt from out of nowhere to seize vast stretches of the Arabian peninsula. Mr. Obama’s half-hearted aerial bombardment campaign against ISIS, which seems designed to run out the clock on a problem deemed insoluble, has acted as an invitation to the Orc armies of radical Islam to bring the battle to us -- and has enticed Russia into filling the regional power vacuum. Public support for American boots on the ground is soft; but that could change with a single, Paris-style massacre on American soil. A Third Iraq War is no longer out of the question, and would be an ironic legacy for the 2009 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Prognosis: war.

2.  A nuclear Iran.  Supporters of Obama’s controversial Iran nuclear deal argue that it has bought us ten years -- a decade for Israel to figure out how to defend itself against a nuclear-armed theocracy bent on its destruction. But that argument optimistically assumes the mullahs aren’t planning to cheat. Photographic evidence suggests they already arePrognosis (for Israel): poor. 

3.  A flat-lined “recovery.” Job growth remains so weak that our definition of what constitutes a “recovery” has been redefined downward. We’re generating a mere 230,000 new non-farm jobs a month -- too few to achieve escape velocity. Although Democrats are celebrating the fall of headline unemployment below 5 percent, the real unemployment rate is closer to 10 percent. Labor-force participation is historically low. Real wage growth is stalled. The stock market is essentially flat. The Fed has held interest rates at zero percent for seven years now, flooding the economy with cheap money; and while it is teasing markets with hints of a rate hike, under current conditions that could easily kill off what “recovery” there is.  Prognosis: continued malaise, with a chance of recession.

4.  Higher deficits. Even if the Fed holds off for now, the deficit, which is currently $439 billion, is expected to rise to $540 billion by 2020. When the Fed does pull the trigger, the deficit will shoot up because of higher borrowing costs and countercyclical welfare spending.  Everyone’s cost of borrowing for a home or automobile will go up, too. Prognosis: a run on aspirin.

5.  Higher energy costs.  On its way out the door, the Obama EPA has finalized an ambitious trio of massive environmental regulations aimed at winning its war on coal, war on carbon, and war on ponds and ditches. If the costly new rules aren’t stopped, U.S. coal-fired power plants, and affordable energy prices, can be expected to undergo manmade extinction.  Prognosis: the chills.

6.  Health care despair.  Economists are predicting large increases in ObamaCare premiums and deductibles for 2016 and 2017. In a normal insurance market, premiums and deductibles move in opposite directions. That’s no longer the case under the ironically named, and still unpopular, Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, enrollment in Obamacare seems to have leveled off and the exchanges show signs of having entered a death spiral. Twelve of 23 non-profit co-ops in the exchanges have gone belly up. This month UnitedHealthcare, the nation’s largest insurer, announced it has lost so much money on Obamacare, it will pull out of the program altogether unless it receives a multi-billion-dollar bailout. And then there’s the Cadillac Tax, a grand time bomb ticking away in the background and scheduled to go off in 2018. If not repealed or softened, its aftershocks will almost certainly level the employer-based system, from which half of the U.S. population currently gets its health insurance. Prognosis: a big Democratic push for single payer.

7.  A “food stamp” nation.  Over the past decade, the food stamps program has nearly doubled in size from 26 million to 46 million recipients (one in seven Americans) and more than doubled in cost from $29 billion to $64 billion a year. When the next recession hits, these figures will swell to historic highs. Democrats oppose common-sense reforms.  Prognosis: more dependency.

8.  Insolvent entitlements.  Entitlement reform has gone nowhere under Mr. Obama, despite the fact that Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare are among the fastest-growing sources of outlays. The various Social Security trust funds are all insolvent. The disability insurance trust fund is slated to go bankrupt by 2020; the hospital insurance fund, by 2030; and the big retirement fund, by 2034. Reforms are imperative. For example, SSDI enrollment has exploded over the past twenty years from 2.8 percent of the working-age population to 5.1 percent; lax rules have morphed the program into a form of unemployment insurance. For Democrats, the only entitlement “reforms” they’ll discuss are proposals to make the programs bigger and more redistributive. Prognosis: higher taxes.

9.  A needless crime wave.  The murder rate is going up again in a number of American cities, in the wake of the riots in Ferguson and Baltimore -- racially charged tragedies that Mr. Obama has tried to exploit for partisan gain. Thousands of criminals are poised to hit the streets again, thanks to his end-of-term efforts to reduce the national prison population. Criminal aliens continue to enter the country under his porous-borders policies.  Prognosis: mayhem.

10.  Conscience wars.  The Left is following the inescapable logic of its fundamental rejection of human nature and common sense.  With Mr. Obama’s active support, our elites are now determined to make us all cooperate in same-sex “marriage,” to accept a radical redefinition of gender, and to pay for other people’s contraceptives and elective abortions. Freedom of speech, religious liberty, the rights of conscience, and even intelligible grammar and clear thought, must all be sacrificed to the gods of sexual liberation.  Prognosis: sustained unpleasantness, with a chance of civil unrest.

There is always hope, of course. Perhaps our 45th president will help us regain our senses and turn these messes around. The night is darkest just before the dawn. But whatever happens, surely Mr. Obama has secured for himself a prominent place in the annals of failure.

Dean F. Clancy, a former White House and congressional aide, writes on U.S. health care, budget, and constitutional issues. Follow him at deanclancy.com or on twitter: @DeanClancy.  

Every president is finally remembered by a single sentence. George Washington was the father of our country and the first president.  Abraham Lincoln saved the Union and freed the slaves. Ronald Reagan revived the economy and defeated the Soviet Union. Bill Clinton reformed welfare and balanced the budget. 

What about Barack Obama? How will he be remembered? He was our first black president and killed bin Laden? He screwed up our health care? Not quite Mount Rushmore material, I’d say.

Still, it would be unfair to call President Obama an underachiever. He boasts a rather impressive legacy, in the negative column. How many presidents, after all, have managed to increase federal spending by one-fifth and the national debt by two-thirds? What president can compete with him on having expanded presidential power via executive action, often without legal authority? Next to him, Nixon and LBJ look like schoolgirls. And who even comes close to his electoral record? Under Mr. Obama, Democrats have lost 69 House seats, 13 Senate seats, both houses of Congress, 12 governorships, 30 state legislative chambers, and more than 900 state legislative seats.  Let no one say this man was inconsequential. 

Is it premature to define his legacy? Not really. Although he has nearly fourteen months to go, he is already the lamest of ducks. Just listen to his would-be Democratic successors: one strains to detect any proud talk of “the Obama Record” or spirited cries of “Win one more for Barack.” Our 44th president is 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.

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.

1.  Another Iraq war. With the Friday the 13th Paris Attacks, it’s clear we are once again at war in the Middle East. And while some of the blame must go to George W.  Bush for needlessly toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003, a good share of the blame must accrue to Mr. Obama, for having mismanaged the withdrawal so badly that a kind of Neo-Mordor has been able to erupt from out of nowhere to seize vast stretches of the Arabian peninsula. Mr. Obama’s half-hearted aerial bombardment campaign against ISIS, which seems designed to run out the clock on a problem deemed insoluble, has acted as an invitation to the Orc armies of radical Islam to bring the battle to us -- and has enticed Russia into filling the regional power vacuum. Public support for American boots on the ground is soft; but that could change with a single, Paris-style massacre on American soil. A Third Iraq War is no longer out of the question, and would be an ironic legacy for the 2009 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Prognosis: war.

2.  A nuclear Iran.  Supporters of Obama’s controversial Iran nuclear deal argue that it has bought us ten years -- a decade for Israel to figure out how to defend itself against a nuclear-armed theocracy bent on its destruction. But that argument optimistically assumes the mullahs aren’t planning to cheat. Photographic evidence suggests they already arePrognosis (for Israel): poor. 

3.  A flat-lined “recovery.” Job growth remains so weak that our definition of what constitutes a “recovery” has been redefined downward. We’re generating a mere 230,000 new non-farm jobs a month -- too few to achieve escape velocity. Although Democrats are celebrating the fall of headline unemployment below 5 percent, the real unemployment rate is closer to 10 percent. Labor-force participation is historically low. Real wage growth is stalled. The stock market is essentially flat. The Fed has held interest rates at zero percent for seven years now, flooding the economy with cheap money; and while it is teasing markets with hints of a rate hike, under current conditions that could easily kill off what “recovery” there is.  Prognosis: continued malaise, with a chance of recession.

4.  Higher deficits. Even if the Fed holds off for now, the deficit, which is currently $439 billion, is expected to rise to $540 billion by 2020. When the Fed does pull the trigger, the deficit will shoot up because of higher borrowing costs and countercyclical welfare spending.  Everyone’s cost of borrowing for a home or automobile will go up, too. Prognosis: a run on aspirin.

5.  Higher energy costs.  On its way out the door, the Obama EPA has finalized an ambitious trio of massive environmental regulations aimed at winning its war on coal, war on carbon, and war on ponds and ditches. If the costly new rules aren’t stopped, U.S. coal-fired power plants, and affordable energy prices, can be expected to undergo manmade extinction.  Prognosis: the chills.

6.  Health care despair.  Economists are predicting large increases in ObamaCare premiums and deductibles for 2016 and 2017. In a normal insurance market, premiums and deductibles move in opposite directions. That’s no longer the case under the ironically named, and still unpopular, Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, enrollment in Obamacare seems to have leveled off and the exchanges show signs of having entered a death spiral. Twelve of 23 non-profit co-ops in the exchanges have gone belly up. This month UnitedHealthcare, the nation’s largest insurer, announced it has lost so much money on Obamacare, it will pull out of the program altogether unless it receives a multi-billion-dollar bailout. And then there’s the Cadillac Tax, a grand time bomb ticking away in the background and scheduled to go off in 2018. If not repealed or softened, its aftershocks will almost certainly level the employer-based system, from which half of the U.S. population currently gets its health insurance. Prognosis: a big Democratic push for single payer.

7.  A “food stamp” nation.  Over the past decade, the food stamps program has nearly doubled in size from 26 million to 46 million recipients (one in seven Americans) and more than doubled in cost from $29 billion to $64 billion a year. When the next recession hits, these figures will swell to historic highs. Democrats oppose common-sense reforms.  Prognosis: more dependency.

8.  Insolvent entitlements.  Entitlement reform has gone nowhere under Mr. Obama, despite the fact that Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare are among the fastest-growing sources of outlays. The various Social Security trust funds are all insolvent. The disability insurance trust fund is slated to go bankrupt by 2020; the hospital insurance fund, by 2030; and the big retirement fund, by 2034. Reforms are imperative. For example, SSDI enrollment has exploded over the past twenty years from 2.8 percent of the working-age population to 5.1 percent; lax rules have morphed the program into a form of unemployment insurance. For Democrats, the only entitlement “reforms” they’ll discuss are proposals to make the programs bigger and more redistributive. Prognosis: higher taxes.

9.  A needless crime wave.  The murder rate is going up again in a number of American cities, in the wake of the riots in Ferguson and Baltimore -- racially charged tragedies that Mr. Obama has tried to exploit for partisan gain. Thousands of criminals are poised to hit the streets again, thanks to his end-of-term efforts to reduce the national prison population. Criminal aliens continue to enter the country under his porous-borders policies.  Prognosis: mayhem.

10.  Conscience wars.  The Left is following the inescapable logic of its fundamental rejection of human nature and common sense.  With Mr. Obama’s active support, our elites are now determined to make us all cooperate in same-sex “marriage,” to accept a radical redefinition of gender, and to pay for other people’s contraceptives and elective abortions. Freedom of speech, religious liberty, the rights of conscience, and even intelligible grammar and clear thought, must all be sacrificed to the gods of sexual liberation.  Prognosis: sustained unpleasantness, with a chance of civil unrest.

There is always hope, of course. Perhaps our 45th president will help us regain our senses and turn these messes around. The night is darkest just before the dawn. But whatever happens, surely Mr. Obama has secured for himself a prominent place in the annals of failure.

Dean F. Clancy, a former White House and congressional aide, writes on U.S. health care, budget, and constitutional issues. Follow him at deanclancy.com or on twitter: @DeanClancy.