The Conservative and Progressive Measures of Success, Clearly Defined

In looking back on his soon-to-be-over tenure as Attorney General, Eric Holder has “only praise for [Barack] Obama, disputing the claims of some African-American leaders that the first black president hasn’t really delivered for the black community: “You know, very often, empty barrels make the most noise.  And I think there are any number of measures by which you can say this presidency has been successful in a whole variety of ways, and especially when it comes to people of color.”

This presidency has, by “any number of measures,” been “successful?”  That’s a pretty vague and useless assertion.  Let us instead invert the approach.  How “successful” has Obama’s presidency been by a “measure of any numbers,” especially when it comes to people of color?

First, let us begin by saying that any official data citing reductions in unemployment rates are corrupted by one simple and less publicized fact: the significant drop in labor participation rates.  When Barack Obama took office in January 2009, the labor participation rate was 65.7 percent.  Since then, labor participation rates have plummeted to 62.7 percent -- the lowest since Jimmy Carter held office.  That is to say, “labor force is 7.4 million smaller than it otherwise would have been had people either not stopped looking for work or, particularly the case with younger Americans, simply failed to start looking for work,” according to Steve Moore at Forbes.

But even with that in mind, there might be useful data to extract from the unemployment rates.  While unemployment among whites fell by 1.5 points to 6.3 percent, black unemployment fell by only 1.1 points to 11.6 percent.   Black teen unemployment, on the other hand, rose substantially from 35.3% to 36.8%.

And here’s where the drop in labor participation may take its noticeable toll in the data -- poverty has increased significantly under Obama as well.  While 14.3 percent of Americans were considered in poverty in January 2009, 15 percent were considered so in 2012, according to recent reports. “Similarly,” according to Deroy Murdoch of National Review, “the share of black Americans living in poverty expanded from 25.8% to 27.2 percent.”

And the overall population of Americans living on food stamps increased from 32.9 million in 2009 to 46 million in 2012.  The black Americans represented within that upward trend specifically increased from roughly 7.4 million in 2009 to nearly 11 million in 2012.

All of these developments were observed during the much-touted “economic recovery” since Obama took office.

How any of these numbers lead to the conclusion that Obama’s presidency has been a “successful” one for the American economy, and particularly beneficial to American blacks, might seem a mystery.  But as Eric Holder alludes, the measure of success doesn’t lie in the numbers, but rather in in the “number of ways” success can be measured.

If one measures success, as progressives do, by Americans’ increased dependence upon taxpayer-funded handouts, Obama’s presidency could indeed be considered “successful.”  But consider that ridiculous contention in contrast to Scott Walker’s more practical observation at CPAC:  “We should measure success by just the opposite – by how many people are no longer dependent upon the government.”

It would be difficult to imagine how the ideological divide that exists in this country could be defined in starker terms.  While the progressive believes that dependence upon benevolent governance is the path to success, the conservative knows that government dependence is the death of self-governance, and an impediment to the talents and entrepreneurial spirit of the individual which is, and always has been, the truest measure of our nation’s success.

William Sullivan blogs at Political Palaver and can be followed on Twitter.

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