First a plea for humility, then a confession, then a recommendation.
Judging a president’s performance is fraught with peril. Most of us are blinkered by partisan and ideological bias that makes us more likely to notice the successes or only the failures. There is no good set of rules or norms that tells us which indicators to notice or emphasize.
Then there’s the difficulty of deciding which of the myriad things that happened in the country or the world are actually the result of the president’s policies. There’s the problem that a president often can’t put in place the policies he favors because of lack of cooperation from Congress. I suspect I could name several more problems with our perceptions of a president, and perhaps many of them are more problematic than usual in the case of Barack Obama (or perhaps it just seems that way with each new president, especially in this era of polarization).
Now the confession. I’m a pretty solid Obama admirer. I voted for him, approved of many of his major initiatives and have grown weary of the tendency of his critics to blame Obama for everything they don’t like about the economy or the country or the world, a quality that has sometimes been referred to as “Obama derangement syndrome.”
(For the record, and in the spirit of fairness, I should note that righty columnist Charles Krauthammer previously claimed to have discovered a previous “Bush Derangement Syndrome” in 2003, personified by Howard Dean and a few others.)
Now the recommendation: The estimable Factcheck.org has been publishing a quarterly report called “Obama’s numbers” in which the factcheckers update a set of statistical measurements comparing the most recent numbers (for various things like unemployment, government debt and so forth), in all cases comparing the latest numbers to where they stood on the day Obama took office. It’s called “Obama’s Numbers.” The most recent quarterly update was published last week.
The recommendation is to take a look at it. It is, of course, imperfect as any such effort must be for many reasons alluded to above (it doesn’t measure everything, but by its nature it does somehow imply that everything that happened since Inauguration Day 2009 is a reflection of the Obamaness of the intervening six and a half years).
And, confirmation bias or no, I think it makes a pretty good case for Obama as a way above average president.
In case you are too busy or lazy to click through, here’s the summary section:
Since Barack Obama first took office:
- The economy has added nearly 7.9 million jobs, and the unemployment rate is now lower than the historical median.
- Business establishment start-ups have increased by 20 percent, and the number of job openings is the highest in more than 14 years.
- The purchasing power of weekly paychecks is up 2.6 percent, despite some recent slippage.
- Nevertheless, the number of people receiving food stamps is still 43 percent higher than when Obama was first sworn in, despite recent declines.
- And the home ownership rate has continued to decline, to the lowest point in over a quarter century.
- U.S. oil production is up 94 percent. Wind and solar power are up 252 percent.
- U.S. dependency on oil imports is down to the lowest point since the 1970s.
The percentage of foreigners who say they approve of the U.S. is up in most countries including France, Britain, Japan, Mexico, Turkey, Pakistan and even Israel, where it stands at 81 percent of those polled this year. One of the few exceptions is Russia, where U.S. favorability has plunged to 15 percent.