Captain Obama and the “SS Economy”

Contributed by Shell Suber

It is a commonly held notion among the general population that the US president “runs” the US economy. This is about as absurd as the notion that the captain of a great ship crossing the Atlantic controls the weather he encounters. Yes, the captain can make the best of a bad (or good) situation, but in the end, he can’t actually control the weather. Yet, in the minds of voters, we give complete credit or absolute blame to our president for the economy. Instead, we should measure the his performance by how well he manages the weather conditions he faces.

Bill Clinton understood the direct relationship between the political fortunes of presidents and the economy during their terms. Much to his credit he made every possible effort – including resisting pressures from within his own party – not to interfere with the smooth waters he sailed, so much so that Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan called Clinton the best president he ever worked with. Did Clinton create the economy he was given? No, but he navigated that economy well… and milked the result for all it was worth with American voters.

For parallels to the foul weather faced by the economy today – both economic and political – look no further than Captain Jimmy Carter.

  • Carter – an accomplished Navy officer back in his day – assumed command of the “SS Economy” during rough seas. Similarly, Barack Obama was dealt a tough hand.
  • Like Carter, Obama took over during a time of extreme public dissatisfaction with his Republican predecessor(s), which seems like a blessing until you realize expectations are through the roof.
  • Obama’s election was seen as a symbolic sea change in the direction and tone of national politics… which is fine if you deliver but heartbreaking for your devotees should you fail. Ask Jimmy. He started out with the same “mandate to change Washington” in ’76. He let his supporters down and they were so put out with him they nearly didn’t re-nominate him in ’80.
  • Like Carter’s first two years, Obama has done a pretty lousy job steering the ship into more favorable waters. In fact, most passengers believe his efforts have only made things worse (again, like Carter.) While polls show voters still like the man (just like Carter in 1978), all the numbers pertaining to his “captain” skills are sinking.
  • Last parallel – and this one might only be worth a “hmmm” – but just like ’78, there is a good looking former governor from a traditionally Democratic state with a track record of success and great hair who came this close to being the Republican nominee last go-round and is skillfully working the GOP circuit to build up a list of his own devotees.

Ok, so it’s too early yet to say if Captain Obama is doomed to be dashed on the political rocks in 2012 as Carter was in 1980. But consider that since World War II, America has fired only two presidents after a single term – the first came 35 years after the war (Carter) and the second was 12 years later (Bush 41). When 2012 rolls around it will have been 20 years since we last sent a captain back to port after one term.

This long strange trip is starting to look eerily familiar.

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5 Responses to “Captain Obama and the “SS Economy””

  1. Good post Shell, but I would disagree slightly. While a President can’t force an economy to be good, with the help of the Congress he sure can sink that ship, remember the Titanic. With the Government eating all the capital in the country, printing money as fast as the printing presses can run, piling massive regulation upon massive regulation, attacking businesses in the media, in the courtroom and in their bank accounts, raising taxes in an obscene fashion with the “Healthcare” bill and allowing all of the Bush tax cuts to expire thus raising taxes on every person in this country. Obama/Pelosi/Reid have turned our ship toward the polar ice cap and hit the jet turbines.

  2. “Obama’s election was seen as a symbolic sea change in the direction and tone of national politics… “


    Yes he did, in that he somehow convinced masses that he can walk on water. Oh what a revelation……………

  3. Vince – Certainly the economy can be mismanaged. Neither Carter nor Obama caused the economic problems they faced. But voters consider it the President’s responsibility to make the smart choices to steer the ship into calmer waters. Carter failed. In fact, he made it worse. So far, Obama’s attempts have not worked and are being generally regarded as harmful. Polls now indicate voters are beginning blame on him for the whole mess, just like they did with Carter. This fact, coupled with the stratospheric expectations his election unleashed, is shaping up to create the rare conditions needed to produce the perfect storm that can unseat a president.

    I believe the last piece of the Perfect Storm Puzzle is a foreign affairs disaster like the one that finished Carter. If either Iraq or Afghanistan (or wherever) goes dramatically south for the US in the next 20 months, Sacha and Malia can start looking forward spending their high school years back home in Chicago.

  4. Shell,

    He (and Pelosi and Reid) did everything wrong. We could have and should have been on the road to recovery. However, he has created more uncertainty in the economy and depleted the capital. It doesn’t have anything to do with how people perceive him or feel about the economy. Just look at the legislation that has been passed. Healthcare no business knows how it is going to affect them because it is written to allow bureaucrats to sets the rules and enforce them. The just passed Banking Bill is the same thing. A government bureaucracy will get to write the new rules and enforce them. Now the businesses are all worried about what they are going to do in the “lame duck” session of Congress. Did you know that the largest corporations (banks, insurance companies, construction companies, developers, phone companies etc.) currently have more cash on hand than they have ever had. The reason is they are afraid to spend it in improvements and investments because they are worried about what is around the corner. We should be out of this mess but contrary to what the media says, we are going deeper.

    You are correct that he didn’t inherit this economy, the seeds of this economy were planted in the 1930’s and have been slowly growing as the government took over more and more pieces of the economy. He is responsible for what his response has been. He has taken the opposite of what he should have done. In the past 100 years we had one President follow a prudent path during a depression, Warren G. Harding. His reduction is government size, regulatory authority and reduction in taxes killed the post WWI depression and started the roaring 20’s.

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