“A Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy”

Niall Ferguson responds to critics once again. Read it and make your own mind up. Here's his summary:

My central critique of the President is not that the economy has under-performed, but that he has not been an effective leader of the executive branch. I go on to detail his well-documented difficulties in managing his team of economic advisers and his disastrous decision to leave it to his own party in Congress to define the terms of his stimulus, financial reform and healthcare reform. I also argue that he has consistently failed to address the crucial issue of long-term fiscal balance, with the result that the nation is now hurtling towards a fiscal cliff of tax hikes and drastic spending cuts.

Niall is surely aware that the Congress writes laws, not presidents. This is not Westminster. And Niall's preferred top-down approach was indeed pursued by the Clintons in 1994. Healthcare reform failed that time spectacularly precisely because it didn't flatter Congress' prerogatives; under Obama's "failed" executive leadership, universal healthcare passed for the first time in history. It's very close to Romneycare. Was that as big a mess as well?

The well-documented difficulties on economic policy come from Ron Suskind's book, which was subject to strong pushback from the people it quoted. I'm sure there were divisions and fights in the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s. But the results are pretty clear: the economy under Obama has performed much better than the British economy under Osborne, or Europe or Japan. The private sector has recovered at Reagan-like rates. It's the slashing of public sector jobs that has kept employment so subdued – but far less subdued than anywhere else in the developed world. If this is executive mismanagement, more, please.

Then the notion that Obama "has consistently failed to address the crucial issue of long-term fiscal balance." What, then, was the Bowles-Simpson Commission about? Ryan didn't create it – he merely torpedoed it because it dared to raise revenues in order to cut the deficit! Obama actually created it and if the necessary majority in Congress had backed it, he would have gone a long way to sign it. Why not? It would give him credit for the biggest deal since 1993. And that's precisely why the GOP – spearheaded by Ryan – killed it.

Yes, Obama deserves a shellacking for not owning Bowles-Simpson – in what was, in my view, the biggest error of his presidency. But I have no doubt he wanted and wants a Grand Bargain – and revealed how far he would go by cutting $700 billion from Medicare in the ACA (which Ryan is now exploiting on the campaign trail). But how do you get a Grand Bargain between the two parties when one party refuses to bargain on its central priority, no tax increases? Given Obama's record of Medicare cuts (never before imposed by a Democratic president), it's clear who the culprit is for the fiscal cliff: a Republican party that wanted the US to default rather than agree to even a tiny revenue increase, and that pledged in the primaries to refuse a budget deal that was 10-1 spending cuts to revenue increases.

As for the executive banch, the commander-in-chief role is part of the job. Niall doesn't mention the extremely successful attack on al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the end of torture, the killing of Osama bin Laden and capture of mounds of intelligence, or the fact that, unlike his predecessor, Obama has not presided over a major terror attack in this country or authorized grotesque torture that effectively destroyed America's moral standing. As for Iraq, Niall says the exit was premature. It was negotiated by Bush. Maliki didn't want us there any more. Niall thinks we should occupy a country with all the massive expense that entails – against its will? Seriously? And it's Obama who is unserious on the debt?