In a recent survey, people were asked who among recent presidents they would most trust to fix the American economy. The two leading answers were Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. FDR makes sense as he was the president who brought the country out of the Depression, but perhaps he was not â€œrecentâ€ enough, because most of the respondents opted for Reagan.
Reagan inherited a relatively small deficit (compared to more recent deficits) when he took over from Jimmy Carter. In fact, in his campaign he hammered Carter over it. Instead of fixing the deficit, however, the Reagan administration blew it out, and it stayed out of control until it was reigned in under the Clinton administration. Then under George W. Bush it blew out again, and it is now no longer economically viable to bring it under control until the economy improves considerably.
Be that as it may, this does not negate the idea that Reagan might be the one to do something here. But today, despite the reverence the conservatives hold for him, Reagan would not even win his party’s nomination. This is why: Towards the end of his administration, there was a realization that a fix was needed, and Reagan took the hard choice and began raising taxes. These days, the GOP is so blindly obsessed about taxes that anyone suggesting taxes is automatically out, not matter how reasonable and economically sensible such a move might be. And that must include Ronald Reagan.
The BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico may signal the end of trust in the President Obama, just as Hurricane Katrina damaged President Bushâ€™s standing. Considering all the aspects of the oil disaster, it is difficult to see how the administration could have acted otherwise. But we the people expect more. Although the publicâ€™s general view of the government comes with a large dose of cynicism, when we find ourselves in a situation like the BP oil disaster or Katrina, we expect some superhuman solution to the crisis.
The truth of the matter is that there are some crises that are so great that they are beyond the ability of the government to deal with immediately and in a totally effective way.
The 9/11 attack was a major crisis that fell within the range of our ability to act, and the government did react swiftly and effectively identified the source of and responsibility for the attack. Until we were diverted into the irrelevant Iraq war, there were only small missteps that could be criticized.
In the case of Katrina, it is true that Bush made some goofs, but overall it was clear that the extent of the crisis was well beyond the countryâ€™s ability to deal with it immediately and effectively. When the waters retreated, most of the blame fell unfairly on the shoulders of Bush, and he and his administration will forever be marked by the failures of Katrina.
Will we see that same with Obama and the BP oil disaster? Obamaâ€™s main misstep has been not to be seen to be angry with BP. As the disaster develops more and more into a major catastrophe, I think it is quite likely that we will tar Obama with it as part of his legacy.