David Broder this week advances an unexceptionable hypothesis: that Obama takes a long view of fundamental problems and is willing to work toward solutions with patience and persistence. Obama told us as much early in his presidency: he seeks on several fronts to move the battleship a few degrees.
But do Broder's yoked examples of slow-acting initiatives make sense?
Take health care. More than a year ago, Obama outlined a vision of a redesigned system, covering far more people at substantially lower per capita cost. He was notably sparing in how to get there, and for many months it was not clear that Congress would take up the challenge. In the end, a law was enacted that addressed exactly that goal. But it will be four years at least before its key components are in place and another four beyond that until its financing mechanism will really be tested.For month after month there was no sign that the downward spiral had slowed? How fast exactly does Broder think that emergency measures might have arrested a near-depression? Remember all those charts showing that world trade had fallen off a steeper cliff than in the Great Depression? In fact, stabilization came remarkably swiftly.
Take the economy. The "emergency" measures designed to deal with the manufacturing calamities and the overall housing and economic crises Obama inherited were quickly passed in 2009. But none was expected to show results at that moment. For month after month, there was no sign that the downward spiral had been slowed, and only now, more than a year later, are there enough positive signs -- in employment, in sales and in profits -- that many economists are willing to talk about recovery.
The banks underwent their stress tests in May 2009, raised the required $75 billion swiftly, and rushed to pay back TARP funds. Chrysler and GM emerged from bankruptcy at breakneck speed, in June and July respectively. The stock market bottomed out in March 2009 - two months after Obama took office - and has been on a straight upward trajectory ever since. Real GDP grew at a 2.2% clip in the third quarter of 2009 and by over 5% in the fourth. Unemployment has lagged, and the prospect of a jobless recovery is a major worry. But by consensus estimates, the stimulus saved 1.5 million to 2 million jobs in 2009 and is on course to create more jobs this year.
What kind of financial crisis legislation would have shown results "at that moment" of passage? Broder is a bit old to raise retrospective specters of instantaneous results -- even as he praises "a president who is not driven by a compulsion to provide instant gratification."