The Magazine

Obama’s Second-Term Agenda

Entrenching his first-term ‘achievements.’

Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Observers on both sides of the political aisle have noted, often with surprise, President Obama’s failure to offer an agenda for a second term in office. It would be a mistake, however, to assume Obama has no second-term agenda; he simply doesn’t have one he can express aloud. In truth, the president’s main agenda item for a second term is to cement the result of his first term that Americans like least—Obama-care. It is fitting, then, that the principal reason why Obama seeks reelection may prove to be the primary cause of his defeat. 

Obama and his plan

Newscom

If Obama loses his bid for reelection, it won’t be because the economy hasn’t turned around, or because his tone of incivility has started to grate on voters, or even because he apparently didn’t bother to prepare for the first presidential debate and ran up against an opponent who did (although each of these things will have played a key role). It will be because of Obama-care. 

The week before Obama gave his June 2009 speech to the American Medical Association—the unofficial kickoff of the health care debate—Gallup’s polling showed that the American people overwhelmingly approved of the way he was handling his job as president. His net approval rating was plus-30 points (61 percent approving, 31 percent disapproving). In addition, the president enjoyed an overwhelmingly Democratic House, a filibuster-proof Democratic Senate, and the true believer’s conviction that spearheading government-run health care would secure his place “on the right side of history.” 

Nine months later, as he signed Obama-care into law, Obama’s net approval rating had plummeted 25 points, to plus-5 points (49 percent approving, 44 percent disapproving) in Gallup’s weekly polling of all adults, meaning he was probably underwater with likely voters. It has never recovered. More than two-and-a-half years later, Obama’s net approval rating in Gallup’s most recent weekly polling is right where it was when he put his pen to Obama-care—at plus-5 points among all adults (50 percent approving, 45 percent disapproving). 

There are several reasons why Obama’s popularity fell dramatically during the health care debate and never rebounded. For starters, his emphasis on Obama-care was the first indication of something that’s become increasingly obvious to voters over time: Obama doesn’t really care about the economy. For nine months, while the American people wanted him to focus on the economy, Obama wanted to focus on putting the nation’s health care system under the yoke of the federal government. So that’s what he did. 

In spearheading Obama-care’s passage, moreover, the president didn’t just neglect the economy; he made it worse. The looming specter of Obama-care provides powerful incentives for businesses not to hire new workers. And once the law fully takes effect (unless it’s repealed first), Obama-care will provide similarly strong incentives for businesses not to employ workers for as many as 30 hours a week—the point at which any employer of 50 or more workers will be compelled to provide federally approved health insurance. As a result, the 29-hour workweek—and corresponding pay—will become commonplace.

Nor has Obama’s interest in the economy increased noticeably over time. During the presidential debates, he didn’t even convincingly feign interest in promoting economic growth to spur job creation. The two job-creation proposals that he most frequently espoused during the debates were his desire to hire more teachers at taxpayer expense and to “invest” more taxpayer money in “green energy” jobs. But the former seems to relate more to his concern for education (at best) or his desire to provide payback to a supportive union (at worst) than to a desire to fuel the economy as a whole, while the latter seems to excite Obama not because it would create jobs, but because it would allow Obama to funnel more people into activities of which he approves. As for a plan actually designed to increase economic growth, he’s had next to nothing to say.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 15 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers