John Foreman: Obama's first term shows our judgment was sound
Four years ago, this newspaper quite unwittingly published the most controversial editorial in memory.
In hindsight, I regard it as one of our best.
We declined to endorse Barack Obama for president, favoring instead Sen. John McCain. It really wasn't a close call in our mind, and we were wholly unprepared for the outcry.
It was not that we didn't like Obama; we did. In fact, we were an early supporter in his quest for the U.S. Senate. (He called me himself to thank us for the endorsement.) We regarded him as bright, charming and articulate, with a seductive message of unity and optimism.
And while we weren't impressed with his very brief Senate career or the early decision to cut that short and run for president, his promise of a post-partisan, post-racial America was appealing. His election as president would make history, and American was ready. I know conservative Republicans who voted for him on that basis alone.
We were not sufficiently seduced, however, to ignore McCain's superior experience and accomplishment in facing a host of national problems.
A host of readers reacted. It wasn't just that they disagreed with us; it was as if our view was entirely illegitimate — an opinion no one had the right to hold. Disbelieving we could take a stance so at odds with their own certainty, some actually cancelled their subscriptions. I'd never seen reaction like it to an editorial, certainly not to an endorsement — where, after all, about 50 percent routinely feel differently.
The fact is, I shared their hope if not their conviction. I watched the new president's inauguration two months later with the appreciation of witnessing a historic moment. For the first time, any little boy really could grow up to be president, and this was a cause for celebration, whether Obama was our first choice for the job or not. And perhaps he really could match the rhetoric that stirred so many.
Sadly, our assessment of the young Illinois senator could not have been more accurate. He simply wasn't ready to be president. He was an undistinguished part-time senator who lacked any significant background for the nation's highest office. He gave an inspirational speech, to be sure, but the presidency requires more than stirring stump speeches.
Obama failed the most important challenge on the national agenda — restoring the American economy. His post-partisan promise proved to be rhetorical fiction, and he quickly became a figure as polarizing as his predecessor, squandering his early political capital with a widely disliked remake of the health care system that took precedence over any other goal. The candidate who promised the most transparent administration in history achieved the defining accomplishment of his first term in a late-night, straight-party vote in favor of a bill so hastily crafted and so complicated that most of those voting on it didn't even understand it.
Worse, the time, energy and goodwill it consumed came at the expense of crafting a bipartisan solution to the far more pressing concerns of the economy. While home mortgages turned upside down, foreclosures soared, businesses collapsed and unemployment reached highs unseen in decades, the administration pushed changes in health care that wouldn't be implemented for years to come.
His approach to the economy, by contrast, was simplistic, unimaginative and, in some part, counterproductive. The worst economic downturn since the Great Depression seemed almost an afterthought on his agenda.
His costly stimulus package to create "shovel-ready" jobs produced barely a handful, and his extension of unemployment benefits to stimulate consumer spending had no discernible result. Only his bail-outs of Chrysler and General Motors merit acknowledgement, and it can argued that they were more style than substance.
His major initiative — Obamacare — was precisely the wrong policy at the wrong time. It created new uncertainty for employers unable to discern its cost and helped prompt a wait-and-see attitude at the expense of badly needed job creation. And gargantuan cost projections, coupled with the other spending, raised new concerns that taxes might increase as well.
More than anything else the administration did or didn't do, Obamacare prevented a more accelerated economic recovery. In short, this president not only failed to produce the desired improvement, in no small measure he may have prevented it.
Those are the mistakes of a rookie with little real knowledge of how the private economy works and of one wedded more to sweeping ideology than practical problem solving.
Today on these pages, we endorse Mitt Romney — an individual with proven leadership skills — to replace him. Perhaps that will produce another outcry. But frankly, even here in Obama country, I doubt it.
No failures in Washington, D.C., hold a candle to the legislative malpractice committed in the state of Illinois the last two decades.
And no one should cast a vote for anyone returning to Springfield Tuesday before acquainting themselves with the recently released report of the State Budget Crisis Task Force, a national blue-ribbon panel charged with studying widespread financial problems in the states.
It minces no words on the quality of the state of Illinois' governance — although similar criticism is by now so oft repeated that it may have lost its capacity to shock.
Illinois' finances are THE WORST of any of the 50 states, the report says, largely as a result of "gamesmanship" by our elected leaders. Among the myriad negative consequences has been a failure to stimulate the job growth necessary to help solve the problem.
"Illinois' budget is not fiscally sustainable," the report concludes. "It cannot simultaneously continue current services, keep taxes at current levels, provide all promised benefits and make needed investments."
The task force was co-chaired by Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker and included heavyweights the likes of former Treasury Secretaries Nicholas Brady and George Schultz and former U.S. Budget Director Alice Rivlin.
But it was the group's other co-chairman, former New York City transit chief Richard Ravitch, who extended the indictment beyond Illinois' politicians, telling Crain's Chicago Business that "the average voter and much of the media" are not even focused on the problem in Illinois.
"I think it going to reach a point where there's either social disorder or bankruptcy before people will act," he said.
Illinois is past the point where something's got to give. It's nearing the point where everything will have to give. The status quo or anything like it simply won't work anymore.
John Foreman, publisher of The News-Gazette, can be reached by mail at P.O. Box 677 in Champaign or by email at email@example.com.