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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 7/23/10

Is America on a Losing Track?

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Returning from an extended vacation in Europe, it's been impossible to ignore the dark cloud of pessimism hanging over the United States. Americans are depressed about the economy, the BP/Gulf oil spill, and the war in Afghanistan. A majority of voters feel the US is on the wrong track. Is it? And has that perception made President Obama's job impossible?

On June 28th, CNN interviewed former President Bill Clinton who commented about the American mood: "The American people hire you [the President] to win for them" Until people feel better about their own lives, they're not going to feel good about their president." At the moment, many Americans feel like losers.

It's helpful to remember that Obama and his supporters came into this situation with open eyes. On November 5, 2008, the ONION headline was "Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job": the new president "will have to spend four to eight years cleaning up the messes other people left behind." Barack Obama inherited a broken economy, crumbling US infrastructure, ill-conceived military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a Federal bureaucracy that had been gutted by Republicans a condition that produced the BP/Gulf oil disaster.

Nonetheless, Barack Obama has been in the job for eighteen months. While most Americans acknowledge that America's problems originated in the Bush Administration, they look to Obama to fix them and to lift their spirits.

Clearly, the economy is shattered. Noting persistent high unemployment, the number of mortgage foreclosures, and the unwillingness of banks to lend and businesses to spend, many observers feel the recession will stretch on for years. They anticipate the Obama Administration will be powerless to change this circumstance and that will affect Democratic prospects in the mid-term elections.

The situation with the US economy parallels public perception of the BP/Gulf oil disaster. In April, Americans wanted Obama to provide a quick fix. When he appeared powerless to stem the flow of oil into the Gulf, his approval ratings fell. Now voters want a quick fix for the economy, but Obama can't provide that.

Both the BP/Gulf oil disaster and the recession were the results of systemic failures. The proximate cause of the BP/Gulf oil spill was a methane explosion on April 20th. Investigation has indicated the explosion was the fault of the platform operators (under BP supervision), facilitated by lax oversight by the US Department of Interior's Minerals Management Service.

The proximate cause of the global financial crisis and the ensuing recession was the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers on September 14, 2008. Investigation has revealed this bankruptcy, and the collapse of similar firms, was the product of wild Wall Street speculation (the housing bubble, sub-prime mortgages, and mortgage-backed securities) and lax oversight by the Federal Reserve and US Treasury Department.

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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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