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No, Obama's Problem Is Not that He "Focused Obsessively" on Policy, It is that He Got the Policy Wrong

Duncan Black on the Obama Administration:

Eschaton: If Things Were Better They'd Be Better: There is a weird unwillingness to admit that maybe they got the policy wrong too. It's one thing to argue that they got the best they could get out of Congress, though I think that's a dubious claim too, but I think if I traveled back in time to January of 2009 and explained to them where the economy would be in November of 2010 and projected to be in December of 2011 they probably would have done some things differently.

He is commenting on Matthew Yglesias:

Yglesias » Obama’s Obsessive Focus: What I find more troubling is Obama’s remark about his obsessive focus on policy in his first two years in office. Politicians say things that aren’t true all the time, but what you really need to worry about is when they start believing those things. And this is the kind of self-pitying half-truth that I worry people in the White House actually believe.... The way this narrative goes is that the country was struck by a terrible economic crisis in late 2008. That crisis required measures that were unpopular but successful and the President is now paying the price for their unpopularity. There’s some truth in all of that, but the more important truth is much more simple if economic conditions today we good or rapidly improving, then the President would be popular and his anti-recession measures would be seen as vindicated. But conditions aren’t good, they’re not rapidly improving, and the President isn’t popular.

What’s more, whatever Obama was personally focused on “obsessively” it’s just not the case that the policy outputs of the Obama administration reflect an obsessive focus on improving the economic situation. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was deeply shaped by a desire to avoid politically damaging accusations of waste, fraud, and abuse rather than shaped to get maximum stabilization bang for the buck.

The administration forgot to appoint anyone to Fed vacancies for over a year.

And the Affordable Care Act is providing zero (if not negative) short-term stimulus out of a politically motivated desire to achieve a deficit-negative 10-year CBO score.

Duncan and Matthew are right. The Obama Administration was blindsided by the seriousness of the economic situation--their Plan A was OK given what they did not know in December 2008, but two months later it was clear that a Plan B was needed, and then a Plan C and a Plan D. And the Obama Administration never came out with any Plan B, C, or D for the macroeconomy other than "hope we get lucky."