Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ezra Klein Responds to Sullivan on Obama

Ezra Klein responds to Andrew Sullivan's essay on President Obama's record in his Washington Post blog.

In some ways, the difference between various presidents, at least during a period of crisis, is probably less salient than the difference between various congresses. After all, it’s Congress that actually writes and passes the bills. The president, at best, is an agenda setter, and a persuader. And so, when evaluating Obama’s performance, you also have to ask: How much of what we’re calling “his performance” is really about him and the choices his administration has made and how much is about Congress?

So where do I come down? The Obama administration, like any administration, has made mistakes. They, like most economists and forecasters, underestimated the size and duration of the economic crisis. No bill they have passed has been perfect, or even all that close to it. But it’s easier for me to imagine how presidential decisionmaking could have left the economy in much worse shape today — a botched financial rescue could have done real damage — than in much better shape.

Similarly, while I can imagine other presidents pursuing other domestic priorities than health-care reform, the design of President Romney or McCain’s health bills, or cap-and-trade bills, would likely have been similar to the design of Obama’s initiatives: They would need bipartisan support just as he did, and so they would be aiming for the center just as he was.

--Ballard Burgher

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