Why Nobody Likes Obama's Economic Policies

No one seems to be too thrilled with what President Obama has done for the economy since his term began last year. Conservatives blame him for everything from wasteful stimulus spending to killing the dollar. Liberals say he's catering to Wall Street and has failed to attack unemployment with enough vigor. Mike Dorning at Bloomberg doesn't think this is fair. But no one ever said the intersection of economics and politics was fair.

Here's some of what Dorning writes:

"We've had a phenomenal run in asset classes across the board," said Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist for Miller Tabak & Co. in New York. "If he was a Republican, we would hear a never-ending drumbeat of news stories about markets voting in favor of the president."

The economy has also strengthened beyond expectations at the time Obama took office. The gross domestic product grew at a 5.9 percent annual pace in the fourth quarter, compared with a median forecast of 2.0 percent in a Bloomberg survey of economists a week before Obama's Jan. 20, 2009, inauguration. The median forecast for GDP growth this year is 3.0 percent, according to Bloomberg's February survey of economists, versus 2.1 percent for 2010 in the survey taken 13 months earlier.

First, let's think about the stock market, as Dorning does. He's absolutely right: it's done wonderfully during Obama's reign. It's up around 42% since January 20th through yesterday. And Greenhaus is right too: if a Republican accomplished this feat, conservatives would be hanging "Mission Accomplished!" banners from their rooftops. Of course, Republicans' disapproval should surprise precisely no one: that's just politics.

But Democrats aren't celebrating this fact either. That can also be easily explained: Obama has yet to accomplish their economic priorities. They want a crackdown on the financial industry; they want unemployment lowered to alleviate suffering. Although Obama has done much that should satisfy those with big stock portfolios, he's accomplished far less to help average Americans.

So you've got this kind of odd situation where the most of the economic progress that the Obama administration has made would satisfy the wrong side of the aisle, so it's providing him with very little political capital to work with. I'm pretty sure this wasn't on purpose. It was unavoidable.

The reality is the stock market and GDP growth lead economic recovery, while unemployment lags. In order to have any recovery at all, the President had to stabilize the financial industry. In other words, he had to make Wall Street healthy before the broader economy could recover. After all, it was banking that made the economy sick to begin with.

The most legitimate criticism to be made here is that Obama could have placed financial regulation higher up in his list of priorities, say above health care. But I don't know that there are many liberals willing to concede that point: health care reform is pretty important to them.

That leaves the most alienated Americans the ever-important moderates. They aren't nearly as passionate about health care reform to begin with, but are probably angry that Wall Street appears to be back to business as usual, while one out of five of their friends is underemployed. And unfortunately for Congressional Democrats -- who have followed the same course as Obama, by the way -- moderates will matter most in midterm elections this November.