By Caroline Baum
Eight years ago, then-Senator Barack Obama delivered the commencement address at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. He joked with the graduates about being asked by a reporter what his place in history would be.
"I said, place in history? I thought he was kidding! At that point, I wasn't even sure the other senators would save a place for me at the cool kids' table."
They didn't. So he left the Senate to run for president in 2008. Now, six months into his second term, Obama is thinking about his place in history. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, his signature piece of legislation, still a question mark, Obama went out of his way in his repeat visit to Knox College to remind us what he has done.
Take the deficit, for example, which Obama said was "falling at the fastest rate in 60 years." In the first nine months of fiscal 2013, tax receipts are up 14 percent from the same period last year, while outlays have fallen 4 percent, adjusted for timing shifts, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The first is a reflection of stronger economic growth and higher tax rates on top earners. The second has something to do with the across-the-board spending cuts, which Obama opposed (after he supported them as a means to get a budget deal) and still opposes.
Then there's the rise in manufacturing jobs over the last four years, "for the first time since the 1990s." Obama made no mention of market forces, such as the cost cutting and greater efficiency of American factories or the narrowing wage differential with exporting countries like China. In his worldview, he hands out incentives to clean-energy producers, and bingo, the jobs come roaring back, assuming the companies survive.
Obama touted the fact that the United States will soon produce more oil than it buys abroad. Thank goodness he wasn't waiting for the State Department to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline.
And rising home prices? That's his handiwork, too, apparently.
What Obama can take full credit for is the Affordable Care Act. Universal access to healthcare is a noble and necessary goal. Whether the United States can accomplish it without turning doctors into salaried employees punching time clocks is an open question. Already the incentives seem misaligned, with the cost of healthcare in some cases exceeding the penalty for not buying coverage.
If the implementation of Obamacare lives up to the concept or implodes along the way, true credit must go to only one person.
Caroline Baum is a Bloomberg View columnist.
© Copyright 2023 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.