The president’s ratings begin to slip with analysts
Analysts from Wall Street to liberal think tanks in Washington are giving President Obama generally critical to incomplete grades for his performance thus far, faulting him for being distracted by populist sideshow issues such as the controversy over executive bonuses and not focusing more on the central issues of rebuilding confidence in the economy.
Some analysts say in many respects it is Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke who has been taking the lead in grappling with the economy’s thorniest problems and not the White House or Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. Business economists give the president a grade of either I for incomplete or U for uncertainty.
“His success thus far is the stimulus bill, which is a necessary though not sufficient condition for keeping the recession from leading to deflation and global depression,” said Thomas E. Mann, senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.
“The financial rescue efforts have been shaky. What little public support for the effort that existed under Bush has diminished further under Obama. He has been behind the curve of populist anger, which leads to the kind of harmful [90 percent tax] legislation that the House passed Thursday [March 19]” to recoup executive bonuses paid with federal bailout money, Mr. Mann said on March 20.
On Wall Street, analysts say Mr. Obama has too often lost his focus on the economy’s big picture and has had his attention divided among too many issues, such as health care, energy and climate change reforms that they say should not be his top priorities right now.
“He’s done a decent job of communication, though not as good as he could. A lot of the ideas are good, but there has been a lack of focus. He’s got to make clear that priority number one is getting the economy going and putting this other stuff on the back burner,” said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor’s, the financial research and forecasting firm.
“Nobody likes these bonuses, but we’re talking about $165 million, and we’re detouring the entire country to face that? How about Congress doing something about foreclosures?” Mr. Wyss said.
Mr. Wyss, among other analysts, was especially critical of Mr. Obama’s failure to fill key posts at Treasury that the analysts say are critical to finalizing and implementing his economic recovery plans. Former Fed Chairman Paul A. Volker, a leading economic adviser to the president, told the Joint Economic Committee late last month that it was “shameful” that Mr. Geithner still did not have his deputy and assistant secretaries “responsible in substantive areas at a time of very severe crisis.”
Mr. Obama wasn’t getting any passing grades at the Chamber of Commerce, either, said Martin Regalia, chief economist for the nation’s largest business lobby.
“I’d give him an I for incomplete or a U for uncertainty. I can’t say it’s failed yet. We’re still in the process, but you can’t give him a grade for clear-cut progress because that’s not evident yet,” Mr. Regalia said.
“They just haven’t provided any details that are going to bring confidence back to this market, and without confidence, we are not going to see improvement,” he said. “If you look at his budget, it goes after people who have money. Those are the people you need putting their money at risk. But his budget says even if you put your money at risk, guess right and win, we re going to come in after the fact and take it away from you.
“The corporate compensation issue in the House was a sideshow. I don’t think he handled that particularly well,” Mr. Regalia said.
Mr. Obama’s public approval polls remain relatively high overall, but some surveys show some erosion in support for the way he has handled the economy to date.
“Overall, 55 percent of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the president’s performance so far. That’s his lowest overall rating to date,” pollster Scott Rasmussen said on March 20.