Michael Grunwald (Time): The New Republic recently asked an intriguing question about the U.S. intervention in Libya: Why isn’t Obama getting credit for preventing an atrocity? The answer is obvious when you think about it: because he prevented the atrocity. It’s hard to get credit for avoiding a disaster when it’s impossible to prove the disaster would have happened without you. Social scientists call this the counterfactual problem….
This is a problem for public policy because preventing disasters is infinitely preferable to stopping them in progress. And it’s a political problem for Obama … He is the counterfactual President, not just on his Libya policy, but on almost all his policies. And as his aides often complain, “I prevented a disaster” is a lousy political slogan….
The most extreme example, of course, was the $787 billion stimulus package that Obama signed during his first month in office, when the economy was shedding 700,000 jobs a month. The immediate goal was to avoid a depression, and in that sense it was a tremendous success, stopping the hemorrhaging and stabilizing the scariest economic situation since the Great Depression…..
… His financial reforms should reduce the chances of another Wall Street meltdown, but it’s classic disaster prevention: if they fail, it’s a scandal, and if they work, we won’t notice…
Most of Obama’s counterfactual problems can be traced to what his former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel calls the “gift bag” that President Bush left for him. The gift bag included the worst economy in 80 years, a nightmare on Wall Street, a deficit spiraling out of control, one unnecessary war in Iraq and one intractable war in Afghanistan, a dysfunctional health care system, and an energy policy that was broiling the planet and exposing consumers to violent swings in gas prices….
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