Smug-ObamaObama’s biggest failure is that he hobbled the U.S. economy. ObamaCare is part of that, but it goes well beyond ObamaCare.

by Daniel Henninger

The ObamaCare train wreck is plowing through the White House in super slow-mo on screens everywhere, splintering reputations and presidential approval ratings. Audiences watch popeyed as Democrats in distress like Senators Kay Hagan, Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor decide whether to cling to the driverless train or jump toward the tall weeds. The heartless compilers of the Washington Post/ABC poll asked people to pick a head-to-head matchup now between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Mitt won. This is the most amazing spectacle of mayhem and meltdown anyone has seen in politics since Watergate.

No question, it’s tough on Barack Obama. But what about the rest of us? For many Americans, the Obama leadership meltdown began five years ago.

In fall 2008, the U.S. suffered its worst financial crisis since the Depression. That wasn’t Barack Obama’s fault. But five years on, in the fall of 2013, the country’s economy is still sick.

Unemployed middle-aged men look in the mirror and see someone who may never work again. Young married couples who should be on the way up are living in their parents’ basement. Many young black men (official unemployment rate 28%; unofficial rate off the charts) have no prospect of work.

Washington these days kvetches a lot about what is doing to the Obama “legacy.” Far worse than ObamaCare, though, is that the 44th president in his second term presides over a great nation that is punching so far below its weight that large swaths of its people have lost heart.

For five years, news stories have chronicled the social and economic deterioration in America of people with no jobs or weak jobs.

Here’s a headline over a Gallup report: “In U.S. Fewer Believe ‘Plenty of Opportunity’ to Get Ahead.”

Two from The Wall Street Journal recently: “Parents Serving as Emergency Support for Adult Kids,” and “Workers Stay Put, Curbing Jobs Engine.”

On Tuesday, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development put out a report saying the U.S. has become a threat to global recovery. The OECD ratcheted down growth estimates almost everywhere for the rest of this year. For the euro-zone nations: -0.4%; for “emerging” India it’s down to 3%; South Korea: 2.7%.

As to the U.S., the OECD says growth for the rest of the year will fall back to 1.7%. That is about the average rate of U.S. economic growth for the entire Obama presidency.

Barack Obama is not the original cause of so much economic misfortune. He didn’t create an advanced U.S. economy in which the highest income returns flow to math geeks who snag jobs at Facebook FB -0.45% and Google, GOOG -0.07% while average people wonder what hit them. The shift away from traditional manufacturing began before he was organizing anyone back in Chicago. And yes, Mr. Obama has talked of the plight of “middle-class folks” from the first days of his presidency. But what has his presidency done for them? What is there to show for all the talk?

In February 2009, he got $831 billion of stimulus spending. Not even seismographs can detect the results. Every speech he outputs about “middle-class folks” offers them the same solutions: more public spending on education, on public infrastructure projects and, even now, on alternative energy. As he tirelessly repeats what remain promises, the Labor Department’s monthly unemployment-rate announcement on Friday mornings has become a day of dread.

A normal post-recession growth rate of at least 4% would have made it possible for Mr. Obama and his progressive allies to chase virtually any pie-in-the-sky policy they wanted. Instead, the U.S. has fallen far off its normal 3.3% growth rate.

A U.S. president, faced with such devastating labor-market problems and persistently weak growth, should do anything—anything—that will give the American workplace more lift. Instead, he’s willing to entertain just one idea: more federal spending.

You know the theory here: Spend a public dollar and you get $1.50 of economic output. It hasn’t happened, but Barack Obama is gonna crank his old Keynesian Multiplier, created during the 1930s in the era of the Hupmobile, until it sputters to life.

Ponder, though, a partial list of the public-policy decisions that have flowed steadily out of the Obama administration and directly into a job-starved U.S. economy:

The no-decision on the Keystone XL pipeline and its union jobs; the 2,000-page regulatory law draped in 2010 across the entire financial sector; the shutdown in 2010 and then the slow-walking of offshore oil drilling; siccing the EPA on the utilities industry and the National Labor Relations Board on all industry; a 2010 FCC decision to regulate Internet growth; a significant tax increase this year; support this month for jacking up the federal minimum wage to over $10, certain to smother new jobs; the Justice Department’s $13 billion looting of J.P. Morgan JPM +0.17% bank; and of course Hurricane ObamaCare.

Barack Obama has the U.S. economy on lockdown. It’s the worst thing this president has done. American resilience, and elections, mean it won’t stay this way forever. But for a lot of poor and middle-class folks, living with mom in the basement is getting old.

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Daniel Henninger is Deputy Editorial Page Director of the Wall Street Journal.


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