Debating the Obama presidency before it even ended

A friend posted this on FaceBook the other day. It’s a blog post written about a challenge that was made to republicans to “Name any meaningful metric that got worse under President Obama.” The post is very detailed and long, and I’m actually a bit jealous that I didn’t write it first. Either way, this friend, the one who posted it on FaceBook, tagged one of his conservative friends to respond. He did it in a nice way, non-confrontational.

Scott, genuinely interested in your response to this. Not posting this as a provocation – I would really like to hear an informed rebuttal from a smart conservative person who plays fair, which you do.

But please limit your response to 20 or 30,000 words. Don’t want feel like I’ve burdened you with homework on 4th of July weekend.

I like that. Scott responded, and I wanted so badly to respond to his comment, but I don’t know the original poster all that well (the “friend” on FaceBook is really the husband of one of my wife’s high school friends who I’ve known for a while, but she doesn’t fall into the list-of-people-I’d-invite-to-my-birthday-party circle, and neither does her husband. For that reason, and because he specifically said he wasn’t trying to provoke, I resisted the temptation to post…and just relieved myself here. So here’s Scott’s response, and what I so badly wanted to say to him after.

I appreciate you’re [sic] concern for my Holiday and yes there is far too much info in the article to go after each point so let me just focus on the author’s challenge to mention one meaningful metric that got worse…The Debt– according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office the U.S. government’s debt owed to the public has more than doubled. It is now more than $13.6 trillion, an increase of 116 percent since Obama first took office.
And the debt also has grown dramatically even when measured as a percentage of the growing economy, from 52 percent of gross domestic product at the end of fiscal year 2009 to just under 74 percent at the end of fiscal 2015. If I had more time or a greater work ethic I’d also delve into the rising cost of health insurance premiums. I don’t care what statistics say all I know is my premium has gone up 80% since Obamacare was begun. Two increases of 40% AND I had to switch doctor’s which the Chosen One said wouldn’t happen. Others would be the fact that average annual income has decreased, increase in infectious diseases due to the improper vetting of immigrants trying to enter the US, the number of terrorist attacks on US soil have increased dramatically under Obama’s reign, number of people in poverty (15% average), on food stamps and welfare have risen dramatically especially for minorities. Need I go on? Sorry that last sentence was rhetorical and admittedly a bit vindictive. I rephrase by saying “is that sufficient?” Enjoy the 4th, we’re actually heading up for the week on Saturday to visit family in Boston.

Here’s my problem with Scott’s comment. It’s not that anything he said is factually inaccurate, but that it has two very large problems: the first is recognizing the underlying cause of things, and the second is a reliance on anecdotal evidence, or at the very least an incomplete picture. So this is what I wrote, before I cut it from the comments box on FaceBook, put it into an email, and sent it to myself so I could post it here instead.

Scott, the debt is a function of accumulating annual deficits, right? So isn’t it meaningful to you that the deficits have decreased under Obama? It seems fair to say that he hasn’t done enough, but it seems unfair to conclude that the change wasn’t in the right direction. Does that seem fair to you? Also, with respect to the insurance premiums, what were the percent increases you experienced before Obamacare (assuming you didn’t change coverage)? I would argue that the rate of increase, not that there was or wasn’t an increase, is the more important metric. Doesn’t that seem fair? Aren’t you missing half the graph by only looking at increases after the intervening event (passing Obamacare) without looking at the increases before? I’m a biomedical scientist, and the way you’re looking at it makes me feel like you’re giving somebody a drug, say it’s a drug that might lower blood pressure, but you’re just measuring blood pressure after the drug, without checking it before giving the drug. Doesn’t that make it hard to see if the drug had any effect? What if you took the drug, and after found your BP was 130/90, what could you say about the drug? I guess you could say that it didn’t make you normotensive, but wouldn’t it change your view if you knew that your pressure was 170/100 before the drug? What if your BP was 110/70 before. Doesn’t failing to compare the before and after make it hard to test for a difference? I’m not sure that’s the right way to fairly evaluate the outcome. Just some thoughts.

The funny thing is that this exercise was supposed to help relieve me of the compulsion (admittedly pathological) to comment on FaceBook, but it actually made it worse. I’m still not going to post it, but I’m going to message the poster and ask for permission to post it. Maybe an update will follow. We’ll see.

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