- - Thursday, December 25, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

There is no way to sugarcoat the past year. It has been, with rare exceptions, one of our nation’s worst in many years.

In the areas of greatest concern, things have grown a lot worse for those among the bottom half of the income scale in a still-uneven, job-challenged economy across most of the nation.

A Gallup poll reported this week that only 23 percent of Americans surveyed each month “were satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S.”

That number has fallen precipitously to “the lower end of what Gallup has measured since 1979,” the polling firm said. That was when America was scraping bottom under Jimmy Carter, surely one of our worst presidents, at least until Barack Obama came along to redefine what “worst” really feels like.

In December 2008, polling by CNN-Opinion Research Corp. found that more than 75 percent of the people they surveyed said President Obama “can manage the government effectively.” Fast-forward to earlier this year when only 43 percent would say that.

For the past six years, the No. 1 issue in the country has been the economy and jobs, and that’s unlikely to change in Mr. Obama’s final two years. That’s even though his Commerce Department reported this week that the economy grew by 5 percent in the third quarter, up from the government’s earlier estimate of 3.9 percent.

It’s an unexpected revision in the gross domestic product, the broadest measurement of the economic health of the country. The Federal Reserve has predicted that the economy will grow by little more than a tepid 2 percent to 3 percent, which may be closer to the truth once the fourth-quarter numbers are in.

The government throws many numbers into the GDP basket — things like federal, state and local government spending, exports and various investment expenditures.

The sharply higher GDP number was largely the result of faster consumption — 3.2 percent versus 2.2 percent — despite flat or falling incomes.

That’s why Paul Dales of Capital Economics warns that even though the GDP number looks rosy, it suggests that households have had to dip into their savings to boost spending. That can last only so long.

But other numbers tell a bleaker story about the Obama economy. For example, existing home sales plunged last month to their lowest levels in half a year, a worrying sign of economic weakness. Housing sales are a major chunk of the economy, and it appears that a lot of Americans are not in a financial position to enter the market.

“This is not good news,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors. “The November decline was a sizable one.”

Gallup regularly conducts tracking surveys on the jobs front, finding that the underemployment number is a great deal worse than the government’s other monthly figures.

Its poll finds the nation’s underemployment rate — for people who need full-time jobs but are forced to accept lower-paying, part-time or temporary work — is a withering 15 percent.

Moreover, a Depression-era 40 percent of Americans polled by Gallup describe themselves as “struggling,” and another 10 percent say they are either “suffering” or under a great deal of “stress” in their attempts to make ends meet.

This is why, no matter how much Mr. Obama continues to insist his economy is doing better, that every poll during the Obama years still ranks the economy and jobs as the most important problems facing the country, Gallup says.

After a six-year string of record deficits and a historic $6 trillion in added debt, plus one administration scandal after another, dissatisfaction with the government is “consistently ranked among the most important problems facing the country,” Gallup said this week.

Mr. Obama was swept into office promising an era of smart government. Instead, his administration has turned into a breeding ground of badly mismanaged bureaucracies and dysfunctional programs run by political hacks and worse.

In 2013, they included the Internal Revenue Service’s political targeting of conservative tea party groups, the botched rollout of Obamacare and Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency surveillance leaks that gave aid and comfort to our worst adversaries around the globe.

That’s for starters. This year, former Soviet KGB agent Vladimir Putin, whom Mr. Obama trusted enough for a “reset” of relations with Russia, seized the Crimean Peninsula and sent forces and arms into eastern Ukraine, getting off scot-free with little more than a sanctions slap on the wrist. He’s still there.

Then the scandal of scandals unraveled at the Department of Veterans Affairs, where aged veterans were kept waiting for months for lifesaving treatment, as officials doctored their records to show a much shorter waiting time. Many died waiting.

Throughout this period, Mr. Obama was caught asleep at the switch in the war on terrorism and has been playing catch-up ever since — drawing blistering criticism for his indecision, ineptitude and timidity from a tell-all book by former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta.

In 2012, he campaigned on a myth that al Qaeda had been “decimated” and was “on the run.” In fact, they were metastasizing into larger and better-funded armies of the Islamic State that went on a blood-soaked rampage in the Middle East — seizing large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria and beheading American hostages with impunity.

Mr. Obama’s policy was rapid withdrawal from the war on terrorism and little else, leaving behind a huge vacuum into which the Islamic State sent tens of thousands of terrorists to slaughter untold numbers of noncombatants in an all-out blitzkrieg to destabilize the Middle East.

But rest assured, gentle reader, Mr. Obama is said to be on top of it all as he hits the golf courses, beaches and luaus of Hawaii, hoping that 2015 will be a better year.

Don’t bet on it.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.

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