3 Dumb Decisions the Obama Administration Made That Didn't Help the Country or the President
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Beyond keeping emergency contraceptives from teenagers, last Wednesday’s decision means adult women won’t be able to purchase Plan B over the counter. Instead, a woman will have to show her ID to a licensed pharmacist, a significant disincentive in tightly knit, socially conservative areas or for undocumented immigrants and others without valid photo ID. And that means more unplanned pregnancies.
The Plan B decision is the purest example of the idiocy of policy concessions for short-term, and likely nonexistent, political gain. At least the attacks on the EPA can be easily traced back to business lobbies and the energy industries, which have influence over both parties. The smog rejection fits within the narrative of corporate America’s outsized influence in American politics. At least in that case Obama could be seen as placating moneyed interests, an attempt to dissuade them from throwing all their weight behind his opponents.
But the Plan B policy rejection doesn’t even fit within that cynical calculus. The pharmaceutical companies behind the pill clearly want it to be more easily accessible. The Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers took no side. The vast majority of the Democratic base can be assumed to support it (there is no polling on the issue). The only people in favor of obfuscation are pro-life groups who would never support Obama’s reelection (they certainly haven’t forgotten his accomplishments on the other side of the ledger).
“There is no reason for anyone to have thought that making this decision would win the votes of a whole bunch of people who wouldn’t otherwise be inclined to vote for Obama,” Bernstein says. “I would guess that the polling on this would go the other way from what they did. Therefore it’s hard for me to see it as a crass political play. But on the other hand, it’s hard to see it as a science-driven decision. I really have no idea what they were thinking.”
Freezing the Pay of Federal Workers
Last year, after the brutal midterm losses, Obama froze the pay of federal public employees, explaining that the deficit was out of control. (Over the course of 10 years the freeze will reduce the deficit by 0.1 percent.)
While the pay freeze affects a smaller number of Americans, its implications are still serious. Obama’s decision not only undermined incentives for talented professionals to staff the national government, it also reinforced absurd notions about the actual causes behind our national deficit. (The discretionary spending freeze announced in the 2010 State of the Union had a similar effect.) The current deficit is largely generated by our lack of price controls on health care, a grotesquely inflated military budget and stagnant economic growth. Federal employee pay doesn’t even begin to make a dent. Pretending that it does furthers right-wing notions about a corrupt and bloated government and demoralizes federal employees. Again, for no practical gain.
All of these policy concessions were made for ephemeral political gain. None of these three compromises, or others like them, gained Obama new adherents. Unlike, say, the sacrifice of the public option, which allowed the passage of the rest of the Affordable Care Act, these concessions achieved nothing tangible, and no bump in Obama's poll numbers. Even if polling could justify these actions, there is no chance that the (purely theoretical) bump would linger through the election. It is doubtful that even many significant policy wins have much effect on electoral outcomes. (Obama’s popularity surged after the Osama Bin Laden killing, but the spike quickly vanished.) Instead, as most political scientists agree, the state of the economy has a vastly greater effect on electoral outcomes, while the effects of campaign strategy tend to be blown out of proportion.