A study of how Barack Obama’s handling of the 2008 economic crisis undermined his presidency.
As a member of the transition team for the Clinton and Obama presidencies and former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Hundt (In China’s Shadow: The Crisis of American Entrepreneurship, 2006, etc.) was a knowledgeable observer of and participant in Obama’s economic decisions in the months before his inauguration. With no lack of histories, memoirs, and anatomies of the Great Recession, Hundt’s hard-hitting critique is distinguished by the voices of many key players—e.g., Lawrence Summers, Al Gore, Henry Paulson, Robert Reich, Peter Orszag, and David Axelrod—drawn from dozens of interviews. The author’s brisk, tense, and discomfiting history supports his contention that Obama’s policies inevitably culminated in the election of Donald Trump by an angry, disaffected populace. Hundt was an early supporter of Obama and remains a staunch admirer. Obama, he writes, “always stood for inclusion, tolerance, and unity. He worked hard, acted with integrity, stood for high-minded principles.” He was ill-served, however, by the neoliberals and Clinton advisers he chose for his transition team and powerful posts in his administration. They diverted his attention from the dramatic changes in health care, infrastructure, innovations in clean energy, and education reform that he promised during his campaign and convinced him to prop up Wall Street. They advocated bank bailouts to prevent bank runs, budget-balancing, and trust in markets to stanch a worsening economic crisis. Comparing Obama’s economic decisions with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, Hundt points to “premature announcements, mistaken assumptions, misplaced fear of deficits, untoward concern for big banks, self-serving assessments, and constraints imposed by non-stimulus considerations” among reasons he deems Obama’s leadership problematic. Hundt’s proposal for infrastructure overhaul involving clean energy generation and new transmission networks was summarily rejected by Summers, Geithner, and Orszag. Obama, however, “could have achieved a robust recovery” by spurring private-sector investment in such proposals. Instead of instituting bold changes, he allowed the rich to get richer, while the economically oppressed voted for Trump.
A cautionary analysis for future leaders.