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For president of the United States
BARACK OBAMA assumed the presidency during an odd moment of hard times and high hopes. The United States was almost in economic free fall, its descent into the worst domestic crisis since the Great Depression no more than slowed by George W. Bush's TARP bailout of the financial sector. Yet on Inauguration Day, 70 percent of Americans, including millions who had voted for his opponent, held a favorable view of the largely untested new president, who promised to evict the paralytic hyperpartisanship that occupied official Washington and to harness the nation's full potential to restore better days and better feelings.
Now, almost four years later, it is the high hopes that have plummeted earthward. Real Clear Politics' latest averaging of national polls reveals that just under half of Americans approve of the president's job performance, and Mr. Obama's pledge to change the Montague-vs.-Capulet-caliber animosity of the capital got little farther than a few rounds of golf with Speaker Boehner.
But the hard times are less hard. The momentum of the Great Recession drove the jobless rate to 10 percent by the fall of 2009. It now stands at 7.8 percent. True, that number is deceptive: Many Americans have simply fallen out of the labor force during the downturn, and too many new jobs are part time without benefits. Even so, the trend line is moving in the right direction. Amid, let us remember, a global recession, this trajectory is not to be despised.
Speaking of employment, the president deserves great credit for saving jobs with two major domestic accomplishments. First, he pushed through Congress the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, an $831 billion package that, if it didn't spark an infrastructure-building binge reminiscent of FDR in his heyday, shored up anemic state budgets, creating or saving, according to the Congressional Budget Office, up to 3.3 million jobs through August 2010.
Second, Mr. Obama's rescue of U.S. automakers gave Detroit time to gather itself. The result? Last month, U.S. auto sales posted their biggest gains in 41/2 years. GM and Ford say that rising home prices--another sign of recovery--and a drop in jobless claims gave consumers the confidence to prowl car lots.