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Banks as large as Lehman Brothers were dead, and other banks were foundering.
“It’s very hard to prove a counterfactual,” he told the journalist Jonathan Alter, “where you say, ‘You know, things really could have been a lot worse.’ ” He was speaking of the bank and auto-industry bailouts, but the problem applies more broadly to the stimulus: harm averted is benefit unseen.
As for systemic reform, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which Obama signed into law in July, 2010, tightened capital requirements on banks, restricted predatory lending, and, in general, sought to prevent abuses of the sort that led to the crash of 2008.
As if to intensify the sense of crisis, on Inauguration Day the national-security apparatus informed the President-elect that Al Shabaab, a Somali affiliate of the Al Qaeda network, had sent terrorists across the Canadian border and was planning an attack on the Mall, possibly on Obama himself.
That danger proved illusory; the others proved to be more onerous than anyone had imagined.
The Republicans, however, showed no greater interest in working with Obama than did the ayatollahs.
The Iranian regime went on enriching uranium and crushing its opposition, and the Republicans, led by Dickensian scolds, including the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch Mc Connell, committed themselves to a single goal: to engineer the President’s political destruction by defeating his major initiatives.And, of course, 2012 offers nothing like the ecstasy of taking part in a historical advance: the reëlection of the first African-American President does not inspire the same level of communal pride.But the reëlection of a President who has been progressive, competent, rational, decent, and, at times, visionary is a serious matter.It also represented the largest public investment in infrastructure since President Eisenhower’s interstate-highway program.From the start, though, Obama recognized that it would reap only modest political gain.The President has achieved a run of ambitious legislative, social, and foreign-policy successes that relieved a large measure of the human suffering and national shame inflicted by the Bush Administration.Obama has renewed the honor of the office he holds.On Inauguration Day, the United States was in a downward financial spiral brought on by predatory lending, legally sanctioned greed and pyramid schemes, an economic policy geared to the priorities and the comforts of what soon came to be called “the one per cent,” and deregulation that began before the Bush Presidency.In 2008 alone, more than two and a half million jobs were lost—up to three-quarters of a million jobs a month. The stock market collapsed—and, with it, the retirement prospects of millions.The gross domestic product was shrinking at a rate of nine per cent. Foreclosures and evictions were ubiquitous; whole neighborhoods and towns emptied.The automobile industry appeared to be headed for bankruptcy.