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Where Obama Went Wrong

This is not exactly an election post-mortem or even a pre-mortem. It's more a chance to take a step back and think about the Obama presidency, here in the few hours while all of us are waiting for the voters to render their midterm verdict.

If you read this blog regularly, then you've spent a lot of time reading items that support or defend what the administration has been doing. This is not accidental. I tend to support its goals and I tend to think it's doing a good job, at least on the issues I cover most closely. The story on health care reform is obviously a huge part of this. As flawed as I think the law is, I think it will do an enormous amount of good--and create the foundation for doing even more good, many years from now. I'm also well aware of the political obstacles that stood in reformers' ways. 

But that doesn't mean I think the administration has always made the right call--on health care or on other issues. Ezra Klein, thinking along similar lines, recently posted his top six criticisms of the Obama Administration. I agree with every one of them, particularly the administration's failure to pursue procedural reform of the U.S. Senate. Paul Krugman thinks the administration's single biggest error was failing to get a larger stimulus. Maybe the political support for a larger stimulus wasn't there and maybe it was. But failing to even try was a mistake and that decision, perhaps more than any other, created the economic conditions that have put the Democrats in so much political trouble.

To these lists I'll add just two more items.

First is the failure to improve oversight of offshore oil drilling. Good government has been a key part of the Obama agenda. And by good government I mean not only clean government but also competent government. At times, the administration has lived up to this promise--most conspicuously in its management of the auto industry bailout and the Recovery Act, which have proven efficient and virtually free of waste, let alone corruption or graft. But the conspicuous and very significant exception to this rule was the administration's neglect of the Minerals Management Service. As Tim Dickinson chronicled in Rolling Stone, with devastating detail, that failure led directly to this summer's catastrophic spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

My other great disappointment with the Obama Administration has been over housing foreclosures. Its policy to help homeowners, the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), has been an abysmal failure. If you haven't read David Dayen's FireDogLake series on the program, you should. The stories he tells are heartbreaking--and infuriating.

I'm not sure whether different decisions on these two issues would have changed the outcome of tonight's election. In fact, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have. But they would have made for better public policy. And that's what matters to me most.