When Barack Obama took office earlier this year, the economy looked like a rusted-out, beat-up 1972 Chevy badly in need of a valve job.
Our financial system was rapidly approaching collapse. Banks and brokerage houses were in danger of disappearing in an avalanche of loans gone bad. The stock market looked to be in free-fall. Businesses big and small were cutting back, laying off, dying. The housing market had fallen off a cliff, its bubble burst. And the auto industry? Well, that's where the 1972 Chevy image came from.
People were looking over their shoulders and seeing 1929.
That's the legacy that Obama, a freshman senator from Illinois, inherited from the Bush administration's laissez faire capitalists (no-regulation, no-tax-ever): economic chaos with the promise of utter desolation to follow.
He immediately set to work to staunch the bleeding and in 10 months has achieved a certain amount of success. The housing market has for the most part stabilized. Some of the big banks seem to be recovering their equilibrium. We still have an auto industry (albeit one with a flat tire or two). The loss of jobs has slowed. And, miracle of miracles, the stock market has shot up nearly 50 percent.
Moreover, Obama has succeeded in getting a health care reform bill through the House and is working on the Senate. This could be the culmination of 60 years of effort on the part of the Democratic Party and it's that close, closer than it's ever been as a matter of fact.
Yes, there's a huge deficit and it grows by the day. But you need a big deficit in trying economic times to pull you out of the tailspin. The problem of dealing with it will come later when the economy is perking again and you have to do something before inflation is ignited.
And the bandit bankers and financiers are still being bandits. Now that the government has bailed them out and their heads are above water they are busy rewarding themselves with huge bonuses and fighting off regulation.
Again, not a complete success but a pretty good record, particularly when the president has two wars, global warming, and swine flu to deal with in his spare time.
So you would imagine that the American people would cut him some slack. They might even think about being grateful.
Not a chance.
He gets nothing but criticism, much of it brutal, vicious, and stupid. And that's just Fox News.
Even liberals have been giving him a hard time for not being liberal enough.
When he tries to find a compromise with his enemies, he's accused of being wishy-washy. When he stands his ground, he's called a dictator.
In addition, through all of this he has received no help from the Republicans. None, unless you count the one Republican vote he got in the House on the health care bill.
Republicans have stood on the sidelines and jeered and thrown rocks. They have openly rooted for Mr. Obama's failure and worked for it. They believe that strategy will carry them to victory in the 2010 elections.
And maybe it will. No one ever went broke underestimating the political acumen of the American voter.
It's curious, however, that Republican leaders never so much as mention their part in putting us in this ditch. They controlled government for the better part of eight years and now it's like it never happened.
And while they complain bitterly about the deficit, they never say what they would do to get rid of it if they got back in power. Tax people? I don't think so.
This country doesn't work well when one of the major parties adopts a rule-or-ruin philosophy. It's too easy to ruin.
It's a system easily controlled by special interests. The drug and insurance companies run our health system, the military-industrial complex guides our defense policy, and agribusiness giants dictate farm policy.
And that, apparently, is the way we like it.
Minuteman Media and retired Des Moines Register columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Mich.