EDITORIAL: Legacy games

Americans will hear a lot in the coming weeks about Barack Obama’s legacy. The president has often insisted that the “arc of history” will prove the wisdom of his vision. Time will tell — although in terms of foreign affairs, the world isn’t yet cooperating.

But as for the more mundane realities of the political and entrepreneurial landscape Mr. Obama leaves behind, only but the most partisan observers could interpret his time in the White House as a success.

Take the state of the president’s own party.

In eight years, the Democrats have lost 11 U.S. Senate seats and 61 House seats. At the state level, Republicans now control 69 of 99 legislative chambers and hold 33 governorships. During Mr. Obama’s tenure, voters threw out of office more than 900 Democratic state lawmakers.

“Republicans grabbed more of America’s statehouses and governor’s mansions during the Obama administration than at any time in the modern era,” Amber Phillips of The Washington Post noted last month. Not to pile on, but CNN’s Amanda Carpenter summed it up nicely following the November election. “Who thought Obama’s legacy would be the destruction of the Democratic Party?” she said.

And then there’s the business climate, which drives job creation and prosperity. Recovery from the Great Recession was historically slow. Meanwhile, growth under Mr. Obama has been abysmal. The reason isn’t hard to divine.

A newly released World Bank report puts the United States eighth — with New Zealand, Singapore and Denmark leading the way — when it comes to the ease of doing business. That’s down from a ranking of third prior to the Obama presidency. The United States now ranks 51st — behind countries such as Azerbaijan and Kosovo — in terms of facilitating new businesses. The time it takes to satisfy construction permitting regulations has doubled during the Obama years, dropping the country’s rank to 39th.

This is apparently a source of pride to the outgoing president, as he set a record for imposing major regulations — those that will cost the private sector more than $100 million. Through August, The Hill reports, the Obama administrative state had heaped more than $743 billion in regulatory burdens on U.S. businesses — and the new rules keep coming as Mr. Obama heads for the exit.

While many government mandates do indeed serve a noble purpose, at least as many or more are unnecessary and crippling intrusions that drive up costs, hinder innovation and undermine the entrepreneurial spirit.

“On the things-making of life,” wrote Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens this week, “regulations are experienced every day as a mix of tedium and torment — a drag on profits, time and what used to be the joy of making money in America.”

A decimated Democratic Party. A toxic business environment. No matter which way history arcs, these truths will in large part define the Obama years.

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