WASHINGTON - President Obama's economic report card is at best mediocre.
I'd give him a C+, while acknowledging that presidents usually don't much influence the economy. It's too big and subject to too many complex forces, from new technologies to global conditions.
Moreover, policy levers are shared with Congress (taxes, spending), the Federal Reserve (financial markets) and regulatory agencies. Presidents often get blamed or credited for the economy when they don't deserve either.
But during crises, presidents acquire power. That's why Obama will be - and should be - judged on the economy's performance.
More interesting than my overall grade are its components. For the first six months, I'd award him an A-; for the rest, a C- or D.
I'd weigh the two grades equally, because he deserves a lot of credit for stopping the economic free fall when he took office.
Recall that in the first half of 2009, the economy was losing almost 650,000 jobs a month. By March, the Dow was down 25 percent from year-end 2008. You could (and I did) quarrel with details of the stimulus, the auto bailout, the bank "stress test," and the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
But these policies, some started under President Bush, were needed. Acting with the Fed, Obama's responses and confident manner helped stabilize the economy. If this hadn't happened, who knows where we'd be.
Since then, it's been another story.
The recovery is subpar. After the economy hit bottom in mid-2009, it has grown at a feeble 2.2 percent annual rate. By contrast, growth in the nine other recoveries since 1950 has averaged 4.2 percent for their first three years.
During the slump, the economy lost 8.8 million jobs. Only 4 million, less than 50 percent, have returned.
The grim job figures explain "why a great many people don't believe there's a recovery," says economist Nariman Behravesh of IHS.
Obama can't escape some responsibility for this dismal performance. His mistake was assuming he could pursue his political agenda without compromising the recovery.
Passing the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) weakened the economy.
For starters, the complex law discourages job creation by forcing some firms to provide health insurance or pay a fine. If you make hiring harder and costlier, you will get less of it.
The struggle over the act also fostered a take-no-prisoners political climate that, by fanning policy uncertainty, further undermined recovery.
What followed were stalemates on budget policy, last year's debt-ceiling brinkmanship and today's anxiety over the "fiscal cliff." Uncertainty spawns fear, and fear causes consumers and companies to step back - to postpone purchases, investment projects or hiring.
These unfavorable economics stemmed partly from Obama's politics.