An article in the Dec. 23 New York Times sheds important light on two themes that have been prominent in the arguments of American conservatives this year.

They have compared President Obama very unfavorably to Russian President Vladimir Putin, contrasting the latter’s boldness on the world stage and his political dominance at home with an American president who, they say, commands no respect abroad and is leading his country into economic disaster.

The article quotes a widely respected economist close to the president as saying that “the government was not quick enough” to deal with economic weakness; in the words of the Times writer, the economist “offered some sober projections for the future … recession in 2015; inflation of 12 percent to 15 percent … and the possibility that (the country’s) credit rating would fall to junk status.”

Adding to the problem, the president’s former top economic appointee noted, “is the lack of trust in business of any measures that are taken by the government.” Compounding the bad news is that all of this was part of a news article noting that the national government was being forced to bail out a bank that was about to fail, contrary to its commitment not to do so.

This need for a bank bailout, the acknowledgment of the lack of trust by business in the government and the dire economic predictions support the conservative critique of the president, except for several very inconvenient facts:

 The president who the adviser used to work for is Putin, not Obama.

 The economic bad news is Russian, not American.

 It is a Russian bank being bailed out.

 It is the Russian business community that apparently has no trust in its government.

American reality is almost the exact opposite of each of former Russian Finance Minister Aleksei L. Kudrin’s list of troubles.

The U.S. is in a period of solid economic growth – by far the strongest in the developed world. We do have an inflation problem: It is too low, well below the 2 percent level most economists believe to be beneficial. As to credit, despite all of the Republican antics over our paying our debts, the worldwide consensus that U.S. government debt is the safest investment on the planet remains unshaken.

It is true that there are businesses in the U.S. that object to recent regulatory steps aimed at combating climate change and diminishing irresponsible, destabilizing financial activity. But the stock market – certainly a reasonable indicator, to some extent, of the business community’s confidence in the administration – has risen by 275 percent since March 2009, when Obama’s policies began to affect the economy.

There is room for debate about the extent to which the Obama administration’s economic policies deserve credit for our progress, but there is very little argument about the impact of Putin’s “strong leadership” on Russia’s economy: It has been overwhelmingly negative.

While the global drop in oil prices that is so damaging to Russia is not Putin’s fault, he deserves blame for failing to do anything to diversify Russia’s economy during his more than a decade in full control. He spent Russia’s oil bounty rather than use some of it for wise investment.

More importantly, the group of sanctions imposed after his invasion of Ukraine is the biggest single reason that his country has been unable to cope with the fallout from the oil price drop. For example, Russia’s heavily indebted businesses face disaster because sanctions keep them from obtaining the money they need to meet their obligations.

The impact of the sanctions also undercuts the conservative critique of Obama as an ineffective foreign policy leader who lacks toughness. Contrary to the argument of the hawkish wing of the Republican Party, two of Obama’s most important responses to international threats have been measured and effective.

 He has led the way in formulating tough sanctions against Russia and, confounding skeptics, persuaded our European allies to join us – even an initially reluctant Germany.

 In the Middle East, our airstrikes against the butchers who have misnamed themselves the Islamic State have also proven very effective. Despite the predictions of those who insisted that only a reintroduction of American combat troops would have any impact, the threatened Islamic State massacre of hundreds of thousands of besieged people has been averted, and what was once held to be their irresistible march has been significantly slowed down.

Putin faces economic disaster at home, exacerbated by the concerted action taken against him by a Western world unified under Obama’s leadership. American airpower – supplemented by some Arab allies, again due to Obama’s taking the lead – have significantly altered the balance of the fighting in the Middle East. Our effort does not guarantee victory, because it is not within our power to do that, but it gives the Arab opponents of the Islamic State the chance to succeed if they have the will.

True, more is needed. Responsible forces in the Mideast and Afghanistan must meet the burden of defending their own countries against internal enemies, overcoming their own religious, political and economic quarrels. Domestically, we have to deal with the increasingly unequal distribution of the wealth that all Americans join to create.

But overall, the contrast between the economic and foreign policy situation in which we find ourselves in America, and the severe troubles that are afflicting Russia on both counts, lead to a very relevant seasonal question: For Sarah Palin, Rudolph Giuliani and other American conservatives, is persuading Barack Obama to be more like Vladimir Putin still one of their primary New Year’s resolutions?

Barney Frank is a retired congressman and the author of landmark legislation. He divides his time between Maine and Massachusetts.

Twitter: BarneyFrank

— Special to the Telegram