The Resilient Success Of The Obama Presidency

Krugman makes the case:

[T]here’s a theme running through each of the areas of domestic policy I’ve covered. In each case, Obama delivered less than his supporters wanted, less than the country arguably deserved, but more than his current detractors acknowledge. The extent of his partial success ranges from the pretty good to the not-so-bad to the ugly. …

Am I damning with faint praise? Not at all. This is what a successful presidency looks like. No president gets to do everything his supporters expected him to. FDR left behind a reformed nation, but one in which the wealthy retained a lot of power and privilege. On the other side, for all his anti-government rhetoric, Reagan left the core institutions of the New Deal and the Great Society in place. I don’t care about the fact that Obama hasn’t lived up to the golden dreams of 2008, and I care even less about his approval rating. I do care that he has, when all is said and done, achieved a lot. That is, as Joe Biden didn’t quite say, a big deal.

wile_e_coyote_and_road_runner-cliffYes it is. The current indiscriminate pile-on about a “failed presidency” is just bandwagon bullshit. Unlike Krugman, I’ve long had confidence in Obama’s long game, even as I have had several conniptions in his term of office (his early prevarication on gay rights, that phoned-in first debate in 2012, his negligence with, his caving into hysteria over ISIS). And I see little reason to question its broad thrust now.

Just a year ago, I had a conversation with a friend as the healthcare website was crashing. All that mattered, we agreed, was if, this time next year, the healthcare reform is working and the economy is doing better. Well, both those things have happened – Obamacare is actually a big success so far; the growth and unemployment rates are the envy of much of the Western world – and yet we are now told that he’s a failure. WTF? The architects of the Iraq War – like, yes, Clinton and McCain – somehow believe they have a better grasp of foreign affairs in the twenty-first century than he does. And the party that bankrupted this country in eight short years now has the gall to ignore the fastest reduction in the deficit ever, and a slow-down in healthcare costs that may well be the most important fiscal achievement of a generation.

Add to this two massive social shifts that Obama has coaxed, helped or gotten out the way: marriage equality and the legalization of cannabis. These are not minor cultural shifts. They are sane reforms, change we can absolutely believe in and have accomplished on his watch. Jihadist terrorism? It has murdered an infinitesimal number of Americans in the past six years, compared with almost any other threat. Yes, Americans are still capable of PTSD-driven panic and hysteria over it, and Obama has failed to counter that more aggressively, but to be where we are in 2014 is something few expected after 9/11.

The idea that he has “lost Iraq” is preposterous. We “lost” Iraq the minute we unseated the Sunnis, disbanded the Baathist army and unleashed the dogs of sectarian warfare.

The only sane response to continuing unrest there is to cut our losses, act as an off-shore balancing power, and protect ourselves. And one reason we have this capability is that Obama managed to pivot nimbly last fall to ensure the destruction of Assad’s WMDs. The Panettas and McCains and usual suspects still seem to believe that it would have been better to have bombed Assad, let him keep his WMDs, and … what exactly? Can you imagine ISIS with its hands on those weapons in a failed state with a deposed leader? Think Libya today with poison gas. Who prevented this? Obama. And he is still pilloried for it.

And over six long years, Obama has made it possible – still possible – to put Iran’s nuclear program in a safe box, and avoid another polarizing war in the region. If Obama ends his two terms having rid the Middle East of the threat of nuclear and chemical and biological warfare, he will have advanced our security almost as significantly as Bush and Cheney degraded it. Yes, he failed on Israel. But he has no real power over that. That tail has been madly wagging the dog for a long time now – and in some ways, Obama tried to restrain it more than any president since the first Bush. As long as fundamentalist Christians and even liberal Jews continue to support the ethnic cleansing and de facto apartheid on the West Bank, and do so with a fervor that reaches apoplectic proportions, no president will be able to establish a sane foreign policy with respect to the Jewish state.

Financial reform? Well, if even Krugman says it’s working better than he expected, chalk another one up. Torture? He has acted with more restraint than I would have and deferred far too much to the CIA, but the end-game has yet to be played. It is not unreasonable to believe that we will have established, by the end of his term, a clear and definitive account of the war crimes the last administration perpetrated. That is something. Maybe about as much as a democracy can handle in the time since the atrocities were committed.

Forget the media-click-bait pile-on. Just watch the economic data after the worst depression in many decades (and look at Europe or japan for comparison). Follow the progress in universal health insurance (itself a huge positive change in American life). Measure the greater security from WMDs. And observe the tectonic cultural shifts.

I’m not going to stop bashing him when I think he deserves it. But have I reason to question the long-term achievements of his long game? Fuck no. And we have two years to go.