Over at Rolling Stone, Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes a long essay titled, "In Defense of Obama." Krugman lists health care, financial reform and the economy as the basis for making the claim that President Barack Obama is a historic success. Krugman points out that Obama still has time and the inclination to do something significant on climate change.
On national security, Krugman categorizes Obama as a post-Vietnam president reluctant to send in ground troops, willing to use bombs and who permits a surveillance state. While not great, Krugman points out that Obama is better than the alternatives: John McCain and Mitt Romney.
On social change, marriage equality was not an issue Obama led on, but one he allowed the broad will of the people to move forward. Obama allowed the people's new open-mindedness to prevail.
As you can see, there'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. Health reform looks pretty good, especially in historical perspective -- remember, even Social Security, in its original FDR version, only covered around half the workforce. Financial reform is, I'd argue, not so bad -- it's not the second coming of Glass-Steagall, but there's a lot more protection against runaway finance than anyone except angry Wall Streeters seems to realize. Economic policy wasn't enough to avoid a very ugly period of high unemployment, but Obama did at least mitigate the worst.
And as far as climate policy goes, there's reason for hope, but we'll have to see.
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.
You have to read the whole essay to get the Biden reference. You can read the whole essay here.