The Highly Successful Presidency Of Barack Obama

Paul Krugman has been defending Barack Obama much more recently, such as in a recent article in Rolling Stone and on ABC’s This Week. Krugman’s views on Obama have evolved over the years. I think that early on he was critical of Obama based upon disagreements on policy matters. Two things have altered how he discusses Obama. First there are all the off the wall attacks on Obama from both the right and many mainstream commentators. Secondly, he is doing a better job of separating differences of opinion with a more centrist president from outright condemnation where he disagrees. This includes both recognition of Obama’s actual accomplishments and realization that wherever he disagrees with Obama, the Republicans would be far, far worse.

In Rolling Stone, Krugman looked at the various types of attacks on Obama:

All Obama-bashing can be divided into three types. One, a constant of his time in office, is the onslaught from the right, which has never stopped portraying him as an Islamic atheist Marxist Kenyan. Nothing has changed on that front, and nothing will.

There’s a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who ”posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit.” They’re outraged that Wall Street hasn’t been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that ”neoliberal” economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have con- strained even his much more modest efforts. It’s hard to take such claims seriously.

Finally, there’s the constant belittling of Obama from mainstream pundits and talking heads. Turn on cable news (although I wouldn’t advise it) and you’ll hear endless talk about a rudderless, stalled administration, maybe even about a failed presidency. Such talk is often buttressed by polls showing that Obama does, indeed, have an approval rating that is very low by historical standards.

But this bashing is misguided even in its own terms – and in any case, it’s focused on the wrong thing.

There’s a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who ”posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit.” They’re outraged that Wall Street hasn’t been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that ”neoliberal” economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have con- strained even his much more modest efforts. It’s hard to take such claims seriously.

Finally, there’s the constant belittling of Obama from mainstream pundits and talking heads. Turn on cable news (although I wouldn’t advise it) and you’ll hear endless talk about a rudderless, stalled administration, maybe even about a failed presidency. Such talk is often buttressed by polls showing that Obama does, indeed, have an approval rating that is very low by historical standards.

But this bashing is misguided even in its own terms – and in any case, it’s focused on the wrong thing.

Yes, Obama has a low approval rating compared with earlier presidents. But there are a number of reasons to believe that presidential approval doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to: There is much more party-sorting (in which Republicans never, ever have a good word for a Democratic president, and vice versa), the public is negative on politicians in general, and so on. Obviously the midterm election hasn’t happened yet, but in a year when Republicans have a huge structural advantage – Democrats are defending a disproportionate number of Senate seats in deep-red states – most analyses suggest that control of the Senate is in doubt, with Democrats doing considerably better than they were supposed to. This isn’t what you’d expect to see if a failing president were dragging his party down.

More important, however, polls – or even elections – are not the measure of a president. High office shouldn’t be about putting points on the electoral scoreboard, it should be about changing the country for the better. Has Obama done that? Do his achievements look likely to endure? The answer to both questions is yes.

From there, Krugman looked at Obama’s achievements on health care, financial reform, the economy, the environment, national security, and social change. As Obama has so many favorable accomplishments, I would suggest seeing the original article rather than trying to list them all here. He then concluded:

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.

Andrew Sullivan cited Krugman’s article and added:

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.

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7 Comments

  1. 1
    Doris 063 says:

    Republicans will never give President Obama credit simply because he is a black man and he should be hailed as the leader who fights for the middleclass & gets things done without TGOP help and just think,if there was a congress working with him,this country would be in greater shape but I guess we can go back 157 yrs,history repeating itself when Justice Taney declared to Dred Scott “NO RIGHTS WHICH THE WHITE MAN WAS BOUND TO RESPECT” THIS REPUBLICAN MENTALITY IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW AND WE HAVE A SCOTUS WHICH IS NO BETTER BECAUSE THEY ARE CHIPPING AWAY OUR DEMOCRACY. PEACE

  2. 2
    David Duff says:

    You seem to be suffering with repetition syndrome up above!

    However, I, too, thought Obama was a Marxist to begin with but gradually I have realised that he’s too thick to master all that old guff. He’s also idle and is therefor happy to hand over most of the decisions to his ‘apparatchiks’ like Holder ‘et al’. Remember, during his first two years he controlled both houses of Congress!

    Mind you, his laziness has its good points. Unlike many of his predecessors he is reluctant to rush into wars.

    My main impression is that you have a President who despises his own country.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    “My main impression is that you have a President who despises his own country.”

    Essentially the same type of delusion which let you think he was a Marxist to begin with.

    “Remember, during his first two years he controlled both houses of Congress!”

    Not really true considering the manner in which Republicans began to use the filibuster to make virtually everything require sixty votes. Due to illnesses and vacancies, the Democrats had 60 Senators (counting independents caucusing with the Democrats) for only five months. This included Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, who often sided with the Republicans.

    Your assessment of his laziness is also rather absurd considering how much he accomplished and how much work he did. For an example, see Jonathan Alter’s book, The Promise, which shows how hard he worked, starting from before he took office, to stabilize the economy after Bush crashed it (and neither Bush nor McCain had any idea what to do).

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    Or is the working hypothesis that the black man must be lazy, in accordance with stereotypes?

    So what that Obama has had a far more hands-on presidency than either Bush or Reagan, and takes less time off. To conservatives, the black guy must be too dumb and lazy to make a good president. The facts mean nothing in the face of such racial stereotypes. Plus because he looks different, he might not even be born in America, and might be a socialist (despite being the most fiscally conservative president we’ve had since Eisenhower).

    There is good reason that the Republicans, and the conservative sources which you mistakenly listen to, are considered racist (in addition to the fact that Republican views on economics, immigration, and social issues, not to mention their main electoral strategy, are all based upon taking advantage of racism and getting low information working class white males to turn out to vote for them).

  5. 5
    David Duff says:

    “Or is the working hypothesis that the black man must be lazy, in accordance with stereotypes?”

    That is nearly as lazy a smear as your golfing president might make up, had he the energy.

    And the political party making the most of and out of, racism is the Democrat party which does its level best to keep blacks hanging on the near poverty-level government teat for as long as possible, because that way they vote Democrat – often twice before breakfast!

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    An accurate description of how Republicans operate, not a lazy smear. Interesting how conservatives talk so much about Obama playing golf while showing no concern for the far greater number of days George Bush took off on vacation. To mischaracterize Obama as lazy can only be seen as a reflection of how Republicans resort to racist stereotypes, whether it is in your own mind or a reflection of the nonsense from the right wing which you read.

    It is Republican policies which stifle the economy and limit upward mobility. Republican attempts to claims that it is the Democrats who are racist don’t fool anyone. They certainly don’t fool blacks, who strongly vote Democratic. Nor do they fool anyone who pays attention to politics. Even some Republican operatives have admitted to how the Republicans use the “Southern strategy” to take advantage of racism to obtain their votes. This includes Michael Steele and other Republicans.

    As Lee Atwater described the strategy years ago:

    “You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

  7. 7
    Philo Vaihinger says:

    The Clara storyline was handled in a strange manner. Last week it looked like she was done with the Doctor, leading to speculation that this might have been done to set up a solo adventure. Instead Clara was present, yet they teased that this might be their last trip together. If Clara was planning to leave the Doctor, why did she go with him on the Orient Express? After so much teasing that she would no longer travel with the Doctor, she changed her mind quite quickly at the end.

    Wife and I found it weird, too. Were they going to write her out and did they change their minds? Did she tell them she wanted out and then change her mind?

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