You can say what you will about Obama, but one thing is for certain, he’s one of the most successful presidents in history. As a piece published in the Rolling Stones penned by Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman points out, Obama’s legacy of changing the country for the better, and his achievements as president, will endure even the low poll numbers that he’s currently experiencing.
In regards to the poll numbers, Krugman states that there’s a number of reasons why the approval rating doesn’t mean what it used to mean. According to him, there’s more “party-sorting,” the “public is negative on politicians in general.” While the midterm election hasn’t happened yet, he notes that this is a year where the Republicans have a huge structural advantage, and the Democrats are holding on better than predicted. Krugman says that “this isn’t what you’d expect to see if a failing president were dragging his party down.”
Krugman notes that Obamacare had every right to be the disaster it wasn’t, covering the special election in the wake of Ted Kennedy that cost the Democrats their 60-vote Senate Majority, the Supreme Court challenge, and the technical difficulties of the website, HealthCare.gov. But despite all of that, “here we are, most of the way through the first full year of reform’s implementation, and it’s working better than even the optimists expected.” He notes that:
We won’t have the full data on 2014 until next year’s census report, but multiple independent surveys show a sharp drop in the number of Americans without health insurance, probably around 10 million, a number certain to grow greatly over the next two years as more people realize that the program is available and penalties for failure to sign up increase.
And while the program is far from perfect, it’s been a “huge improvement in the quality of life for tens of millions of Americans – not just better care, but greater financial security” that’s made “nonsense of right-wing predictions of catastrophe” and “refutes conservative orthodoxy” that believes that the only way to “limit health costs is to dismantle guarantees of adequate care.”
He discusses financial reform under Obama in light of the economic crisis, touching on the Dodd-Frank act that, while not likely to prevent future economic crises, will lessen their impact. And while he notes Obama does bear quite a bit of blame for playing with Wall Street using kid gloves instead of nail-studded baseball bats, Dodd-Frank is far from “toothless.” After all, it was Dodd-Frank that created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and it also gives the government “legal right to seize complex financial institutions in a crisis.”
Ultimately, according to Krugman, the “bottom line” is that we coped with the crisis better than other countries:
The bottom line on Obama’s economic policy should be that what he did helped the economy, and that while enormous economic and human damage has taken place on his watch, the United States coped with the financial crisis better than most countries facing comparable crises have managed. He should have done more and better, but the narrative that portrays his policies as a simple failure is all wrong.
Krugman adds that “while America remains an incredibly unequal society, and we haven’t seen anything like the New Deal’s efforts to narrow income gaps, Obama has done more to limit inequality than he gets credit for.” He also raises the point that the CBO “estimates the average tax rate of the top one percent at 33.6 percent in 2013, up from 28.1 percent in 2008” while “the financial aid in Obamacare – expanded Medicaid, subsidies to help lower-income households pay insurance premiums – goes disproportionately to less-well-off Americans.” Meaning that the Republicans aren’t too-far off base when they talk about him redistributing wealth.
Krugman also raises Obama’s achievements on the environment (although noting Obama as the “best environmental president in a long time” is, as he points out, damning with faint praise). Obama has moved the United States in a more ecofriendly direction, increasing our shares in wind and solar production, while taking equally large steps on energy conservation, and while “not nearly enough,” Obama’s accomplishments are “far from trivial.”
One of the biggest areas where Obama hasn’t so much been a leader but a follower was on the issue of social change — but he’s been following the more open-minded trend of the nation, which has been arcing towards equality:
Barack Obama has been more a follower than a leader on these issues. But at least he has been willing to follow the country’s new open-mindedness. We shouldn’t take this for granted. Before the Obama presidency, Democrats were in a kind of reflexive cringe on social issues, acting as if the religious right had far more power than it really does and ignoring the growing constituency on the other side. It’s easy to imagine that if someone else had been president these past six years, Democrats would still be cringing as if it were 2004. Thankfully, they aren’t. And the end of the cringe also, I’d argue, helped empower them to seek real change on substantive issues from health reform to the environment.
In the end, Obama has delivered less than what his supporters wanted, and “arguably less than what the country deserved,” but more than what the detractors have been claiming he has. And while he hasn’t lived up to the “golden dream” of 2008, he has nevertheless managed to accomplish quite a bit.
And that is important, since he manged to accomplish all of this in the wake of the disaster known as the GOP.
h/t Rolling Stone