Thursday, July 02, 2015

The Obama Presidency (so far)

With age comes perspective and a certain realism, so I knew--even on that unforgettable November night in 2008--that I would be disappointed in Obama. Indeed, I was elated to have the opportunity to be disappointed.

And of course, I was: just like Clinton, Obama inaugurated his presidency by making a pledge he couldn't keep (closing Guantanamo; Clinton's was opening the military to gays). The billions doled out to banks may have saved the economy, but they corroded the democracy. Viewed by Rahm Emanuel's formula, the president failed to convert a once-in-a-century crisis into an FDR-style opportunity. As I wrote here at the time, Obama made a bold attempt to form essentially a coalition government with the GOP, and reached out effusively to Republicans in Congress, not realizing until after almost everyone else in the country that the Republicans had no higher goal than to make him fail. In defense and civil liberties, it was difficult to see any daylight between the Obama administration and his execrable predecessor. All very disappointing.

However, I never despaired. After all, on his worst day, Obama as President beat his predecessor. And outweighing the disappointments were real accomplishments, many of them under-reported or barely noted by the press at all. Most important, he had an agenda, a long-term vision, and would not be knocked off his game. He kept his eye on the ball, and was willing to trade the inessential, even when painful, to hold onto the core goals. He has been playing the long game.

And now here we are. Seemingly defying the laws of physics, the lame-duck president, with decisive majorities against him in both houses of Congress and a majority-Republican Supreme Court, is picking up steam rather than running out of gas. One can already see the outlines of a long-term evaluation of his presidency, and it stacks up well with any in the last half-century.

Above all, this president is comfortable in his own skin, not stalked by inner demons. This comes across clearly in his interview with Marc Maron (itself a sign of confidence and nonchalance). He knows what he's doing, and he does it well. He's a good fit for the job. The backlash will continue, but we will come out of the Obama years a better country than when we went into it. 

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