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Obama’s Legacy

[ 171 ] March 25, 2016 |

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Dylan Matthews:

[The ACA] is, to quote Harvard political scientist Theda Skocpol, “a century-defining accomplishment in the last industrial democracy to resist using national government to ensure access to health coverage for most citizens.” FDR failed, Truman failed, Nixon failed, Carter failed, Clinton failed — and Obama succeeded. He filled in the one big remaining gap in the American welfare state when all his forerunners couldn’t.

But Obama’s domestic achievements were not just limited to health care.

The Affordable Care Act was hardly Obama’s only accomplishment. He passed a stimulus bill that included major reforms to the nation’s education system, big spending on clean energy, and significant expansions of antipoverty programs. He shepherded through the Dodd-Frank Act, the first significant crackdown on Wall Street’s power in a generation, which has been far more successful than commonly acknowledged.

He used executive action to enact bold regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and to protect nearly 6 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. He ended the ban on gay and lesbian service in the military, made it easier for women and minorities to fight wage discrimination, cut out wasteful private sector involvement in student loans, and hiked the top income tax rate. He reprofessionalized the Department of Justice and refashioned the National Labor Relations Board and the Wage and Hour Division of the Labor Department into highly effective forces for workers’ rights.

His presidency holds massive symbolic value as proof that the reign of white men over American government can be halted and America as a whole can be represented. And while he was too slow in announcing support for same-sex marriage, he appointed two of the justices behind the Supreme Court’s historic decision that legalized it nationwide, and enlisted his Justice Department on the side of the plaintiffs.

There are obviously places Obama fell short. I think he didn’t take monetary policy nearly seriously enough, that he’s fallen short on combating HIV/AIDS and other public health scourges abroad, that his early push to deport millions of unauthorized immigrants was indefensible, and that perpetrators of torture and other war crimes from the Bush administration should have been criminally prosecuted. But while Obama could have accomplished more, it could never be said that he accomplished little.

“When you add the ACA to the reforms in the stimulus package, Dodd-Frank, and his various climate initiatives,” Pierson says, “I don’t think there is any doubt: On domestic issues Obama is the most consequential and successful Democratic president since LBJ. It isn’t close.”

[…]

And on foreign issues, Obama’s record is perhaps the most successful of any Democratic president since Truman. He has reestablished productive diplomacy as the central task of a progressive foreign policy, and as a viable alternative approach to dealing with countries the GOP foreign policy establishment would rather bomb.

[…]

You can generally divide American presidents into two camps: the mildly good or bad but ultimately forgettable (Clinton, Carter, Taft, Harrison), and the hugely consequential for good or ill (FDR, Lincoln, Nixon, Andrew Johnson). Whether you love or hate his record, there’s no question Obama’s domestic and foreign achievements place him firmly in the latter camp.

This, of course, isn’t just about Obama — where the statutory achievements are concerned, it’s about Reid and Pelosi as well, just as the large Democratic majorities and moderate/liberal Republican allies were crucial to the New Deal and Great Society. But it’s true that there have been a handful of American presidencies under which there were major shifts in American policy in a clearly progressive direction — Lincoln, FDR, LBJ — and Obama is the fourth. (You can argue for Wilson, but Obama’s record even in historical context is much more consistently progressive.) It’s true that the major achievements under Obama are all flawed, but as Erik said recently the New Deal in particular was very heavily compromised — sometimes by the need for segregationist votes, sometimes because FDR himself had bad ideas. The high-veto-point institutional structure of American politics doesn’t lend itself to unambiguous wins for the left; it’s just that it’s easier to forget the compromises of the past than those of the present. The idea that has graced so many Harper’s cover stories (and, apparently, Tom Frank’s new book) that the Obama presidency was a minor blip signifying the further drift of the Democratic Party to the right is absurd now and will look even more absurd in 20 years. Among other issues, it’s just a massively ahistorical argument.

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  • I don’t understand what taking monetary policy more seriously would have looked like. The President doesn’t set monetary policy. He appointed Janet Yellen, prominent dove, first as Vice Chair and then Chair of the Fed Board.

    A lot of the greenhouse gas progress should be attributed to the stimulus bill, not just to his executive actions.

    It’s too bad we can’t include high-speed rail in this list. If those ARRA projects hadn’t been killed once the Republicans took over, that would have represented a major inflection point.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Leaving open seats on the Federal Reserve Board, maybe? I agree it’s an odd example of Obama’s limitations.

      • KithKanan

        I suspect they’re talking about renominating Ben Bernanke for Fed Chair in 2010?

        • The most pro-stimulus Fed Chair in American history, who succeeded in bringing even the board’s conservatives into that pro-stimulus consensus?

          • KithKanan

            But originally a Bush appointee, so an example of how Obama Is Worse Than Bush He Sold Us Out apparently.

      • Fake Irishman

        But the Republican filibuster played a role in that too. Remember the Diamond nomination? The guy who won a Nobel prize for his work on unemployment who Mitch McConnell said wasn’t “qualified” for the post?

      • Leaving Board seats open is a common complaint of Krugman’s.

    • Manju

      Yeah. Add to that the fact that Obama inherited a liquidity trap… which makes monetary policy theoretically useless (though, in reality, its always worth taking a shot…u never know).

      • Rob in CT

        Right, the argument that monetary policy under Obama wasn’t sufficiently loose is based on the idea that the Fed could manage to signal “irresponsibility” isn’t it? It’s kind of theoretical.

    • sleepyirv

      The Vox brand is essentially “people who deeply care about monetary policy without a strong background in economics.”

      It’s mostly a harmless peculiarity, but does lead to strange statements like this one.

      • The Lorax

        This made me lol.

      • Manny Kant

        “Someone with very strong opinions about policy, without any particular knowledge or background in it” seems like a pretty good description of Dylan Matthews overall. He’s just like this giant mass of unexamined assumptions.

        • Vox sometimes reads like the Economist with bylines.

    • The Lorax

      Yep. This. Same reaction upon reading Matthews. Bernanke saved the world, and Yellen is super dovish.

    • Redwood Rhiadra

      I don’t understand what taking monetary policy more seriously would have looked like.

      According to my more hardcore leftist friends, he didn’t eviscerate the Fed and implement Modern Monetary Theory. (which is the crackpot doctrine that you should implement monetary policy through Treasury spending and strip the Fed of all power except resolving interbank transactions. Very popular among Sanders fanatics, especially since his Senate economics advisor is one of MMT’s major proponents.)

      • Very popular among Sanders fanatics,

        I’ve only ever seen it brought up by Clinton supporters. Do you have any links?

  • Steve LaBonne

    He’s a shoo-in to be ranked (at least) among the near greats by future Presidential historians. (I reduced one of my conservative coworkers to incoherence the other day by pointing this out- all he could do was mutter something about bias.)

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      I think that he belongs with the greats. Country’s a lot different now than it was in 2007

    • Steve LaBonne

      I would tend to agree but I suspect it will take a few decades for historians to go that far.

    • Matt McIrvin

      I always wince a bit at statements like this, because it assumes without evidence that future Presidential historians will be in some way wiser than us.

      I remember thinking when Reagan was President that everyone would remember him as one of history’s greatest Presidents, and everyone would be wrong. I guess historians actually aren’t as bad about that as the general public.

      • EliHawk

        Reagan is a bit like anti-LBJ: One huge, important overshadowing foreign policy success (embracing Gorbachev and successfully winding down the Cold War) mixed with a lot of bad domestic policy.

        • Warren Terra

          But only a bit, because Reagan also has a great deal of slaughter and oppression in his foreign policy record – arguably everywhere in his foreign policy record that’s not a question of bilateral relations with Moscow – making Reagan’s foreign policy legacy far, far more problematic than LBJ’s domestic legacy.

      • CrunchyFrog

        Well, the right wing billionaire machine is doing their level best to pack the historian ranks – at least those employed at universities – with right wing hacks. If successful their version of history will read like a Texas State-approved junior high history text.

  • Barry Freed

    I think I’d put Obama over LBJ because of not causing a few million deaths in Southeast Asia. And as much as I’ve criticized him for for some foreign policy mistakes (Libya, Honduras, the ongoing horror show that is Yemen, etc) he was given a shitty hand when he started and has accomplished some major things there and done a lot better than his predecessors.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I think it’s very plausible. In terms of domestic policy, LBJ has the strongest progressive record of any American president (although he also had a very favorable context), but his foreign policy was notably terrible (although context matters here too — Vietnam had wide support in the Democratic coalition in 1963, and I’m very skeptical that JFK wouldn’t have expanded the war.) How you weigh the factors is a difficult question of judgement.

      • tsam

        I give LBJ a couple of inches of slack on Vietnam. That was the height of the Cold War, and foreign policy basically had a single objective of containing the USSR. That Cold War mentality is still a force in foreign policy discussions (See the Republican response to the Iran nuclear agreement). That doesn’t excuse it, but it makes the contextual picture much more clear.

        Obama was definitely gutsy on foreign policy. On balance, he did a good job of not Doing Stupid Shit, IMO.

        • El Guapo

          I give LBJ a couple of inches of slack on Vietnam.

          Oh, I think LBJ would have said it’s a bit more than a few inches. And shown you from the next urinal over.

        • LWA

          Yeah, I’m with giving LBJ slack on Vietnam because of the context- essentially the entire American political and diplomatic establishment circa 1965 supported a hawkish adventurism.

          Asking LBJ to somehow escape the gravitational pull of his entire professional lifetime and see clearly what was about to happen is a bit much.

          Even if, in some magical alternate timeline we were to be there in the Oval Office in 1965 and had the attentive ear of the President and national security advisors, what would anyone of us said to them, that wouldn’t sound like mad ravings?
          That the Domino Theory was bogus? That a rag tag group of insurgents would fight us to a stalemate? Would we speak about Pol Pot, would we tell them that the entire American populace would turn from being pro-war to anti-war within 6 years?

          Really, every bit of experience and knowledge that American political leadership had gained since 1941 had primed them for Vietnam, and made any alternate strategy unthinkable.

          • LFC

            @LWA
            This comment is an overstatement. In LBJ’s own Cabinet, George Ball opposed escalation. Hans Morgenthau opposed the war, George Kennan opposed it by ’66 if not before. (Read Kennan’s testimony at the Fulbright hearings.) An alternative strategy was not unthinkable, though among other things the way historical analogies were used pushed in the direction of a particular kind of escalation. (See Y.-F. Khong, Analogies at War). There is an *enormous* amt of historical scholarship by now on the early yrs of US Vietnam policy and the roots of the escalation decisions, as well as on the state of gen. opinion at the time. I doubt it supports the kind of blanket statement you make here. Given LBJ’s personality and assumptions and the balance of his advisers and the rough CW consensus and his feeling less sure of himself in foreign than domestic policy, yes it makes sense that he decided as he did — but that’s a diff. kind of statement than yrs.

            On JFK, there is *some* evidence he wd not have pursued escalation, though it’s not definitive. At least that’s my impression; not an expert on the memo trails etc here.

            p.s. Read what George Ball said in LBJ’s councils. Certainly does not sound like “mad ravings.” That said, the roots of US Vietnam policy go back to Truman, and there was some path dependence (to use an overused phrase) involved.

      • liberalrob

        I’m very skeptical that JFK wouldn’t have expanded the war.

        So all that stuff I’ve seen on TV about JFK planning to draw down our involvement with an eye towards ending it is baloney?

        • Warren Terra

          It’s striking just how much the warm glow of Camelot has dissipated in the last decade or so from its initial and then enduring rather blinding incandescence.

          • Hogan

            In the words of National Lampoon:

            Don’t let it be forgot
            That once there was a spot
            For what seemed like forever
            That was known as Camelot

        • witlesschum

          I can’t get by Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile crisis and then lying about it. Guy risked armageddon so he didn’t haven’t to admit a Cuba for Turkey missile trade. Not to mention attacking Nixon from the right on foreign policy with the missile gap bullshit.

          In hindsight, I think he was as bad as LBJ.

          • LFC

            JFK’s handling of the missile crisis worked out though, didn’t it, in the sense that nuclear war was avoided. In short, many worse outcomes were imaginable, and I doubt the result was pure luck.

            p.s. Michael Dobbs’s bk on the missile crisis, One Minute to Midnight, basically an hour-by-hour reconstruction, is something I’ve had on my shelf for a long time but never read unfortunately.

      • ForkyMcSpoon

        When are you guys going to do a listicle ranking America’s presidents?

        It’s 2016, the internet demands listicles!

        • Ahuitzotl

          god.really? listicles are so Jan2016

    • Matt McIrvin

      LBJ belongs in both the ten-best and the ten-worst lists.

      • Barry Freed

        I think I agree with this.

        • The Lorax

          I both agree and disagree with this.

    • There are no known recordings of Obama using the word “bunghole.”

      Check and mate.

      • LWA

        Just wait until the Whitey tape is found…

      • Barry Freed

        Has anyone ever heard Obama order a new pair of trousers from his tailor?

  • Ronan

    Has anyone read lane kenworthys “social democratic America”? I’m reading it on and off at the minute and it seems to lay out a possible (and in some ways, by his telling, inevitable) process where the US transitions to something akin to a social democracy, primarily by developing and expanding social insurance policies and programs (such as healthcare). He also claims that the “veto points institutional structure of US politics” is a factor in favour of expanding and maintaining social insurance

    • Scott Lemieux

      I’m reading it on and off at the minute and it seems to lay out a possible (and in some ways, by his telling, inevitable) process where the US transitions to something akin to a social democracy, primarily by developing and expanding social insurance policies and programs (such as healthcare).

      I think this is possible, although it won’t be an easy lift.

      He also claims that the “veto points institutional structure of US politics” is a factor in favour of expanding and maintaining social insurance

      It makes social insurance programs harder to enact, but it does make them harder to get rid of (although even in parliamentary systems major entitlements tend to be pretty durable.)

  • Tom Till

    This, of course, isn’t just about Obama — where the statutory achievements are concerned, it’s about Reid and Pelosi as well….

    My great hope is that history gives Pelosi her due as an extraordinarily effective Speaker.

    • witlesschum

      Especially for her second turn in the chair…

    • The Lorax

      Yep. She was phenomenal.

    • Fake Irishman

      She knew exactly when to make a difficult compromise (reducing the scope of the public option in the ACA and the abortion coverage concession) to get the thing passed, and boy did she know how to twist arms to get the final bill through. Excellent judgement and resolve.

  • c u n d gulag

    I’m 58, and he’s the best POTUS in my lifetime!
    I was too young for “Steady” Ike.

    And, though LBJ was great on civil and voting rights, and Medicare and Medicaid, Vietnam was his downfall.

    We – even the haters – won’t know what a steady hand we had at the helm, until Obama’s gone.

    Much as I prefer Sanders over Hillary, we can’t allow a Republican to win the Presidency in the next few elections.
    PLEASE HELP GOTV!!!

    • c u n d gulag

      Oh, and help GOTV in your area for everyone who’s progressive, from dog-catcher, to House and Senate members.

      • EliHawk

        What makes for a progressive dog-catcher?

        • Hogan

          No-kill. Better yet, catch and release.

        • tsam

          Doesn’t eat the dogs.

          • Hogan

            Neoliberal sellout.

          • Bas-O-Matic

            We need to keep all options on the table.

        • KadeKo

          Did you see the Shaun the Sheep movie? The dogcatcher in it is something of a Javert.

        • Warren Terra

          Catches dogs and cats equally. Refuses to impose labels of “dog” or “cat” on the furry quadrapeds they catch.

  • Rob in CT

    But Obama’s domestic achievements were not just limited to health care.

    The Affordable Care Act was hardly Obama’s only accomplishment. He passed a stimulus bill that included major reforms to the nation’s education system, big spending on clean energy, and significant expansions of antipoverty programs.

    I know it’s nitpicky, but this is part of the problem with how people view the Presidency, isn’t it? Obama didn’t pass those things (though he did sign them and it’s not like he had *nothing* to do with their passage), Congress did. As the past 5 years have demonstrated, without congressional supermajorities, he gets squat. Ok, maybe he gets bupkiss, but squat is going to far…

    None of which is to take anything away from Obama. It’s just… arg, you know.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Yup. I mean, it’s hard to avoid — I’m sure even I do it — but it is a major issue in how people think about politics. And it’s why I avoid using “Obamacare” unless it’s ironic or an editor makes me. I assume that if people tried to start calling the Civil Rights Act “LBJrights” people would see that this was not only wrong but offensive.

      • liberalrob

        In their minds the American people have always equated the Presidency with a sort of elected kingship. The founders were aware of the need for a strong executive but were also mindful of the need to restrain his power, and that was inherent in their design of the government. Nevertheless, the President was always considered to be the leader of his party (once parties became established) and expected to be able to strongly influence the legislative work of that party; and through his appointments to do the same with the Supreme Court (although I imagine in the past there was more emphasis on legal scholarship over political ideology than there is now). Obama’s failure to constrain recalcitrant members of his party during the ACA process, whether or not it is actually anything he could control, is therefore seen as a mark against him. Americans expect that kind of Fournierian “leadership” from their leaders, however wrongheaded it may be.

        Also, as has been stated, if we’re going to be consistent we cannot give him credit for “passing the ACA” if it’s something he had no real control over. It’s nice that he signed it and is protecting it, but it’s not his achievement.

        I think on the whole Obama has been a very good president. (I do give him some credit for the ACA, though I still think it wasn’t as good as it should have been.) Much better by far than any Republican on offer.

        • Also, as has been stated, if we’re going to be consistent we cannot give him credit for “passing the ACA” if it’s something he had no real control over. It’s nice that he signed it and is protecting it, but it’s not his achievement.

          But this overcorrects a great deal. It wasn’t Reid and Pelosi who made that a top agenda item. The White House’s role was a great deal more than signing the bill once it arrived.

          • Steve LaBonne

            And a lot of us thought that was a mistake. And boy were we wrong.

          • liberalrob

            “The White House” is more than just Obama, and that was part of the problem. I think he delegated managing the Congress to Rahm, and Rahm didn’t really care what was in the ACA as long as it passed. That’s how I see it. But as Lemieux has been at pains to point out, even if the administration had fought harder for a more progressive ACA, it probably wouldn’t have passed. So in the end it doesn’t matter.

            I never did like Rahm, and like him even less now. Besides, Rahm rhymes with “blame” so it’s synchronicity.

            • Again, I’d call this overcorrecting. While the actions of his party in Congress, and even to some extent the actions of the federal departments, shouldn’t be directly attributed to the President, I’m perfectly comfortable with using “the President” and “the White House” interchangeable.

              • Scott Lemieux

                And Rahm is a particularly bad example. He wanted to abandon the ACA and Obama ignored him. Obama deserves his share of the credit for passing the ACA. (I’ve also heard the line that he doesn’t deserve credit because he took a hands-off approach to Congress for much of the time. But that is effective leadership. The idea that Obama should have replicated the same strategy that failed for Clinton is just insane.)

            • ForkyMcSpoon

              Rahm rhymes with bomb, not blame.

              • liberalrob

                Po-tay-to Po-tah-to…

    • FMguru

      He pushed for it (over the objections of a number of his advisors, most notably Rahm) and he fought for it. If he’d wanted a token stimulus, or no stimulus at all, that’s what we would have gotten.

      Obama’s stimulus, although too small to deal with the scope of meltdown, was still much better and more forward-looking than the policy chosen in pretty much every other OECD country, which was cuts and austerity and belt-tightening and more cuts.

      The stimulus also included a lot of liberal priorities bundled into it. If you broke it out by category you’d find a bunch of very happy democratic constituencies who got their needs funded (among other things, there was basically a $50 billion clean energy bill stuffed in there). It’s too bad that it’s gone down in memory as too small for the job, because while it was that, it was also an overflowing cornucopia of Good Stuff that was long overdue.

      So I feel entirely OK with crediting Obama with the stimulus.

      • TroubleMaker13

        Obama’s stimulus, although too small to deal with the scope of meltdown, was still much better and more forward-looking than the policy chosen in pretty much every OECD country, which was cuts and austerity and belt-tightening and more cuts.

        This needs emphasis. If not for the stimulus and US fiscal policy had gone the way Europe went, things would have been *much* worse all over. Who knows if Obama would’ve even been re-elected in the resulting malaise. President Mitt Romney in 2012 would’ve then meant the end of ACA.

        • liberalrob

          And a second Great Depression.

          • TroubleMaker13

            Absolutely. This is why I want to kick Loomis in the junk when he bags on academic economists. Yeah, it’s a relatively weak science and Larry Summers is a massive prick on a personal level, but there was a strong component of the field that got this part dead to rights and THANK FUCKING GOD!! they had Obama’s ear and this got done because we (not just the US– globally) would have been right and truly fucked without that stimulus, such as it was.

            • Fake Irishman

              … and to his credit, Summers was one of the ones pushing hard for a bigger stimulus (Alongside Crhistina Romer and Jared Bernstein inside the gov’t and Brad Delong, Paul Krugman and Alan Blinder outside of it).

              • TroubleMaker13

                Yeah, that’s exactly what I meant. Keynes is not exactly intuitive and without the body of research to back him up and the voices you mention, it’s easy to see US policy going the way of Europe with disastrous results for everyone.

        • Scott Lemieux

          Agreed 100%. A lot of people have this teleological ideal that because stimulus was the right policy, passing a bug stimulus was inevitable and it’s only a question of how big it would be. The comparison to other liberal democracies, most of which have a more leftward center of gravity and fewer institutional constraints, makes it abundantly clear that this is nonsense.

          And more people need to read Mike Grunwald’s book about ARRA.

    • Hogan

      As the past 5 years have demonstrated, without congressional supermajorities, he gets squat.

      LBJ had even bigger supermajorities, but he didn’t get that. Obama shouldn’t get all the credit, but he should get a decent share.

  • slothrop

    “And on foreign issues, Obama’s record is perhaps the most successful of any Democratic president since Truman. He has reestablished productive diplomacy as the central task of a progressive foreign policy, and as a viable alternative approach to dealing with countries the GOP foreign policy establishment would rather bomb.”

    Oh brother.

    • rea

      What, you don’t think that is true? Are you too young to remember 2001-2008?

      • Hogan

        You mean when President Nader rid the world of nuclear weapons and made lasting peace between Israel and Palestine?

      • Maybe he’s a big Carter fan? Or Clinton? Can’t stand overlooking their great foreign policy records?

        • brewmn

          I think we all know he means “Droooooonezzzzz!!!!!”

          • liberalrob

            Drones, Yemen, Libya, Syria, to some degree Egypt, “free trade” deals, re-engaging in Iraq…his foreign policy record is a mixed bag, though he has done well at not getting us tied down to long-term major military commitments.

            • rea

              But the question is not whether he’s better than hypothetical President liberalrob–it is whether he is better than Kennedy, LBJ, Carter, or Clinton.

              • liberalrob

                I would be a terrible president and if elected I will not serve.

            • Saying “Yemen, Libya, Syria” when discussing Obama’s foreign policy is like saying “Benghazi” when discussing Hillary Clinton’s tenure at the State Department.

              It’s a use of vague language to make the entirety of something that took place on the other side of the planet, in which he/she played only a small and reactive part, to be mainly about his/her reaction, and treat that reaction as the ultimate cause of everything that came after, and even much of what what came before.

              If we eliminate the entirety of the American role in the Syrian Civil War, the only thing that changes is that Assad still has his chemical arsenal, and maybe ISIL is stronger.

              If we eliminate the entirety of the American role in Libya, it becomes Syria.

              If we eliminate the entirety of the American role in Yemen, AQAP is more capable of conducting attacks overseas.

              Barack Obama was much more important to the passage of the Affordable Care Act through Congress than in the existence and direction of the Yemeni Civil War.

              • liberalrob

                Saying “Yemen, Libya, Syria” when discussing Obama’s foreign policy is like saying “Benghazi” when discussing Hillary Clinton’s tenure at the State Department.

                With the difference being that the Obama administration actually played a significant role in those actual real-world situations, while “Benghazi” is a libelous political ratfcking operation trumped up (ha!) by the GOP to try to undermine Hillary’s campaign for president.

                As far as “something that took place on the other side of the planet, in which he/she played only a small and reactive part, to be mainly about his/her reaction” is kind of what foreign policy IS. And I think the people of Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, and Syria would disagree with your characterization of how significant the Obama administration’s foreign policy has been.

                If we eliminate the entirety of the American role in the Syrian Civil War…If we eliminate the entirety of the American role in Libya…If we eliminate the entirety of the American role in Yemen…

                Well, heck, if we eliminate the entirety of the American role in the Mexican War the official language of Texas would be Spanish. The fact is that we chose to get involved in the Syrian Civil War, we chose to get involved in the situation in Libya, and we chose to get involved in Yemen, and not a one of those involvements has resulted in anything positive (Assad getting rid of his chemical arsenal is nice but it didn’t resolve the situation) while at the same time resulting in quite a few things that are clearly negative. If you are grading Obama on his foreign policy accomplishments, those cannot be seen as successes. The Iran nuclear deal and the opening to Cuba are real accomplishments. Participating in the climate conference is an accomplishment. He’s done good things in foreign policy. He’s also done some not-so-good things. It’s a mixed bag.

                • With the difference being that the Obama administration actually played a significant role in those actual real-world situations, while “Benghazi” is a libelous political ratfcking operation trumped up (ha!) by the GOP to try to undermine Hillary’s campaign for president.

                  No. This is a falsehood driven by an ideological habit of placing American actions in the center of events, and is inaccurate as a description of any of those three situations. American action did not play a significant role in the outcomes of any of those three situations. It played almost none in Yemen, almost none beyond the chemical weapons surrender in Syria, and a small one in Libya.

                  As far as “something that took place on the other side of the planet, in which he/she played only a small and reactive part, to be mainly about his/her reaction” is kind of what foreign policy IS.

                  Oh, really? Perhaps you should consider the examples of Iraq and Vietnam.

                  And I think the people of Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, and Syria would disagree with your characterization of how significant the Obama administration’s foreign policy has been.

                  I know you think that, and I even know why you think that. Your habit of doing so is not a reflection of the facts.

                  Well, heck, if we eliminate the entirety of the American role in the Mexican War the official language of Texas would be Spanish.

                  Yes, an important, significant change in the outcome would have taken place without American involvement. As opposed to Libya, Syria, and Yemen, which would look almost exactly the same without American involvement.

                  The fact is that we chose to get involved in the Syrian Civil War, we chose to get involved in the situation in Libya, and we chose to get involved in Yemen, and not a one of those involvements has resulted in anything positive (Assad getting rid of his chemical arsenal is nice but it didn’t resolve the situation) while at the same time resulting in quite a few things that are clearly negative.

                  No. This is a completely unexamined assumption based on an intellectual habit of taking episodes like the Texas War and the Iraq War and merely assuming the same pattern must apply wherever there is any American involvement.

                  I don’t think you even have an argument for why the American role in any of those situations was an important driver of the outcomes to date. I don’t think it’s ever occurred to you that you’d need one.

                • so-in-so

                  It would be nice to admit that the Syrians, Libyans, Yemenis, etc. had agency themselves (for good or ill).

                  Sometimes history is what we do to other countries, but other times it happens and we get involved later – we can argue if we should have or not, but we didn’t MAKE the whole circumstance.

                  Any assertion that Syria or Libya would have been fine except for the U.S., or even that they would have come out “better”, is a counter-factual that really can’t be supported.

                • liberalrob

                  This is a falsehood driven by an ideological habit of placing American actions in the center of events, and is inaccurate as a description of any of those three situations. American action did not play a significant role in the outcomes of any of those three situations.

                  It’s not an “ideological habit,” it is a reality due to our assumption of the role of being a global superpower and assertion of our right to project our power anywhere in the world at any time. Deny that reality as you will. The Obama administration has not renounced that role. And you’re simply mistaken that American action has not played a significant role in any of those three situations. In the case of Syria, there isn’t even an outcome yet (and that’s part of the failure).

                  Perhaps you should consider the examples of Iraq and Vietnam.

                  I have no idea what you’re trying to argue with this statement. Those are obviously also issues of foreign policy.

                  I know you think that, and I even know why you think that.

                  You are mistaken about something, then, because otherwise I think you would agree with me. I think you’re wrong about why I think what I think. But since I have no idea what it is you think I think, I can’t really answer one way or the other.

                  Your habit of doing so is not a reflection of the facts.

                  No, in this case I think you’re the one who’s not reflecting the facts. My habit of thinking what I think apparently bothers you for some reason.

                  As opposed to Libya, Syria, and Yemen, which would look almost exactly the same without American involvement.

                  And which have remained failures despite American involvement. The point you missed there is that you cannot divest American involvement when you are evaluating the success or failure of American policies. Regardless of whether a situation would be better absent American involvement, which is itself also an aspect of foreign policy, the fact is that there was American involvement. It is also a fact that American involvement, when it occurs, is necessarily significant due to the mere fact that it is America taking the action; it’s not the same as Burundi or Botswana involving themselves in a foreign matter. Like it or not, we are an 800-pound gorilla when it comes to foreign policy. When we make mistakes (or sometimes we do it on purpose) we can cause significant damage.

                • Hogan

                  In the case of Syria, there isn’t even an outcome yet (and that’s part of the failure).

                  That . . . makes it sound like we’re not projecting enough power.

                • It’s not an “ideological habit,” it is a reality due to our assumption of the role of being a global superpower and assertion of our right to project our power anywhere in the world at any time. Deny that reality as you will.

                  I just want to draw everyone’s attention to the fact that liberalrob doesn’t need a single fact from the Libya Civil War to believe this. He has a line about American power in the abstract, and that is all he has, all he needs in order to arrive at a conclusion about the question.

                  And you’re simply mistaken that American action has not played a significant role in any of those three situations.

                  I must be, you see, because it must always be the case, by definition. But rest assured, this is not an ideological habit of rob’s, and it’s certainly not unexamined. It’s just a simple fact. Always and everywhere.

                  I think you’re wrong about why I think what I think.

                  No, you proved me right with your opening bit. You think that, because that’s what you think.

                  No, in this case I think you’re the one who’s not reflecting the facts. My habit of thinking what I think apparently bothers you for some reason.

                  It bothers me because you don’t even attempt to reconcile it with any evidence from the situations in question. You just assume your eternal narrative to be universally applicable. Because it is “a simple fact.” It bothers me when people do that, yes. It’s not reality-based. It’s not even a failed attempt to be reality-based.

                  The point you missed there is that you cannot divest American involvement when you are evaluating the success or failure of American policies.

                  I just bolded the part you don’t understand. You assume the outcomes to be about American policies. You have no reason to think this beyond one of your “simple facts,” but it exists as an unfalsifiable narrative of universal application.

                  It is also a fact that American involvement, when it occurs, is necessarily significant due to the mere fact that it is America taking the action

                  I mean, look at this. Just look at it.

                  Your list of “simple facts” that render the actual facts of particular situations irrelevant just keeps growing.

                • There may not have been an outcome yet, Hogan, but when there is, it will be because of American action. Because it has to be, because it’s simple fact that it always has to be.

                • liberalrob

                  That . . . makes it sound like we’re not projecting enough power.

                  Possibly, or possibly we shouldn’t have gotten involved at all. Or maybe there are no good options. There’s no rule that says there’s always a good outcome. But evaluating a policy’s success or failure means defining what success looks like, and if success in Syria is a stable and peaceful nation, by virtually any measure I can think of our policy in Syria is a failure.

                • liberalrob

                  I must be [mistaken], you see, because it must always be the case, by definition.

                  Perhaps it seems that way because I generally only respond to you to disagree with you on something. I think you are right about a great many things; but in this case, you are wrong.

                  I just bolded the part you don’t understand. You assume the outcomes to be about American policies.

                  I thought we were discussing evaluating the success or failure of the Obama administration’s foreign policies. You seem to be asserting that if a situation was chaotic before American involvement, and remains chaotic after American involvement, you cannot assess the American involvement to have failed to achieve its intended result. I find that assertion bizarre. You further seem to be asserting that in such a situation any action taken as part of that involvement cannot be evaluated negatively, presumably because it made no difference in the outcome. I find that assertion not only bizarre but dangerous, possibly enabling and/or excusing criminal acts.

                  It is also a fact that American involvement, when it occurs, is necessarily significant due to the mere fact that it is America taking the action

                  I mean, look at this. Just look at it.

                  You deny it? Especially in the context of evaluating American foreign policy, American actions are of no significance whatsoever? That’s an…interesting…position to take.

                • Your expression of shock that your unquestioned assumptions are not accepted as obvious is not an argument. At least, not a good one.

                  I’ll note two things: you’ve yet to provide so much as a single fact from Libya, Syria, or Yemen to back up your position, or even a statement about what would have happened differently. You just keep insisting that you must be right, because you have a small set of childishly simplistic “facts” that you use in their place.

                  Yes, I deny that American actions, when they are small-bore and involve only minimal exercises in American power, must necessarily be of major significance merely because they were conducted by the United States.

                  You seem to be asserting that if a situation was chaotic before American involvement, and remains chaotic after American involvement, you cannot assess the American involvement to have failed to achieve its intended result.

                  Well that’s a rather dramatic moving of the goal posts. Once upon a time, you were claiming that “the Obama administration actually played a significant role in those actual real-world situations.” Then you doubled down on that assertion, confidently holding forth from your computer that, “And I think the people of Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, and Syria would disagree with your characterization of how significant the Obama administration’s foreign policy has been.”

                  You’ve abandoned your claim that American policies were the central, important, significant factor in producing the outcomes in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, and have now retreated to disputing the imaginary claim that “American actions are of no significance whatsoever.” Rest assured, rob, I am not arguing that American actions are of no significance whatsoever.

                  One easy way to tell this is to go back to this comment and note the significance I attributed to American actions. In that comment, you might note, I brought up some intended results that our actions achieved.

                • liberalrob

                  I’ll note two things: you’ve yet to provide so much as a single fact from Libya, Syria, or Yemen to back up your position, or even a statement about what would have happened differently.

                  I would think that the public record would be sufficient. I am not concerned about what would have happened differently if the policy had been different; I am concerned with what actually did happen due to the policy actually undertaken. That is how you evaluate the success or failure of a policy.

                  Once upon a time, you were claiming that “the Obama administration actually played a significant role in those actual real-world situations.”

                  I did and I do claim that.

                  Then you doubled down on that assertion, confidently holding forth from your computer that, “And I think the people of Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, and Syria would disagree with your characterization of how significant the Obama administration’s foreign policy has been.”

                  I am indeed quite confident that if a poll was taken of the people of those areas, they would not call the Obama administration’s policies “insignificant.”

                  You just keep insisting that you must be right, because you have a small set of childishly simplistic “facts” that you use in their place.

                  I think those “childishly simplistic ‘facts'” are self-evident, and repeating them a waste of space. But it appears they aren’t evident to you for some reason.

                  Yes, I deny that American actions, when they are small-bore and involve only minimal exercises in American power, must necessarily be of major significance merely because they were conducted by the United States.

                  This reflects a basic misunderstanding of the nature of international relations, and the United States’ place in the world. We are a nuclear superpower. Our influence reaches every corner of the globe and far out into space. Every action we take is carefully scrutinized by the other nations of the world, no matter how trivial. I can’t believe this is at all controversial to state.

                  You’ve abandoned your claim that American policies were the central, important, significant factor in producing the outcomes in Libya, Syria, and Yemen

                  Yes, I’ve abandoned that claim I never made. You’ve got me there. My claim was, “the Obama administration actually played a significant role in those actual real-world situations.” I also claimed “[i]f you are grading Obama on his foreign policy accomplishments, those cannot be seen as successes.” The word “outcomes” occurs nowhere in there, though it is perhaps implicit in the case of Libya since the stated goal of our involvement there was “to protect civilians, stop an advancing army, prevent a massacre, and establish a no-fly zone with our allies and partners” in order to “deny the regime arms, cut off its supplies of cash, assist the opposition, and work with other nations to hasten the day when Qaddafi leaves power” and provide the “time and space” for “the Libyan people…to determine their own destiny.” In other words, to do everything short of committing ground troops to enable regime change, in hopes that what came after would be a stable, peaceful nation. That didn’t happen. But since the no-fly zone was in fact established, Qaddafi’s massacre of civilians was more or less stopped, and he eventually did leave power (feet-first), you want to claim that that was a foreign policy success? OK.

                  One easy way to tell this is to go back to this comment and note the significance I attributed to American actions. In that comment, you might note, I brought up some intended results that our actions achieved.

                  You mean this?

                  If we eliminate the entirety of the American role in the Syrian Civil War, the only thing that changes is that Assad still has his chemical arsenal, and maybe ISIL is stronger.

                  If we eliminate the entirety of the American role in Libya, it becomes Syria.

                  If we eliminate the entirety of the American role in Yemen, AQAP is more capable of conducting attacks overseas.

                  OK, I’ll bite. Even though it’s not possible to eliminate the American role in any of those situations because America is heavily involved in all of them, let’s entertain your hypotheticals.

                  If we eliminate the entirety of the American role in the Syrian Civil War, Assad may still have his chemical weapons it’s true. (Most likely he wouldn’t have them anymore because he would have used them…) It’s harder to say whether ISIL would be stronger or weaker, because ISIL is not primarily a rebellion against Assad; it is an attempt to create a new political entity in the region, occupying territory and governing itself; it just happens to be the case that western Syria was easy pickings while the Assad regime was defending itself from the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups closer to Damascus. There is no doubt that CIA programs to support and train rebel groups to fight ISIL and airstrikes targeted against ISIL have been undertaken; these efforts have had dubious results. I think at best you can give the Obama administration an “incomplete” in Syria; and as things stand today, it’s definitely not a success as far as I can see.

                  If we eliminate the entirety of the American role in Libya, it doesn’t become Syria; it becomes Iraq in 1991, when Saddam massacred 100,000 Shiites who had risen against him at our urging, using attack helicopters that we specifically exempted from the no-fly zone we had declared so he could do so. The Shiite uprising was quashed, and Saddam remained in power, and would most likely have done so indefinitely absent our invasion in 2003. So you’re wrong about the significance of American intervention in Libya; it most definitely had a significant effect on what happened there. I’ve covered that above.

                  If we eliminate the entirety of the American involvement in Yemen, AQAP is not affected in any way, positively or negatively, in its ability to conduct attacks overseas because AQAP’s ability to conduct attacks overseas is not dependent on its having a base or “safe area” in Yemen. It could have that anywhere. Or even nowhere. The drone offensive in Yemen is killing hundreds of civilians along with handfuls of AQAP militants who are easily replaced by the thousands of Islamist radicals enraged by the “collateral damage” we inflict on their families; meanwhile we are providing logistical support to Saudi Arabia which is intervening against the Houthi rebels, an Iran-backed Shiite group mortally opposed to AQAP. That’s right, we are involved on BOTH sides of the sectarian strife. So not only is our policy ineffectual in its stated purpose, that of preventing AQAP from performing strikes; it is inconsistent and incoherent, backing both sides of a sectarian conflict. I don’t see how that can be claimed to be a successful foreign policy. Anyway, you’re wrong about the significance of our involvement in Yemen: the claim that AQAP is degraded in its ability to operate due to our drone campaign is false. It actually may be the reverse; our drone campaign may be aiding AQAP in recruiting new radicals.

                  So there, I addressed your hypotheticals.

                  Rest assured, rob, I am not arguing that American actions are of no significance whatsoever.

                  I refer the gentleman to the statement he made some time before:

                  American action did not play a significant role in the outcomes of any of those three situations. It played almost none in Yemen, almost none beyond the chemical weapons surrender in Syria, and a small one in Libya.

                • I would think that the public record would be sufficient.

                  I know; that’s what so funny. You don’t know the public record, don’t cite the public record, don’t think about the public record; you are just certain, without the least reflection or knowledge, that the public record must demonstrate that the outcomes in all of those countries are mainly about the United States, because of your devout faith that it must. “The public record,” as far as you are concerned, consists of “There was American intervention” and “There were bad things” and that’s all you need to know.

                  due to the policy actually undertaken.

                  And, once again, that’s exactly where your logic fails. You attribute the entirety of the outcomes to American policy, without even pausing to consider the possibility that there could be anything else going on. It’s simply an eternal doctrine of faith with you that it must. And yet, you insist that this isn’t an ideological habit.

                  Anyway, you being confident about things isn’t actually evidence of them. I don’t think you understand that. You’ve read your Howard Zinn, and now you think that having an explanation fit in with how you like to think about the world is a good reason to believe it to be true.

                  We are a nuclear superpower. Our influence reaches every corner of the globe and far out into space. Every action we take is carefully scrutinized by the other nations of the world, no matter how trivial. I can’t believe this is at all controversial to state.

                  See, this is the failure of your logic. Because we are a nuclear superpower, you don’t need to know anything about the scale, type, or degree of American action to understand its significance and importance. The only reason you find that logic remote compelling is because of your doctrines of faith.

                  BTW, you quoted a list of the initial goals of the American intervention in Libya, every single one of which was achieved, by way of arguing that the intervention was a failure. And then, because Libya wasn’t “a stable, peaceful state,” you act shocked that anyone could declare the operation a success – as if anything other than the American operation (fore example, the civil war) could be the cause of instability in the country. You’re keep doing exactly what I say you’re doing, and exactly what you deny you’re doing, immediately before and after you do it. And yet you remain utterly unshaken in your confidence in your superior understanding and upper hand in this debate. Amazing.

                  If we eliminate the entirety of the American role in Libya, it doesn’t become Syria; it becomes Iraq in 1991, when Saddam massacred 100,000 Shiites who had risen against him at our urging, using attack helicopters that we specifically exempted from the no-fly zone we had declared so he could do so. The Shiite uprising was quashed, and Saddam remained in power, and would most likely have done so indefinitely absent our invasion in 2003.

                  Your analysis of Syria depends upon defining any outcome short of utopia an “incomplete” so you can avoid acknowledging the existence of limited success. Back in the real world, limited success is the only kind of success there is, especially when the objectives from the beginning were limited. Also, noting that the American actions were so limited as to produce only limited results is a direct rebuttal to your “It’s all about us” thesis that you can’t believe everyone doesn’t accept unquestioningly.

                  The notion that a massacre in the midst of an Arab Spring-inspired civil war in 2011 would have ended that way is profoundly naive. The notion that massacre would produce stability, in a country in which the opposition was being courted by the Gulf states and al Qaeda from the very beginning is profoundly ignorant. There was nobody looking to back the Shiite Iraqis against Saddam in 1991, and the Saddam government had a much greater military advantage over that uprising than Gadhaffi had over the Libyan rebels.

                  If we eliminate the entirety of the American involvement in Yemen, AQAP is not affected in any way, positively or negatively, in its ability to conduct attacks overseas because AQAP’s ability to conduct attacks overseas is not dependent on its having a base or “safe area” in Yemen.

                  You have no idea what you’re talking about. You have no reason to believe this line beyond it being what you like to think.

                  The drone offensive in Yemen is killing hundreds of civilians along with handfuls of AQAP militants

                  You haven’t the slightest grasp on the facts. You made those numbers up because they’re what you want to believe. The Bureau for Investigative journalism puts the total number killed at less than a thousand, and the number of civilians at less than 100. You’ve never made the slightest effort to actually learn the facts, and you purport to lecture those of us who have, purely on the grounds that your childishly simplistic understandings are worth more than actual knowledge of real-world conditions.

                  That’s right, we are involved on BOTH sides of the sectarian strife.

                  No, that’s not right. You didn’t even attempt to make the case we were on the side of the Houthis. You said we were supporting two groups that were against them. Again, you make factual error after factual error based on things you’d really like to be able to say.

                  So there, I addressed your hypotheticals.

                  Well, you tried, anyway. That’s worth something.

                  I refer the gentleman to the statement he made some time before:

                  American action did not play a significant role in the outcomes of any of those three situations. It played almost none in Yemen, almost none beyond the chemical weapons surrender in Syria, and a small one in Libya.

                  And the difference between “no” and “small” is a meaningful one, even if you’d really like to believe you got me.

                  That was absolutely pathetic, rob.

              • The Lorax

                And almost certainly would have had high-profile attacks overseas. Likely on planes.

        • liberalrob

          Speaking of Carter and Clinton, “[o]n domestic issues Obama is the most consequential and successful Democratic president since LBJ” is kind of a low bar…

          • I look at that as more of a language problem than an Obama problem, though. It’s not as though he was just a hair more consequential and successful than Clinton or Carter. He’s much closer to LBJ than to either of them, even if he comes up short of that very high standard.

            He’s the third greatest liberal president on domestic issues of all time, and that all three were relatively close together shouldn’t diminish his significance.

            • Scott Lemieux

              Right. Carter, in particular, had 4 years of unified Democratic control of Congress and did pretty much bupkis with it. (And I wouldn’t say FDR and Obama were all that close together.)

              • Davis X. Machina

                Carter’s worst Democrats were worse than Obama’s worse Democrats, I’d maintain — some real mossbacks left in the South in those days.

                Of course, Carter in particular should have had some extra traction with them….

                Plus the Watergate babies, and the Kennedy King over the Water…

                • Scott Lemieux

                  Oh yes, it’s certainly not all on Carter; he had a lousy hand in Congress. But he’s the only contemporary Democratic president who was arguably to the right of the median vote in Congress.

            • liberalrob

              He’s the third greatest liberal president on domestic issues of all time

              I’ll agree with that, though I wonder just how many “liberal” presidents there have been (depends on one’s definition of “liberal”). I still don’t think it’s all that large of a group.

              • bender

                I would give that honor to Theodore Roosevelt.

                Trust busting, first national parks, Pure Food and Drug Act.

                • Totally overrated. Taft busted far more trusts. TR had the self-promotion machine.

        • slothrop

          Obama has certainly made matters worse in the Middle East. Drone warfare is nothing more than terrorism (It’s not Trumansque terrorism, but terrorism nonetheless). He has greatly contributed to massive destabilization in Yemen, Syria, of course, Libya. Our troops are deployed in almost 150 countries. We will be dealing with Blowback for decades. No, Obama is a foreign-policy disaster, aided and abetted by HRC – she’ll be far worse.

          On the other hand, maybe presidents are massively constrained by structural inertia of the MIC.

          • Lol

            • liberalrob

              Yeah, that’s way overstating it. Obama is not a foreign-policy “disaster” by any measure, nor will President Clinton 45 be “worse.” He’s made some mistakes and some things haven’t worked out well. He hasn’t caused WWIII or tried to set up satrapies in Asia.

            • Pseudonym

              Could we at least debate the policy of targeted assassinations on its own merits without putting the blame on innocent drones? It’s not like having humans in the cockpit would make any substantive difference.

              • Bruce B.

                I’m always happy to see others say this too. The policy is on the whole a bad idea, and would be no matter how it was carried out. Conversely, drones can do a bunch of neat and useful things in the support of good policy. They’re not innately immoral tools.

                • so-in-so

                  Well, its short-hand. This is a bit too “guns don’t kill people…”

                • addicted44

                  Maybe when a 4 year old kills his sister with a drone this comparison might have even the slightest viability.

                • Pseudonym

                  My comment about “innocent drones” was mostly in jest, but the comparison doesn’t work, since guns actually are the issue in question while drones aren’t. And the targeted assassination policy goes beyond drones as well, most notably in the killing of OBL.

              • leftwingfox

                Thank you!

          • witlesschum

            I’m sympathetic to the basic argument that the drone war in specific and so-called anti-terrorism policy in general is doing us more harm than good and is going to bite us in the long run, but you have to grade U.S. presidents on a curve. Obama’s killed a lot fewer people than any plausible candidate in 2008 would have.

            To be more specific, the idea that U.S. actions undertaken after 2008 made Syria worse seems crazed and Libya seems like a success in comparison to do doing nothing. Maybe Yemen.

          • The Lorax

            This is why one should vote for Trump or Ryan in the general.

          • DrS

            Yeah, normalizing relations with Cuba, thawing relations with Iran, not getting involved in a large scale foreign war.

            What a fucking disaster!

            • Fake Irishman

              plus that huge nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia he somehow got 67 votes for at the end of 2010.

              • Disarmament of the world’s worst chemical weapons violator.

              • addicted44

                That’s the kind of success that would headline the vast majority of Presidents’ foreign policy achievements and has basically been forgotten during Obama’s tenure.

    • brewmn

      I think the operative phase here is “since Truman.” Who do you have ranked higher?

  • JMV Pyro

    Oh man, the comment sections on those old LGM posts are great. “ACA is a is worthless failure!” “Heighten the contradictions!” “The end will so be upon us!”

    Six years is a damned long time in politics.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I know it seems sometimes as if I’m arguing against a strawman; it’s nice to have a historical record of how many people were making this argument in real time.

  • pianomover

    We haven’t had as dignified a president in ages.

    • Steve LaBonne

      I know, 8 years of not cringing whenever the President was representing us abroad? Priceless.

      • tsam

        No sexytime with interns, no puking on Japanese dignitaries, no arms sales to enemies to fund death squads….

        • Ronan

          What happened to America? You lot used to be such fun

          • Steve LaBonne

            Don’t worry, President For Life Drumpf will be a barrel of laughs.

            • Warren Terra

              The sad thing about “President For Life” jokes is that since in their different ways Cruz and Trump seem unusually plausible causes of Armageddon either can easily be “President For Life” without violating the 22nd Amendment.

              • tsam

                “His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Donaulde J Drumph, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the Islam Empire in New Zealand in General and Outer Mongolia in Particular”

        • The Lorax

          Yeah, but no back rubs to PMs. I bet Merkel could use one right about now.

          • liberalrob

            So could his brother. Not in “that way” of course.

            I wish the shoe-thrower had had better aim…

      • D.N. Nation

        Obama’s coming up on his last summer as President, and I’m guessing for these Olympics he’ll show up to Rio and gladhand the various suits, watch some competitions, and then scoot home quietly. Contrast that to Bush’s, uh, performance in the ’08 Games, when he was red-faced and stumbling (drunk, is my take) and flirting with the women’s volleyball team and generally making an ass of himself.

        • tsam

          Yeah…if we’re going to have drunk assholes for presidents, might as well have me do it.

          • Denverite

            tsam/Denverite 2020 has a nice ring to it.

            • Warren Terra

              Americans will never vote for someone who spells their first name with a Tsade.

              (and, in a side note, can I give a heartfelt “phooey” to whoever the people are who are apparently empowered to change the accepted transliterations every so often, away from the versions I’m used to)

            • Scott Lemieux

              That presidency would be historically great. SCOREBOARD!

              • Denverite

                Indeed.

            • tsam

              You’d hafta be the president though. I’m not very good at public speaking or knowing stuff.

              • Denverite

                I was hoping for more of a Dick Cheney puppetmaster role. Mostly for the cool bionic body parts.

                • tsam

                  Let’s just build a robot president to vanquish our enemies and handle all the stuff while we watch TV and drink beer. No need to put too much effort into this.

              • so-in-so

                Didn’t slow Dubbya down…

    • Brett

      I’m going to seriously miss No-Drama-Obama. It was cool seeing him run a tight ship as President, and even more fun watching the Republicans flail at him in rage trying to desperately find a “scandal” they could hang on him for impeachment.

      *Sigh* I hope Hillary tries for that, when she becomes President.

      • Steve LaBonne

        I don’t think she has the management or people-evaluation skills to pull it off. And she clearly has a streak of rules-are-for-the-little-people arrogance that has gotten her in hot water before and will again.

        • The Lorax

          Yep. I expect scandals for just this reason. Not Bill-level scandals. But definitely drama.

          • Scott Lemieux

            Yes, this is one area where the only real question is how much worse the next admin will be, even if Clinton wins.

    • Bruce B.

      As dignified, and yet as comfortable with himself to do a lot of just plain fun things. Nobody else would be out there making the “Thanks, Obama” cookies and milk video, or helping Lin-Manuel Miranda with freestyle rapping. It’s a very strong reminder of what some true confidence can look like. I love both sides of his style.

  • Funkhauser

    Matthews notes that the Paris Accord might not be enough to stop climate change. I think that’s a big, important qualifier that will shape how future historians will view Obama in, say, one hundred years IF this moment was our last to reverse the negative feedback cycle associated with global warming.

    And while I’m glad he’s president and I think Reid and Pelosi were excellent leaders of the Congressional majorities, I wish those issues would have received more attention in the brief window he had.

    And, yes, context matters.

    And, yes, I want a pony too.

    • witlesschum

      Wouldn’t be fair, but maybe so. Hanging Munich on Neville Chamberlain isn’t fair either, but that’s what happens to people in the big chair.

      • The Lorax

        I’ve completely changed my view of Chamberlain since seeing him in Downton Abbey.

  • Incidentally, CNN had a nice story the other day catching up with the kid in the sweater vest in the picture.

  • LWA

    [The ACA] is, to quote Harvard political scientist Theda Skocpol Joe Biden, “a century-defining accomplishment in the last industrial democracy to resist using national government to ensure access to health coverage for most citizens big fuckin’ deal.”

    I think it flows better this way, don’t you think?

    • Scott Lemieux

      In fairness, Matthews did use the phrase earlier.

  • AMK

    Obama has been fantastic at big-picture policy, prioritizing and agenda setting….but as a political communicator, he’s been pretty fucking awful, and he can’t just blame his staff or the party for that. Part of his job is to aggressively sell his accomplishments to the public and he’s flunked there big-time; he solves all these problems but then retreats superman-like into his ice palace and lets other people sieze control of the whole narrative.

    • Steve LaBonne

      If Only He Had Green Lanterned The Bully Pulpit, We Could’ve Had A Pony!

      • AMK

        How many times (excluding States of the Union) did LBJ address the nation on the Great Society and Civil Rights? I don’t have an exact number, but many times. How much time did LBJ spend out on the campaign trail for democrats defending those initiatives? Lots of time. Who was in charge of the Democratic Party during LBJ’s tenure? LBJ.

        How many times (excluding States of the Union) has Obama addressed the nation on the ACA and/or the stimulus? ZERO. How much time has he spent on the trail defending those initiatives? Less thime than he’s spent on Martha’s Vineyard. Who’s been in charge of the Democratic Party during Obama’s tenure? Not Obama.

        A pattern is emerging.

        • Scott Lemieux

          The idea that LBJ made the Great Society popular through his great oratory is almost as bizarre as the idea that Obama has never given speeches about the ACA.

        • That has to be sarcasm, right?

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      there is, and I’m sure Scott or someone else knows right where to find it, research that shows it doesn’t take long for the public to start tuning out the President. what hurts Obama as much as anything is that his opposition’s base are the kind of people who enjoy being propagandized through talk radio day after day, while the rest of us aren’t

  • paul.c.klos

    Wait TR is left of the list good or bad depending on your view but man was a Progressive and had a huge impact.

    “There are obviously places Obama fell short. I think he didn’t take monetary policy nearly seriously enough, that he’s fallen short on combating HIV/AIDS and other public health scourges abroad

    Wait what does that mean he was he elected president of the planet? Quick name the country that spent the most on Ebola in the recent outbreak? It was not China or Russia or the EU overall.

    I’ll take maybe that somehow he failed to wave a wand and use mind control on the house Republicans to deal with Infrastructure, Education and Public health in the US, but really abroad? Why waste the time to send bills that are DOA arrival to Republican House.

  • stonetools

    I’ve argued else where that Obama has definitely made it into the top third of US Presidents all time, and that he is maybe even Top Ten.When it comes to US Presidents, there are fewer great ones than you might think. There is the Big Three ( Washington, Lincoln , and FDR), the rest of the Rushmore crowd, and then Top Ten candidates start to thin out rapidly. There’s LBJ, Reagan, maybe Eisenhower and Truman, and afterward there are a bunch of arguments.
    And remember, Obama ain’t finished yet. He may still pull a couple of rabbits out of the hat-helping negotiate a Syrian settlement, or putting a fifth liberal (OK moderate ) on SCOTUS. If he pulls off those two, then he is unquestionably Top Ten.

    • Scott Lemieux

      On what basis would Truman be ranked over Obama?

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