Eugene Robinson's piece in the Washington Post today (plus Todd Purdum's recent VF piece) got me thinking. Is it impossible for any modern President to be seen as successful? Is the ire-generation engine so efficient now that every achievement comes with instant scorn included in the same package, so there's no ability to savor any success?
Obama was inaugurated 19 months ago, in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Since then, we've gotten historic health reform, ended the Iraq war, gotten new financial regulations, earned our money back on General Motors, and plugged the BP leak. And now we're re-starting negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.
As USA Today put it last May:
"Obama also has set tougher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and launched a $4.3 billion education initiative challenging schools to improve their performance. He appointed the first Hispanic to the Supreme Court, Justice Sonya Sotomayor, and on Monday nominated another woman, Elena Kagan, to the bench. He also signed a deal with Russia to reduce stockpiles of strategic nuclear warheads...
Historians say President Obama's legislative record during a crisis-ridden presidency already puts him in a league with such consequential presidents as Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Roosevelt."
Not to mention that he's the first African-American US President in history!
So what's all this talk about his administration not doing anything? Or the Carter comparisons? I can understand the tea party anger, as they disagree with the direction of many of these initiatives, and they're whipped into a frenzy by talk radio and FOX News. But why the backlash from the progressive community as well? They say Obama has squandered the first Democratic control of Congress and the White House in years, but I don't see it.
The kerfluffle over Obama's statements on the Islamic community center in New York City were emblematic of the environment I'm describing. I think he made a strong statement in his Ramadan dinner speech supporting religious freedom, and in an off-hand comment to a CNN reporter the next day saying he didn't want to weigh in on the local zoning decision in New York. How is that a flip-flop? The entire news cycle was spent talking about how his offhand comment the next morning undid the good of his speech the night before, but I don't see the comments as contradictory in any way. But that doesn't slow down the nattering nabobs.
So much has been achieved -- almost more than can be expected from a full two terms. Now we're going to have the mid-terms, and that will restore a divided government, which will prevent big progress like this from happening again. But that is par for the course in US government.
Maybe history will sort this out and look on this period with a clearer, less jaundiced eye. But I am finding it increasingly difficult to understand how the daily spin cycle even correlates to reality these days, particularly when it comes to the performance of this still young Administration.
Fortunately, Obama seems to understand that:
"... Obama... ended the evening by warning them all not to get too excited: they were heroes for the moment, but would be dumb again soon enough...
Obama’s gamble is that, if you look after the doing of the presidency, the selling of the presidency will look after itself. The short-term price may come in stalled poll numbers, electoral setbacks, and endless contradictory advice from the kibitzers. The payoff, if there is one, lies out on some future horizon."