Election 2012

Barack Obama: Great President or the Greatest President?

Jonathan Chait's resoundingly positive endorsement of the president is up at New York Magazine. It's a glowing and thoughtful review of Obama's first term. His summation:

What can be said without equivocation is that Obama has proven himself morally, intellectually, temperamentally, and strategically. In my lifetime, or my parents’, he is easily the best president. On his own terms, and not merely as a contrast to an unacceptable alternative, he overwhelmingly deserves reelection.

I believe history will formulate the same evaluation. It's too soon to know for sure, but he's certainly the best president of my lifetime with Clinton as a close -- very close -- second. Though Clinton loses points for reckless personal behavior that could've destroyed more than just his presidency on several occasions. Clinton also loses points for deregulatory policies (Gramm-Leach-Bliley first and foremost) and the Defense of Marriage Act.

(Headline horked and paraphrased from Stephen Colbert.)

  • The_Dork_Knight

    At 36, yeah, I agree, he is easily the best president of my lifetime. Far better than Clinton in my opinion.

  • JozefAL

    “Clinton also loses points for deregulatory policies (Gramm-Leach-Bliley first and foremost) and the Defense of Marriage Act.”

    I see someone else has fallen for the DOMA canard. Once again: DOMA was the brain(dead)child of US House Rep Bob Barr. DOMA passed the US House with 342 votes in favor and only 67 opposed (with the Democratic caucus voting 118 in favor and 65 opposed; 2 other Dems voted “present” and 15 more didn’t vote). In the Senate, DOMA passed by 85-14 (in this case, 32 of the votes in favor were Dems). Now, I’m sure you are fully aware what this means. DOMA had a VETO-PROOF majority. Additionally, this bill passed the Senate on September 10, 1996. Does that year trigger any special importance? IT WAS A FUCKING ELECTION YEAR. A year that Bill Clinton (who only won in 1992 because Perot helped split enough crucial states that Clinton was able to win the Electoral College) faced a very tough re-election campaign.

    Let’s take a look at the brutally political reality of the situation. With less than 2 months until Election Day, Clinton had a bill sent to him that had passed both the House and Senate with veto-proof majorities–thanks to the 150 House and Senate Dems who supported the bill. Sure. Clinton could’ve decided to do the morally right thing and veto the bill (even though–at the time–Clinton didn’t believe in marriage equality*) but what would that have accomplished? It would go back to Congress which only needed 290 votes in the House and 67 in the Senate to override that veto. Now, go back and look at the numbers. What so many Clinton-bashers like to forget is that those 150 Dems who supported DOMA the first time around were NOT going to suddenly change their votes, especially those Dems in Southern and Midwestern states where they faced strong GOP opposition (and, if you go back and look at the 1996 House results, the GOP ended up with a net loss of only 2 seats but the GOP also managed to pick up a few seats from Dems who had voted for DOMA in the South and Midwest). So. What would we have been likely to see? A President Clinton who had his ass handed to him with his veto of DOMA overturned, by a sizable margin (I’d be willing to bet a lot more incumbent Dems, especially in tight races in socially conservative areas, would’ve supported the veto override), with about 6 more weeks left to go. And what would the GOP do? Well, they’d start running ads–especially in socially conservative “swing states”–pointing out how “Bill Clinton doesn’t really understand how you feel about marriage.” Bob Dole, it should be remembered, had already made headlines when he returned a campaign contribution from the Log Cabin Republicans (the “gay” GOPers), in no small part due to the social conservatives–especially the religious right. So, instead of Clinton’s being re-elected in 1996, Bob Dole would’ve won. I’d be willing to bet that Clinton’s signing DOMA helped him win the conservaDem votes in places like Louisiana, Iowa, Missouri, Florida and Kentucky. Losing all those states wouldn’t have necessarily been enough to lose the EC *but* there were probably a number of states where DOMA’s signing helped tip wavering conservaDems to stick with Clinton instead of going with either Dole or Perot. (Clinton won a lot of states with less than 50% of the vote because of Perot’s spoiler factor. But if as little as 10-15% of the Dems had been swayed against Clinton because of a veto on DOMA, he would’ve been toast.)

    One more thing to remember about this: At this point, NO STATE had actually made same-sex marriage a full-fledged reality. Hawai’i had actually taken legislative action to plug the “judicial loophole” that had allowed same-sex couples to get married and Vermont wouldn’t enact its civil unions law for another 2 years. And Massachusetts wouldn’t enact same-sex marriage until 2003 (at which point, it turned into a great boost for Dubya and also led to the outright bans same-sex on marriage in more than a dozen states, and in some states, the ban on anything “approximating” marriage–such as civil unions). The whole thing had basically been a pre-emptive measure on Bob Barr’s part. And let’s also not forget that the ONLY reason Bob Barr made his little 180 on the issue was because he wanted to run for President on the Libertarian ticket in 2008.

    *Bear in mind that even the great Barack Obama, when he was running for President in 2008 was opposed to marriage equality (even though, running for IL state house, he signed off on a position paper a decade earlier where he SUPPORTED marriage equality). And Clinton changed his mind on the issue before Obama did.

    • http://profiles.google.com/rollotamasi13 Rollo Tamasi

      Clinton signed the bill. End of story. If you like, you can write a book and try to give excuses as to why he signed it. But, that won’t change the facts. But you don’t sign your name to something that you don’t believe in.

      Your lengthy comment did not refute Bob’s fact. Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act.

      Clinton “changed his mind” after there were no electoral consequences. Only one sitting President has publicly expressed support for marriage equality, President Barack Obama. That is a fact and just like Bob’s fact about DOMA, it is irrefutable.

      • muselet

        Clinton signed the bill. End of story.

        With all due respect, not really. JozefAL correctly pointed out what one of the electoral consequences of Bill Clinton’s not signing DOMA would have been: President Robert Joseph Dole. To that, I’d add that the Rs would have necklaced every D with Clinton’s veto, which might well have given President Dole a large R majority—or even supermajority—in both houses of Congress. I don’t see how that could have ended well for the nation.

        Vetoing DOMA would have been politically suicidal, not just for Clinton himself, but for the entire Democratic Party. It would have been the decent, honorable thing to do, but the country as a whole wasn’t ready for the decent, honorable thing to be done. Opinion has shifted in the intervening decade, so Barack Obama can now publicly support marriage equality without the Secret Service worrying about angry mobs descending on the White House.

        Clinton didn’t cover himself with glory by signing DOMA, but there would have been hell to pay if he hadn’t.


        • rob black

          Yep. Living to fight another day..and “incremental advancement” are the kind of deft, long game political arts that seem be forgotten these days.
          I am just happy because I think this President may be the master of those arts. The next four years could be really amazing…

          • MrDHalen

            This, This, This!!!!

            Rob, my thoughts exactly!!!

        • http://twitter.com/kerryreid Kerry Reid

          Paul Wellstone was among those who voted for DOMA — just as Feingold and Sanders voted against the funding to close Gitmo.

          I fully understand the rock-and-a-hard-place aspects of Clinton’s presidency — though I think he was stupid and reckless to give his enemies as much ammo as he did on the personal front. Sure his sex life is not our business — but any savvy politician KNOWS that sex scandals sink Dems far more often than the GOP and there was already blood in the water with Clinton and sexual escapades.

          I think the one thing that has bothered me in general over the past four years (not with anyone here, because I wouldn’t know) is that I know people on the leftish side who will in one breath acknowledge and excuse the problems that Clinton had with Congress, and in the next assert that they just KNOW Obama could have passed a public option/gotten rid of the Bush tax cuts/closed Gitmo/insert-issue-of-choice-involving-Congressional-approval if he REALLY wanted to. The fact that their issue-of-choice didn’t come out the way they wanted is all the proof they need that Obama wasn’t really serious about it, whereas Poor Bubba just got boxed in and did the best he could with a recalcitrant Congress. Yeah.

          The clear implication from this kind of thinking to me has been that there are plenty of folks on the left as likely to fall into the habit of viewing the first black president as an inscrutable, untrustworthy Other as on the right.

          Which is hilarious, given that I think Obama’s proclivities for seeking bipartisan support and being pretty centrist on many issues was a very badly kept secret if you read his books, listened to his speeches, looked at his Illinois and U.S. Senate record, etc.

  • Phoca Vitulina

    Man, I totally agree. I am thrilled that you feel like me about our President. You speak from my heart. The only thing that he needs to change is his position to climate change and fossil fuels. We have no other choice but to stop exploiting Earth. Now. Our survival as the human race depend on our decisions now.

  • rob black

    I am the same age as he is (the president) and I have to say.. absolutely, across the board, best of my life time.
    Kennedy, who was the same age as my father, unfortunately shared dangerous character issues with Clinton, but was president in my lifetime would come in at two, because if he hadn’t been President, I don’t think any of us would be here to discuss it…and civil rights.
    Roosevelt, arguably also “saved the world”, made questionable calls, but mostly because of the times in which he governed, and the sheer number of years he did it, may have to share best of all time with Lincoln for scope and magnitude…but..
    Obama has the chance to rank with them, his second term could see the the biggest shift in how the engine of this global economy works since the industrial revolution. The shift to the green energy economy ….or at least the beginnings of it.
    I am not disappointed in him, voted for him enthusiastically (three times) and am eager to see what he will do now.
    Of course, my expectations for him are tempered by the fact that I know he is only human, constrained by the times we live in, and not an all powerful, impervious to politics, or history…infallible savior…so what do I know.

    * I would also like to add that I think the social and economic implications of the Affordable Care Act alone, once fully implemented, will be astounding, and may well put Obama into the “best of all” category. The single most important legislative achievement of the last 30 years…and best of all, may relegate the Republicans to long term minority status….unless they choose to regain their sanity.

  • jeanne marie

    I am still mad at Clinton for his reckless personal behavior. Ken Starr was on a witch hunt. Clinton handed him his head on a platter. If Clinton hadn’t, then Gore would have ridden a great wave of optimism for the Democratic party into a decisive win for the White House.

    I blame Clinton for helping to usher in the awful Bush years.

    • JozefAL

      Well, let’s not forget to assign some of the blame to Al Gore. The people simply DID NOT CARE about Clinton’s “reckless personal behavior.” Gore, however, did–and he seemed to believe that the people did as well. That’s why he picked Joe Lieberman for his VP–to send a signal that Gore hadn’t approved of or supported Clinton’s “reckless personal behavior.” Also, Gore made the call to basically DISinvite Clinton from campaigning on Gore’s behalf–even though Clinton was still WIDELY popular with the Dem base.

      And if you really want someone to blame, stick it on Ralph Nader. EVERYONE knows how a right-leaning 3rd party President will work. The GOPers in Congress will basically line up behind him in spite of the L or C or whatever other party designation he might have (in most cases, these folks are former GOPers and if not, the GOP will simply try to “convert” the guy to the GOP at the first opportunity). And a left-leaning 3rd party President? Well, good luck getting much more than 1/3 of the Dems behind him. Hell, a DEM president is lucky to get 3/4 of the Dems in Congress behind him. The Green Party? No way would Nader have been able to get much of his platform off the ground. He might be able to “convert” some Dems to the Greens but all that accomplishes is to give the GOP a solid majority the next go-round as the remaining Dems have no reason to stay on the left. They’d simply take up the “solid center” which would’ve moved even further right.

      • rob black

        Well, since we are talking about it.
        Wasnt Gramm-Leach-Bliley (the gutting of Glass- Stegal…and thus the eventual cause of the meltdown of everything) signed by Clinton as part of an Omnibus spending bill in the middle of the “Great Blowjob Hunt”?
        Blaming Clinton for that?? Really, while Phil Grahmm and the rest of the Delay-Gingrhch orc clan remain untarred and feathered?

        The problem being that the Republicans are and have been so bad, we will fault our own for even giving them an opening to attack. That is a big mistake….but I give credit to this president for not providing them with that opening.

        • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

          Clinton isn’t at fault because he gave the GOP an opening to attack him. He’s at fault for disgusting too many moderates and some dems and the ripple effects of that in the next election. Pres. Obama is not only calm, cool and consistent…he makes darn sure that his personal peccadilloes (if he has any, which he probably doesn’t) aren’t an issue.

          • rob black

            I don’t think there was a ripple effect, I think like the guy above, Gore made it an issue by shunning Clinton during the campaign.
            Clinton’s approval ratings after the impeachment were at 68%. For some reason, Gore felt he had to distance himself from Clinton..and couldn’t fully take advantage of the accomplishments of the previous eight years, or of the most skilled politician of the last 30..Bill Clinton.
            The most skilled politician, not the most skilled intellect. That belongs to Obama.
            When republicans go down, they line up like lemmings to protect their own….when we do, we line up like sharks to eat our own.
            …and as we have since learned, even when we don’t give them an opening to attack….they will adopt a new strategy: They will just make shit up…

          • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

            I don’t know about best politician. No one can schmooze and be likeable more than Bubba. And we do tend to eat our own when we should rally in support. But what I think it boils down to is that (as you said) “They will just make shit up…” and Dems don’t. It’s hard to win a fight by fighting fair when the other guy is cheating all the time.

  • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

    I have long felt that he would be remembered in history as the greatest or one of the greatest presidents–his legislative achievements alone are enough to put him in the ‘greatest’ ranks.

    Great article by Chait, and damn refreshing after reading the recent articles by the emoprog fools.

  • http://www.createsuccessseminars.com/ weshopper

    Although I support Obama, I disagree with your elevation of him. His continued support for fossil fuels, not reluctant support but enthusiastic support, may have catastrophic consequences for all of us. I’m not being an unrealistic purist about this – our very survival is at stake and someone has to lead on this issue. He has not.

    • villemar

      He will be unconstrained by having an opposition party whose sole purpose in the past 4 years has been to get him out of office. Doesn’t mean he can do what he wants in his 2nd term but it will create disarray in the GOP which he can take advantage of. Secondly he has given indicators that green issues will be one of the hallmarks of his 2nd term. I don’t see why he wouldn’t follow through…he’s followed through on all of the promises he made when elected (which weren’t stopped by forces beyond his control).

      Whether your support of the man is enthusiastic or lukewarm, we need all the support we can get! We must stop Romney/Ryan who believe AGW is a hoax. Either way I do hope that he exceeds your expectations in his 2nd term.

    • The_Dork_Knight

      He has supported green energy projects (which the right continues to beat him with) and significantly increased fuel efficiency standards. Is it enough? No, but he has done what he can considering the circumsances. Any chance of significant change went out the window with the 2010 elections. The country voted the Republicans back into power, and thus, we get the government we asked for.

      • http://twitter.com/kerryreid Kerry Reid

        His EPA also put through mercury emissions standards that environmental groups had wanted to see in place for over 20 years. That is a BFD, too. Certainly not enough, but as long as there are enough idiots among our voting fellow ‘murricans who refuse to see the link between carbon emissions, global warming, and catastrophic weather and other environmental ills, I don’t feel particularly hopeful on that score.