The “failed” Obama presidency

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The idea that Barack Obama is a failure with no accomplishments to speak of has always struck me as ludicrous. Once health care reform is passed (and it will be), Obama will be the most consequential Democratic president on domestic issues since Lyndon Johnson. Getting both the stimulus and health care reform through over any period of time would be an enormous victory; it’s likely Obama will get both through in his first year in office.

As Ezra Klein notes, that’s not all Obama’s doing – Congress is key in making this happen. For all the problems that the more conservative Democrats create, it’s unquestionable that if we replaced those conservative Dems with run-of-the-mill Republicans, the job of Obama and liberals alike would get more, not less, difficult.

There’s an awful lot of pessimism on the left lately; I’m not sure why. Barack Obama has turned out not to have magic powers; he is not able to will a perfect progressive agenda through Congress using his mind-control skills. This is, quite frankly, not surprising. The American system of government is designed specifically to thwart action. Democrats forget that for all George W. Bush’s bluster, he failed to enact any meaningful domestic legislation after Medicare Part D – and Medicare Part D, while riddled with problems, was a massive expansion of health care benefits to seniors. When Bush attempted an unquestionably conservative domestic policy change – cutting Social Security – he failed, utterly, despite controlling both houses of Congress.

Quite frankly, considering the mess he inherited, Barack Obama is performing about as well as can be expected. Yes, there are reasons to complain – I’d like him to move on DADT yesterday, and I’m not enamored with Obama’s education strategy, which leans too heavily on charter schools as a panacea. But on balance, Obama is doing a good job, as is Congress. We shouldn’t get so caught up in procedural gamesmanship and occasional anonymous statements that we forget that.