The president who put it all on the line

THE PRESIDENT WHO PUT IT ALL ON THE LINE…. It’s almost amusing to think back to the commentary of last fall, when prominent voices — from pundits to Saturday Night Live — perceived President Obama as accomplishment-free.

After succeeding on health care reform — where seven other presidents had failed — I don’t imagine we’ll be hearing this talk anymore.

Yglesias believes Obama will likely “go down in history as one of America’s finest presidents,” and a leader who has “reshaped the policy landscape in a way that no progressive politician has done in decades.” Chait is only slightly more circumspect: “Let me offer a ludicrously premature opinion: Barack Obama has sealed his reputation as a president of great historical import. We don’t know what will follow in his presidency, and it’s quite possible that some future event — a war, a scandal — will define his presidency. But we do know that he has put his imprint on the structure of American government in a way that no Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson has.”

Assessing a presidency after 14 months is inherently tricky — it’s impossible to predict what the next three (or seven) years have in store — but speculating about Obama’s place in history, given his record thus far, is hardly outlandish.

Time will tell what else the president can accomplish, but we can say with confidence that health care reform — a seemingly impossible task — would have failed were it not for his leadership. He knew a defeat would leave his presidency badly hobbled, but Obama put everything on the line anyway. The accomplishment will likely help define his tenure.

And it’s not just health care. I’m reminded of this piece Jacob Weisberg, published in late November.

We are so submerged in the details of this debate … that it’s easy to lose sight of the magnitude of the impending change. For the federal government to take responsibility for health coverage will be a transformation of the American social contract and the single biggest change in government’s role since the New Deal. If Obama governs for four or eight years and accomplishes nothing else, he may be judged the most consequential domestic president since LBJ. He will also undermine the view that Ronald Reagan permanently reversed a 50-year tide of American liberalism.

Obama’s claim to a fertile first year doesn’t rest on health care alone. There’s mounting evidence that the $787 billion economic stimulus he signed in February — combined with the bank bailout package — prevented an economic depression. […]

When it comes to foreign policy, Obama’s accomplishment has been less tangible but hardly less significant: He has put America on a new footing with the rest of the world. In a series of foreign trips and speeches, which critics deride as trips and speeches, he replaced George W. Bush’s unilateral, moralistic militarism with an approach that is multilateral, pragmatic, and conciliatory. Obama has already significantly reoriented policy toward Iran, China, Russia, Iraq, Israel, and the Islamic world.

As the first 14 months of a presidency go, I’ll go out on a limb and say Obama’s off to a reasonably impressive start. Given that he inherited arguably the single most challenging landscape any modern president has had to deal with, along with the most obstructionist and least constructive congressional opposition in generations, the future of this presidency looks rather bright.