‘THE LAST TIME ANY PRESIDENT DID THIS MUCH IN OFFICE, BOOZE WAS ILLEGAL’…. Last week, I mentioned in passing that President Obama’s record of accomplishments, after just 17 month in office, is as impressive as anything we’ve seen in generations. It prompted Howard Kurtz to ask, “Will the Beltway pundits reassess Obama’s presidency once he signs the banking bill? Don’t hold your breath.”
I agree; it’s unlikely the Beltway pundits will pursue this. Indeed, the establishment consensus is pushing aggressively in the other direction. But I’m noticing the larger observation about Obama’s historic record is nevertheless becoming at least a little more common.
Peter Beinart noted today that for all the challenges making life difficult for the president right now, “he keeps racking up the wins.” Indeed, Beinart makes the compelling case that Obama has recorded more significant milestones in 18 months than the last two Democratic administrations achieved in 12 years.
[E]ven if Obama never manages another legislative victory, he’ll already have pulled off one of the most impressive opening acts in American political history. […]
The larger truth is this: Even as Republicans claim political momentum, the country is in the midst of a major shift leftward when it comes to the role of government. That shift is playing itself out from infrastructure to health care to finance and perhaps eventually to the environment. No one knows whether these shifts will revive the U.S. economy and lay the foundation for stable, broad-based growth, just as no one could predict the impact of the rightward turn in American policy in the early 1980s. Decades later, liberals and conservatives still disagree about whether Reagan’s reforms changed America for good or ill. What they don’t disagree about is the fact that they fundamentally changed America. Those changes made Reagan one of the most consequential presidents in American history. Eighteen months in, it’s a good bet that historians will say the same about Barack Obama.
Beinart isn’t the only one making this observation.
Take Rachel Maddow, for instance.
If you missed “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Friday, you missed a similar assessment, considering the Obama presidency in this larger context.
The clip is worth watching in its entirety, but Rachel’s recitation of some of Obama’s greatest hits revealed a pretty impressive list.
“Even before today’s historic Wall Street reform agreement, President Obama, of course, did what politicians have been trying to do for more than 60 years. He passed health reform, which, for the first time, establishes government responsibility for the health care of American citizens. Consider also the stimulus bill. It didn’t just throw a lasso around our entire economy and yank and yank it back from the brink, it also pumped about $100 billion into the crumbling embarrassment of our national infrastructure and transportation system. It was the largest investment in infrastructure since Ike. For solving our country’s energy problems, something Obama has compared to man walking on the moon, it contained about $60 billion in spending and tax incentives for renewable and clean energy, also a historic investment. It also included an unheralded but giant investment in science and tech, amping up the budgets at NASA, the National Science Foundation, and an experimental energy research agency that was created under President George W. Bush, but never funded until now.
“President Obama also expanded state kids’ health insurance to cover another four million kids. He signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act amending the 1964 civil rights act for equal pay for equal work. He signed a nuclear arms deal with Russia that would reduce both countries’ arsenals by a third. He created a new global nonproliferation initiative to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists. He set forth an international way forward on that radical left-wing proposition of Ronald Reagan, a world without nuclear weapons.
“Then there are the legislative and policy achievements that don’t just build on previously-set precedents, but set new ones. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also known as the Matthew Shepard Act. It had languished in Congress for years. The Food and Drug Administration permitted for the first time to regulate tobacco. Better late than never, he dismantled the scandal-plagued Minerals Management Service, broke it into three parts so that the folks who collect money from oil leases aren’t the same ones regulating the industry. And now, it will actually investigate the industry that it was busy schtupping and doing drugs with during the last administration. Obama fired two wartime commanding generals in little over a year.
“He overhauled the astonishing stupidity of the student loan system in which banks were being subsidized to give loans that were guaranteed by the government anyway, a license to print money. That was ended in the savings put toward actual aid to students. He canceled a weapons program that was bloated, unnecessary and totally irrelevant to either of our current wars, the F-22. Why even mention the cancellation of a single weapons system? Because that never happens. Weapons systems never get canceled. The F-22 did, which is itself a miracle.”
And Rachel didn’t even mention the administration’s successful efforts on China revaluing its currency, the advances on expanded stem-cell research, the national service bill, and the most sweeping land-protection act in 15 years.
Her conclusion rang especially true:
“In each of these achievements and in the list of things he has yet to do — Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, closing Guantanamo — in each of these things, there is room for liberal disappointment. I sing a bittersweet lullaby to the lost public option when I go to sleep at night.
“But presidential legacies are complex. Not even the Reagan administration’s legacy is pure as the conservative-driven snow. But Taegan Goddard at CQ Politics was right today about nothing this big happening since FDR. The list of legislative accomplishments of this president in half a term even before energy reform which he’s probably going to get to is, to quote the vice president, ‘a big freaking deal.’ Love this administration or hate it, this president is getting a lot done. The last time any president did this much in office, booze was illegal. If you believe in policy, if you believe in government that addresses problems, cheers to that.”