President Obama appeared on “60 Minutes” a couple of weeks ago, and as is always the case with longer interviews, some of the exchanges between him and Steve Kroft ended up on the editing-room floor. CBS went ahead and posted everything online, including the content that didn’t make the broadcast.
This quote from the president, in particular, seems to have generated quite a bit of attention.
“The issue here is not going be a list of accomplishments. As you said yourself, Steve, you know, I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln — just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history. But, you know, but when it comes to the economy, we’ve got a lot more work to do.”
Because our political discourse is so deeply foolish, Obama’s detractors took this quote, changed it, and complained bitterly that the president claimed to be the “fourth best” president in American history. That’s clearly not what Obama said, but for the president’s critics, the truth didn’t matter, so they jazzed it up a bit.
Indeed, Karl Rove’s American Crossroads even launched a video last week, attacking Obama for making a claim he didn’t, in reality, make.
Tom Hilton noticed that most of the nonsense came from the right, but not all of it. Dylan Ratigan told viewers that Obama had claimed to be the “fourth best president ever,” even though Obama had said no such thing. Even some liberal netroots leaders, who criticize the president from the left, repeated the far-right attack.
There are, however, two angles to this “story.” The first, obviously, is that the mockery is simply mistaken. Obama never claimed to be, as one critic put it, “the fourth greatest President of all time.” All one needs to do is look at the quote; there’s no need to make anything up.
The second angle, though, is a related question: isn’t Obama right when he touts his accomplishments? Is it not fair to say that if we compare this president’s accomplishments from his first two years against his predecessors that Obama’s record would look awfully impressive?
In his first two years, this president helped pull the economy back from a depression, rescued the American auto industry, passed a health care reform law 100 years in the making, signed Wall Street reform, DADT repeal, the woefully under-appreciated student loan reform, New START, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the biggest overhaul of our food-safety laws in 70 years, new regulation of the credit card industry, a national service bill, expanded stem-cell research, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, net neutrality, the most sweeping land-protection act in 15 years, and health care for 9/11 rescue workers, among other things. (That’s just his first two years. In his third, Obama also ordered the strike that killed bin Laden and helped oust Gadhafi in Libya.)
Love Obama or hate him, how many presidents have put together records like that? Putting aside the nonsense about Obama ranking himself, which obviously didn’t happen, weren’t his comments about accomplishments entirely accurate?