What do you think? Great? Good? or Mediocre?
One of my clients, a rock-ribbed Republican from South Carolina told me last week, “Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but I believe Barack Obama may go down in history as a great President.” He said, “I don’t necessarily agree with everything he does, but he is definitely transformational in the way he approaches almost every issues–from healthcare to immigration, gun control, environmental protection, same sex marriage, off-grid power in Africa, rapprochement with Cuba, and the nuclear arms deal with Iran.”
Having said that, I want to say that I greatly admire President Obama for having the courage to take a stand on the contemporary issues of the day, rather than allowing himself to get stuck in the middle, like many of his predecessors. It’s part of the reason why he is both a controversial and polarizing figure. Yet, before I go further with my opinions, I would ask you the reader to answer one multiple choice question (with a follow up). In your opinion, will Obama go down in history as a: A. great president? B. good president? C. bad president? Write me back and let me know.
Robert Caro, the brilliant Presidential historian, says that Present Obama has accomplished a great deal more than he has been given credit for, and there is a growing number of historians who agree. Obama is the most consequential and successful president since FDR, LBJ, and Ronald Regan. His accomplishments speak for themselves, starting with bailing the nation out of the greatest financial meltdown since the great depression, with The Economic Recovery Act, which was largely successful.
The Affordable Healthcare Act has been Obama’s signature domestic achievement. According to College of William and Mary political scientist Chris Howard, “FDR and LBJ had lots of fellow Democrats in Congress when they pushed for the New Deal and Great Society. Their opponents, in and out of government, were not nearly as ideological or hostile as the ones facing Obama. The fact that the ACA exists at all is pretty remarkable.”
Many political historians agree that Obama has been the most consequential and successful president since FDR, LBJ, and Ronald Regan.
To quote Harvard political scientist Theda Skocpol, “Obamacare is a century-defining accomplishment in the last industrial democracy to resist using national government to ensure access to health coverage for most citizens.” Obama succeeded where FDR, Truman, Nixon, Carter, and Clinton all failed.
According to Brian Steensland of Purdue University, Obamacare “established the expectation in the public’s mind that access to basic healthcare is a right.” There will be no turning back on this. UC Berkeley’s Paul Pierson likened Obamacare to Social Security when it started, which initially had no disability benefits, did not include surviving dependents or widows, or agricultural and home workers.
Blocked at many turns to initiate changed through Congress, he used executive action to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and protect up to 5 million undocumented immigrants, many of which who were children born in the U.S. He ended the ban on gay and lesbian service in the military, signed legislation that made it easier for both women and minorities to fight wage discrimination, along with appointing two justices that paved the way for the Supreme Court to uphold same sex marriage. He supported worker’s rights with the refashioning of the National Labor Relations Board and the Wage and Hour Division of the Labor Department.
When Barack Obama was first running for president, he was asked if he would engage in dialogue with countries like Iran, Cuba, and North Korea without any pre conditions. “I would,” he replied. “And the reason is this: that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous.”
Be honest and let me know what you really think without being influenced by others opinions
He said what he meant, and he did what he said in terms of engagement. When he became President, he clearly adopted from and acted on a strategic foreign policy based on what is being called the Obama doctrine – diplomacy as the central task of a progressive foreign policy, and as a viable alternative approach to dealing with countries the GOP foreign policy establishment would rather bomb. He disagreed with America’s failed policy of isolating Cuba, and ended the embargo allowing for a rapprochement after more than 50 years. This week we saw the same kind of diplomatic breakthrough in Iran as a result of his radical openness to dialogue, perhaps the biggest diplomatic breakthrough as the Oslo Accords in 1994 or Camp David Accords in 1978.
This week we saw a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran as a result of the Obama Doctrine.
Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry strongly believe in the idea that engaging in dialogue with the possibility of mutual benefit is a better approach to statecraft than isolating and threatening. Ask yourself this question? Is a hostile country like Iran more or less likely to cause trouble if it benefits from being excluded from the world community, or welcomed into it? Is it more likely or less likely to go to war, if the peace benefit includes more economic and social stability for its people or less likely?
As to the risk factors, which are always there, Henry Kissinger has gone on record as saying he agrees with Obama’s Iran deal. “I looked at the leading iron hawks to understand their cases against the deal. They’re utter nonsense.” Richard Rummelt, author of the brilliant book, “Good Strategy, Bad Strategy,” says Obama’s thinking about the Iran Nuclear deal shows he has evolved into a good strategist who makes the main thing, the main thing. His strategic objective was not to push Tehran into an attitude adjustment with the United States, or halt its support of terrorism in Iraq, Syria, and other places. His goal was to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon over the next decade. The strategy was that relief from sanctions was a good horse trade for verifiable inspections that make it impossible to cheat.
I go on record here saying that Obama has a strong chance of going down in history as a great President, but I also want to go on record as saying that in his last year in office he has lots of room for improvement. It’s no secret that he has attracted the ire of the business community, in large part because, in protecting “the little guy” or the environment, he has sometimes imposed regulations that make it very difficult to do business. For example, a friend who is a CEO of an oil company has said that it costs less to buy foreign oil from the Middle East with all the shipping costs, than it does to ship oil from the Gulf Coast to the port of New York, due to high taxes and environmental rules.
I think another issue is that when Obama came into office, he was a relative green horn who had served less than one term in the Senate. He didn’t know how to take stands for the things he passionately believed in without first taking his case to the people, as FDR, LBJ and Ronald Regan did, winning in the court of public opinion before taking his case to Congress. FDR for example, wanted to help Winston Churchill fight the Nazis at the onset of World War II, but he told Churchill no at first as he had to sway public opinion which favored an isolationist America determined to stay out of another war.
Obama also didn’t know how to enter into the world of Real Politic and Horse Trade with Republicans on the issues that mattered to him the way other great Presidents have done. LBJ got the Civil Rights Bill passed within a few weeks in office by trading a tax cut with conservative southern Senators, and by telling them if they voted against it, they would be on the wrong side of history. In conclusion, President Obama, like most of us, is not perfect, but the odds are he will learn from experience, and do even better.