Is Obama Already a Transformative President?
Peter Beinart is bullish on President Obama:
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.
While I’m inclined to see President Obama’s first eighteen months as a success for his agenda, I’m not sure if it’s wise to prematurely declare Obama a transformative president. While you can imagine a future where historians describe Barack Obama as “one of the most consequential presidents in American history,” you can also easily imagine a future where the Obama administration fails to reduce high, long-term unemployment, setting the United States up for a “lost decade” and facilitating a conservative party uninterested in substantive government action on problems like climate change and debt reduction. In this future, Barack Obama was an inspiring but ultimately lackluster president who failed to meet the challenges ahead of him.
What’s more, I don’t think there’s much evidence for a leftward shift in American politics. For nearly everything other than health care reform — which Obama campaigned on — legislative momentum was generated by events. The stimulus couldn’t have happened without the economic crisis, and the same goes financial reform. If there’s anything we can directly attribute to Obama, it’s managerial competence; Obama is genuinely interested in seeing regulatory agencies that work as advertised. It’s not a nationwide ideological transformation, but it’s nothing to slouch at either.