Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 28, 2010

'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."

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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Thank you for this. I hope Olbermann and Arianna Huffington read your blog.

Posted by: Keith Frohreich on June 28, 2010 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, Obama has done a lot, but still much less than Johnson.

Posted by: rana on June 28, 2010 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

And Rachel didn't even mention the administration's successful efforts on China revaluing its currency

Rachel didn't mention that for a reason. First and foremost, China didn't really revalue its currency. And second, Obama didn't make them do it.

Posted by: Da Pup on June 28, 2010 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

When DADT gets repealed, as it will eventually, then even Johnson's historic Civil Rights legislation will also be matched.

Posted by: Vidya on June 28, 2010 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

The last time any president did this much in office, booze was illegal.

Eyeroll-inducing. It's time to can the hyperbole.

Posted by: eggplant on June 28, 2010 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

More of this, please

Posted by: TR on June 28, 2010 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

Looks like some have already beat me to it. Obama, blah blah.... He is so useless... He hasn't done anything of any significance... He needs to be more like LBJ(at least)or FDR, preferably a genetically mutated clone of the two of them. Then and only then will I appreciate the progress made in 18 months. Uh eggplant, pup amirite???

Posted by: Clifton on June 28, 2010 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

I get a thrill up my leg when I think about what he has in store for his second term.

Posted by: Alli on June 28, 2010 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

I couldn't be more unabashedly proud of this president. PROUD.

Posted by: June on June 28, 2010 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

Thankfully, I'm not old enough to remember the (1930's) Depression, but I've seen the pictures. Long, lines of men in hats and caps at soup kitchens. The photographs of Dorothea Lange. The WPA stonework on the Taconic State Parkway.

That Obama is trying to avoid a repetition of all that seems to go unreported.

Instead we have fat and complacent politicians, with NO useable job skills, bloviating against "big government spending". On things like LIHEAP, and Medicaid and WICS, and -oh, the horror!- unemployment INSURANCE.

Do they really want to return to 1933?

Posted by: DAY on June 28, 2010 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

Don't get me wrong, Obama has done the most since Johnson, but the Johnson record on domestic issues is awesome. Civil rights, education, Medicare & Medicaid, welfare, and on and on.

Posted by: rana on June 28, 2010 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

rana, Obama is in for 18 months, in the most toxic atmosphere maybe ever. LBJ had a very strong wind of a country shocked by JFK's death, and he had a much much better congress than Obama's.

Posted by: impik on June 28, 2010 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, did you see his press conference in Toronto last night? You should. It was never more clear how far ahead of the country this president it.

Posted by: impik on June 28, 2010 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

Not to toot my own horn, but I predicted that Obama would win almost everything all the way back in November 2009:


The reason Im predicting passage of health care reform is simple: Ive learned never to bet against Obama, because he wins. Some people just have an innate ability to come through in the clutch, to not lose no matter what. Michael Jordan had it. LeBron has it (and its gonna take him to a title in the next couple seasons). And Barack Obama has it. All through the election, whenever the media counted him out (down 30 points in the polls to Hillary, Bittergate, Jeremiah Wright, Sarah Palins Convention speech), he stuck to his plan and pulled out the W. Now that its actually time to get things done, I feel the same mojo about him. Hes like the Mike Jordan of reforming, the Papi of the Potomac (2004-07 version), the Tiger Woods of Washington. Like Tom Brady (pre-David Tyree), you know that no matter whats happened for the first 58 minutes, hes coming through in the last two.

Posted by: wag on June 28, 2010 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

I second what Rana said: LBJ definitely accomplished more and his changes were more far-reaching. Obama has managed to get a number of significant pieces of legislation through, but only by weakening them so much as to limit their effectiveness.

Perhaps Rachel wants to argue that we shouldn't count Medicare because it wasn't passed until July 1965, after 19 or 20 months? Well, LBJ still gets the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of March 1965, and at this point Medicare's design was in place and it was moving through Congress.

Posted by: Joe Buck on June 28, 2010 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

Yes! And when the Dems stop BITCHIN' about what he HASN'T done and start crowin' about what he HAS done the message will get out. It's not all about the 'party of no'...they can be neutralized.

Posted by: SYSPROG on June 28, 2010 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

I'm disappointed about some things he did, but when people on either side ignore just how much he and the party did accomplish it drives me crazy.

I respect Glenn Greenwald, for instance, but along with his -- valuable -- posts on how Obama is horrible on various executive power etc. issues, there has to be this for some balance.

Posted by: Joe on June 28, 2010 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

It's so much fun to watch Americans manufacture new myths.

Posted by: pangloss on June 28, 2010 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

So we seem to be belittling Obama's accomplishments by arguing that rather than being the most accomplished President since Prohibition, he's merely after 16 months the most accomplished President since two decades before I was born. What?

Joe, you forgot, also by this point in his presidency Lyndon B. Johnson had started the Vietnam War. Let us not forget the accomplishments of the great uncompromising liberals of the past

Posted by: mcc on June 28, 2010 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

Seems like you forgot a key player there, Joe.

Show me anybody today who comes close to MLK in fighting for healthcare or the environment, or against Wall Street, and maybe I'll let you compare LBJ's clean-up work on the CRA or VRA to the full-time fight that Obama's had since before he took the oath.

As LBJ would say, "Show some respect, boy."

Posted by: cr on June 28, 2010 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

I have a friend who is a mid-level bureaucrat in DC, and he told me that after the 2008 election, the R's were really scared of O man .. and that he figured they would try to come up with a strategy to derail him. His take was that the R's felt Obama was actually semi-competent, and could do a lot of things, mostly anti-R, and that tearing him down was the plan.

The historical context wrt Johnson misses the effect that Johnson had of the post-assisination times.

Posted by: bigwisc on June 28, 2010 at 7:03 PM | PERMALINK

Show me anybody today who comes close to MLK in fighting for healthcare or the environment, or against Wall Street, and maybe I'll let you compare LBJ's clean-up work on the CRA or VRA to the full-time fight that Obama's had since before he took the oath.

Good point. By the time Johnson was able to get the Civil Rights Act passed, King and his allies had already been fighting for over a decade.

LBJ didn't pass that legislation out of the kindness of his heart because he thought it was time. He passed it because people were literally dying to get those rights.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on June 28, 2010 at 8:22 PM | PERMALINK

Remember, too: BigO took out a trio of pirates who were holding a US ship captain hostage. Wow, there has been a HUGE amount of stuff that's happened that we've forgotten about

Posted by: jzap on June 28, 2010 at 8:26 PM | PERMALINK

"the country is in the midst of a major shift leftward . . ."

Just returning to baseline sanity is a major shift leftward. That's the important point, and the major debt owed to Obama by people of any and all political persuasions.

Posted by: Jon on June 28, 2010 at 9:03 PM | PERMALINK

Nice job with the student loans, true. Fake reform for all of the critical problems. Financial regulation that legalizes fraudulent conveyance by insolvent banks. Health care regulation that fails to use existing government monoposony power, the only real check on cost control. Stimulus without structural reform (tell me in October how he pulled us back from the brink.) Escalation of the country's longest war. His one and only term will be remembered as a disaster.

Posted by: blub blub blub on June 28, 2010 at 11:03 PM | PERMALINK

I like the way people criticize Obama for not making us a better and wiser people than we are. It's good to have a single focus for all our suppressed self-loathing. And it's much easier to believe in a failed God than in our own failures.

Posted by: Jon on June 29, 2010 at 12:39 AM | PERMALINK


Fuck him.

Posted by: mnpundit on June 29, 2010 at 3:06 AM | PERMALINK

The Obama Administraiton is passing massive new entitlements at the same time that it is proposing open borders and unlimited immigration. The obama Administraiton is also pushing for massive new regulatory authority now while promising much higher taxes later.

The question for the middle class in the U.s. is why would anyone want to plan on expanding their private sector business when every indication is that it will be harder to make a profit and the percentage of the U.S. interested in having a healthy private sector is shrinking.

Can everyone really be a civil servant or a government contractor? Where will the future private sector jobs come from? How will pay the taxes to fund the expanding welfare state?

If oen looks at Los Angeles County, Detroit, or Baltimore, the future of the U.S. does not look very good. High taxes, massive entitlements, and a shrinking private sector.

Posted by: superdestroyer on June 29, 2010 at 7:19 AM | PERMALINK

There's always some imbecile to say, don't blame Obama, blame yourself, he's not a corrupt autocrat, he's merely feckless and impotent in the face of your individual corrupt autocracy. What can he do when every day you think your corrupt autocratic thoughts and eat your corrupt autocratic food and shave your corrupt autocrats hairs into the sink? If that's what you're down to as a defense for this train wreck, then he's dead.

Posted by: blub blub blub on June 29, 2010 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

oh flub,flub,flub...the train wreck took place years ago, this is the clean up(the real hard,dirty work,of which r/wingers have no idea and take no part) and any sane adult will tell you that isn't quick, easy or pretty!

Posted by: urlnts on June 29, 2010 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

The accomplishments of this President are many but I do agree in part that changes do not come without financial cost in increased taxes, but to deny the accomplishments of this President amidst the constant barrage of NO and obstructionism is to deny how hard Republican's, Republican Democrats, and the flighty independents have made his task is to be stone ignorant and hateful.

Things that Republican's have said they wanted they say NO to because the President is for them as well. At the dismay of many Democrats the President keeps trying to court these people who are bent on trying to make him fail, while at the same time they are doing the same thing they did under 8 years of Bush and that is nothing for the people.

Bottom line is this, I will vote for this President again in the effort to keep the do nothing, twisted mouthed Republicans from gaining the Whitehouse again too soon.

Posted by: Benoliwal on July 7, 2010 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

When the 2008 campaign was on, I told someone that GW Bush was so bad that I'd vote for Nixon. When he pointed out that Nixon was dead, I said: "Exactly".

Even a cold corpse would have been a major improvement. While I feel some disappointment over some of Obama's actions supporting Patriot Act related policies, I still think he is doing better than I had hoped for. He and many of the Democrats in congress are fighting hard against an insane stone wall of Republican obstruction. It's amazing that anything has been accomplished at all!

Posted by: Daniel Kim on July 8, 2010 at 7:43 PM | PERMALINK

Folks comparing Obama's accomplishments to those of LBJ or FDR should keep in mind the size and composition of their Democratic majorities. Both operated before the South deserted the party over civil rights. For Obama to have this kind of success in the current political climate and with so many spineless and blue dog Dems to work with is not just salutatory; it's amazing. I, too, am proud.

Posted by: mikeinwaco on September 16, 2010 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK



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