President Barack Obama’s poll numbers are surging, and for the usual reason: the left is happy.
After a week in which the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare (again) and established same-sex marriage as a “fundamental right”; in which final negotiations on an Iran deal began, and Cuba agreed to exchange ambassadors; and in which the Confederate flag came down all over the South as Republicans called it a “racist” symbol, Obama’s fans feel a sense of achievement.
Benjy Sarlin, writing at MSNBC, offered an admiring version of what Obama’s place in history might look like in future textbooks (original emphasis):
The first black president, President Obama took office amid the Great Recession, stabilized the economy with a stimulus and auto bailout, passed universal health care and Wall Street reform over fierce opposition, and implemented a suite of regulations aimed at combatting climate change. The first president to embrace marriage equality, he presided over the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing it nationwide.
But wait! There’s more. As Steve Benen–also at MSNBC–notes (the left is competing, it seems, for the hagiography prize), Obama’s record also includes the Osama bin Laden mission, as well as the “student-loan overhaul” and “ending Syria’s chemical-weapons program without firing a shot.”
There is so much bizarre fantasy in these lists. Obama did not “stabilize” the economy—least of all with the stimulus, which was largely a giveaway to public sector unions and did nothing to create jobs while creating a new mountain of debt. Plus, the auto bailout was a George W. Bush project. The recovery has been the slowest since World War II, largely due to Obamacare and the very regulatory structure that Sarlin celebrates.
The student-loan overhaul made a bad problem worse, and someone really ought to tell Benen that Syria is still using chemical weapons, and 200,000 civilians have died on Obama’s watch.
America today is poorer, more unequal, more dangerous and more divided than it was when Obama took office. While the stock market has hit new highs, millions have given up hope of finding jobs.
The border remains porous—as thousands of Central American children proved last summer, and the country’s military is the weakest it has been in a century. Russia rolled Obama in Eastern Europe, Al Qaeda made a comeback, ISIS sprang up in the Iraq that Obama abandoned, and the president is helping the Iranian terrorist regime become a nuclear power.
Even Jimmy Carter agrees that Obama has led a disastrous foreign policy. And part of the reason there has been so much protest—Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter—throughout Obama’s presidency is that his domestic policy has also been a heap of frustrated expectations. Americans have voted for the opposition in droves, handing Republicans unprecedented wins.
And yet there is something to the idea that Obama is an historic leader–historically bad.
He has set a new high-water mark for left-wing policy—and a new low mark for defying, even destroying the country’s constitutional foundations. He has defied Congress, bullied the judiciary, and abused executive powers to carry out radical policies that Americans reject. While boasting “the most transparent administration” ever, he has abused the press and covered up one scandal after another.
How did he do it?
Sarin drops a hint in that first clause: “The first black president.”
Were he not, he never would have been elected after the Jeremiah Wright controversy, never would have enjoyed the obeisance of the press that he disdains, never would have rallied minority voters to re-elect him with unemployment still high in 2012.
He could have helped America transcend race, but Obama often reinforced it deliberately.
That, and Obama’s radical policies, leave a legacy with which Americans will continue to wrestle.