How Will History Judge the Obama Presidency?

I would like to commend a Point/Counter-Point style pair of articles at New York Magazine to your attention. In his article, “History Will Be Very Kind”, Jonathan Chair defends the president’s legacy:

It is my view that history will be very generous with Barack Obama, who has compiled a broad record of accomplishment through three-quarters of his presidency. But if it isn’t, it will be for a highly ironic reason: Our historical memory tends to romance, too. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fatherly reassurance, a youthful Kennedy tossing footballs on the White House lawn, Reagan on horseback—the craving for emotional sustenance and satisfying drama runs deep. Though the parade of Obama’s Katrinas will all be (and mostly already have been) consigned to the forgotten afterlife of cable-news ephemera, it is not yet certain whether this president can bind his achievements into any heroic narrative.

while in his article, “Why History Will Eviscerate Him”, Christopher Caldwell declaims:

Obama’s legacy is one of means, not ends. He has laid the groundwork for a political order less answerable to voters. His delay of the Obamacare employer mandate by fiat, his provision of working papers to immigrants by executive order—these are not applications of old tricks but dangerous constitutional innovations. After last fall’s electoral rout, the president claimed to have “heard” (presumably to speak on behalf of) the two-thirds of people who didn’t vote. And he has forged a partnership with the country’s rich—not the high-earning professionals calumniated in populist oratory (including his own) but the really existing Silicon Valley and Wall Street plutocracy.

I think the truth will be somewhere in between. Like Kennedy, for the next generation or so President Obama will be lionized by historians but as the glamor fades, a century or more in the future, I think he will be a footnote, noted as the first African American president but for little else. By then his signature domestic achievement, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, will either have been abandoned or transformed beyond recognition and be seen as a wan precursor of the system then in place.

Depending on your views that is either treating the president kindly or, in a president who has patently had his eye on his legacy since the moment of his election to office, eviscerate him. So I guess they’re both right.

5 comments… add one
  • Modulo Myself

    Caldwell sounds like he is pleading. Deep down, I think he and a lot of educated conservatives are petrified by the thought that every other conservative is one second away from it being revealed that they too spoke to white supremacists.

    I don’t think Obama will be a great president. But I do think it’s going to be recognized exactly how severe the opposition was in its devotion to dead-end ideas.

  • jan

    How history judges Obama will depend on who writes the historical account of his presidency.

    For instance an author with social progressive leanings will gloss over his mistakes and simply emote about Obama’s “achievements,” whether or not they stand, like the highly flawed PPACA. A conservative writer, though, will discuss the plethora of scandals weighing down his presidency, showing there were far more missed opportunities than accomplishments during his two terms in office.

    In my own personal opinion, Obama had the stars lined up in his favor when he first took office, despite the crash of ’08 that faced him. He was the “first black president of the U.S.,” in which people of all cultures and politics wished him well. The words spoken by him, preceding his first inauguration, also bode well for reconciliation to be at the top of his agenda, bringing people together in crisis. But, like fool’s gold Obama’s actions have been reactionary, divisive, lying to the people with impunity as liberal MSM bosses looked away, assuaging their reporters not to investigate further into negative stories.

    I just hope we can get through this president’s last two years without any more “workplace violence” from happening, as I somehow can’t see this president being able to lead this country through anything equivalent to another 911.

  • Arik

    Man- I will take Chait’s economic facts and figures over “in my own personal opinion” any day. His article is about the economic benchmarks for determining if a president has had “a successful” presidency. Too many conservatives go for Colbert’s “truthiness.” Chait argument is not based on if you like or dislike Obama’s policy but looks at actual data. Not intuition or gut feeling or just want you really want to believe is true. It’s okay to not like the presidents policy decisions but make your decisions based on facts and not based on “Obama is the worst president ever” meme being sold by Fox News because even Fox does not come,every buy into it but it makes them ton of money.

  • Have you ever read a history book?

    The president generally mentioned in discussions of most effective presidencies is James K. Polk of all people. I dare you to find a chart or graph in the histories written about him.

  • steve

    He will rank in the middle somewhere. He will get credit for stopping the economic apocalypse we had. For health care reform. He will probably get some credit for gay marriage becoming reality. For the massive increase in energy production on his watch. He will get downgraded because Dodd-Frank was incomplete and toothless. Because he couldn’t figure out to get the GOP to work with him.

    Steve

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