Let’s be clear about something: Barack Obama
has been one of the most consequential presidents in recent American history. “You can’t say it, but you know it’s true.” In the past eight years, he has completely transformed the American healthcare system.
He got tough reforms to Wall Street passed after the biggest financial crisis in decades. He appointed two of the 4 women to ever serve on the supreme
court, both of whom were part of the historic decision legalizing same sex marriage.
He put in place the toughest climate regulations in American history. He opened the US to Cuba
for the first time in half a century. And he reached a peaceful settlement to the nuclear
standoff with Iran that lasted for a decade before he took office.
You can celebrate or bemoan these accomplishments. Liberals will think they’re great, conservatives
will think they’re awful. But it’s hard to deny that they’re big deals. So…. where do we start?
Obamacare is a big fucking deal. For at least 100 years, the big goal of American
liberals on domestic policy was to get a national health insurance program done.
A lot of countries implemented universal health care in the 20th century — the UK, Canada,
France — but the US always lagged behind. There were attempt after attempt after attempt
by American progressives of both parties to try to get the US to where everyone else was
going. And each of those attempts failed. Teddy Roosevelt failed, FDR failed, Truman
failed, Nixon failed, Carter failed, Clinton failed… and then Obama succeeded. And he established for the first time in American history that healthcare is a right. The plan
still leaves millions uninsured, but it laid a foundation for universal health care. To understand what Obama did for foreign policy,
you have to go back to a moment in 2007, this moment in particular:
“Would you be willing to meet separately without preconditions, in Washington or anywhere
else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea, in order to bridge
the gap that divides our countries?” Obama: “I would. 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.”
So, this was considered a gaffe. The safe thing that you’re supposed to say is “yeah,
diplomacy’s great, we’ll talk to some people, but there have to be preconditions.
No preconditions is silly.” And this is what other Democrats did say at the time .
But he didn’t accept that. And with two of the countries listed in that
question — Iran and Cuba — Obama led some of the biggest changes to those diplomatic
relationships in recent history. I’d be remiss in not mentioning the importance
of the fact that Obama is the first black president.
After 8 years it seems obvious to point out But the history of America is a history of
learning to deal with racial diversity, and with the legacy of white supremacy. In a very
real way the history of America is the history of race relations.
There’s a famous photo that still hangs in the White House of a black toddler in the
White House who asked to touch president Obama’s hair because he thought it was great that
the president had hair that looked like his. It seems cheesy, but it really is a big deal
that a generation of black children are going to grow up knowing that they could be the
president. Overall it’s a pretty extensive track record.
You can generally divide American presidents into two camps. There are the ones who were
maybe a little good, a little bad, but are sorta forgettable: Grover Cleveland, Benjamin
Harrison, Zachary Taylor, William Howard Taft, Bill Clinton.
And then there are the ones who were hugely consequential either for good: FDR
(ending the depression, winning WWII), Lincoln (winning the civil war), George Washington
(establishing what a president is), or for ill.
Andrew Johnson, destroying reconstruction and subjugating black people for a century.
Andrew Jackson committing genocide or ethnic cleansing against the Southeast Indians.
I think it’s hard to argue that Obama is in the sorta iffy, “eh” camp rather than the
big consequential camp. He did a lot, he accomplished a lot.
And I think in the next 10 or 20 years when we have a bunch more presidents many more of whom are alright or slightly bad but ultimately forgettable. We’re going to look back and realize what a
rare thing a presidency that active and that accomplished is.