Tomorrow night will be Barack Obama's final State of the Union – the last time he addresses a joint session of Congress. So it seems like an appropriate time for a few thoughts about his presidency.
First, I think historians will judge it to be among the most successful – saving the U.S. economy from a second Great Depression, enacting the first almost-universal health insurance system (something neither FDR, nor Truman, JFK, LBJ, or Clinton could get done), finding and killing the person who engineered the worst terrorist act ever to occur on American soil, and, all the while, holding at bay the most disciplined, adamantly right-wing Republican Congress in history. The Obama administration has played the long game, and mostly won.
Second, Barack Obama as a person has exhibited extraordinary coolness under fire. No president in my lifetime has come under such relentless, scathing, disrespectful (often thinly-veiled racist) attack from political opponents and opportunistic pundits, and yet he has never wavered from the dignified tone he set for himself and his presidency at the outset.
Third, this administration has not been marred by scandal – no revelations of self-dealing by high officials, no sexual exploits, no illegal political payoffs, no secret and illicit deals. To laud a presidency for its lack of scandal may be a sad commentary on our era, but given the harshness and meanness of politics it is nonetheless a significant achievement.
It is not all roses. I won't easily forgive the mass deportations, the early emphasis on deficit-reduction, the compromises on civil liberties, the absurd Trans Pacific Partnership, or the failure to put tough conditions on Wall Street banks that got bailed out. The Administration has been way too kind to big corporations and Wall Street. Fifty years ago we would have considered Obama a liberal Republican.
But given the times and the circumstances, he has done remarkably well. That's a provisional verdict, of course; there's still a year to go.
What do you think?