A few years back, I rated Barack Obama as the sixth best president of the twelve we have had since World War II, behind Johnson, Clinton, Eisenhower, Nixon and Carter, in descending order. At the time, I wrote, “Obama is basically a pro-business, anti-union liberal who shares the consensus view that the United States should have special rights in world affairs.”
But since the defeat of his party in the 2014 mid-term elections, still less than a year ago, Obama has soared in rank, thanks to a series of unilateral executive actions that he could have taken for years, but chose instead to try to work with the recalcitrant and openly disrespectful Republicans.
In the past year, Obama has advanced an immigration plan that doesn’t require the approval of Congress, restored relations with Cuba, established new regulations to cut our dependence on burning fossil fuels and negotiated the historic deal that keeps nuclear weapons out of the hands of the Iranians and may pave the way to a rapprochement with Iran. His administration has begun to prosecute executives and pass regulations favorable to unions. When you add all that to the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), his ending of American torture and the efficient and compassionate response to Superstorm Sandy, it makes for a pretty good record. I still don’t like drones, the development of other automated weaponry and government snooping into electronic records, but realistically, every president would support these security state lunacies.
I would therefore like to amend my rankings and say that Obama ties with Clinton as the second best president since World War II.
What we’ve seen is a complete turnabout of traditional American politics. Traditionally, during the last two years of any president’s second term, he is considered a “lame duck,” unable to fly or get anything accomplished because he has essentially lost his clout, since he’s on his way out. Obama should have been even less effective than the usual lame ducks, because he faced Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. But the modern imperial presidency has accumulated so much power that all the last year or two means is that the commander-in-chief can’t call on the cooperation of Congress. Of course, Obama never had that cooperation after his first two years, which were dominated extraordinarily by the tortuous process of passing the ACA.
Over the next four years, Obama showed a lot of weakness, outside of engineering Sandy efforts. Obama backed down and agreed to link raising the debt ceiling to making spending cuts. He folded the tent instead of standing up to the Republicans and letting them defund the government; luckily he learned from that mistake and has not let the Republicans blackmail the budgetary process again. His decision to wait to start building the national healthcare exchange website until the Supreme Court blessed the ACA was political cowardice of the highest order. That makes it something of shock to see him proceeding so boldly and confidently over the past year. By contrast, George Bush, Jr., goaded by his vice president, began asserting the prerogatives of the imperial presidency from day one of his administration.
Why Obama waited so long to begin throwing the weight of the presidency around is a mystery to me. I contend that if he had taken his stands on immigration and human-caused global warming before the November election that it might have energized Democratic voters and prevented the debacle that was the 2014 mid-term elections. Be that as it may, his aggressiveness since then will help the country.