Barack Obama a Top-10 President?

I don’t know much about Washington Monthly, but this in-depth article/column caught my eye today.

Rest assured, I haven’t been one of the President’s biggest fans. Yes, count me among those progressives who expected more. Count me among those who feel like he has negotiated against himself, and attempted too much bipartisanship (Olympia Snowe’s complaints regarding health care reform act notwithstanding)

I can’t agree with everything the author credits Obama with, for instance I’m not convinced of the genius of Race to the Top, there’s not much in here about the environment outside of using the auto bailout to leverage increased fuel standards, and we’re still mired in Afghanistan. But the overall argument here is that Obama has done much more and accomplished much bigger tasks than anyone currently realizes, and only history will fully give him the credit he deserves.


On the economy:

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the stimulus added anywhere from 500,000 to 3.3 million jobs and boosted GDP by between 1 and 4.5 percent. Indeed, within weeks of the stimulus going into effect, unemployment claims began to subside.

On the bank recovery:

In 2008, the International Monetary Fund studied past financial crises in forty-two countries and found that their governments spent, on average, 13.3 percent of GDP to resolve them. By that measure, it would have cost the U.S. government $1.9 trillion. The Obama plan got the banks back on their feet at essentially zero cost to the government, and in historically near-record time. Let that sink in.

Auto bailout:

Since bottoming out in 2009, the auto industry has added upward of 100,000 jobs. The Big Three are all profitable again, and last year they each gained market share, the first time that’s happened in two decades. Most of the $80 billion in bailout funds have been paid back; Washington is likely to lose only about $16 billion, less if the price of its GM stock rises. Even on its face, the policy has been one of the most successful short-term government economic interventions in decades.

Higher Ed:

…by kicking the banks out of the student loan program, Obama has effectively eliminated the biggest lobbying force standing in the way of an über-reform of student aid.

The author attacks the claim of an overly cautious presidency:

The view that Barack Obama is overly cautious must also take into account the many times in his presidency when he took extraordinary risks. He did so when he turned down Detroit’s first bailout request, demanding more concessions, including government ownership and the resignation of GM’s CEO, before saying yes. He did so when, after passing the stimulus, he made health care reform his number one legislative priority, against the advice of some of his top political advisers; and when, after Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts Senate race, he chose to jam the health care bill through reconciliation despite cries of outrage from the GOP. And he did so, most famously, when he chose to send special forces into Pakistan to go after Osama bin Laden…

The author cites polls of presidential scholars who variously rate Obama somewhere in the top 8-15 of all US presidents. Then again, it’s not like we have such a wonderful list to pick from here — certainly not from the progressive perspective.

I post this less as a defense of Obama, because I’m still not entirely sure I agree, and more to gauge reaction. A lot of BMG posters are much more up on national politics than me. I know it’s not the first big defense of Obama. But this mostly resonated with me as a reasonable perspective that is lacking from our national dialog.


Recommended by christopher, kbusch.


9 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Moderate Liberal take

    Read the comments as well as the article. Attacks on the article from the left and the right and actually quite little support.
    It’s a snapshot of America today.
    No Child’s Behind Left an “accomplishment”?????

  2. Low bars

    He’s a little better than Bush. We needed a courageous, heroic leader to reverse the dark course of history- the encroachment on civil liberties, the steady trend toward greater and greater economic inequality, regulatory capture, domination of government by moneyed interests, a state of permanent, unjustified and immoral war. We didn’t get that hero- not by a long shot. Given the importance of these issues on which he has failed I’d say Obama has been a pretty crummy president. For a preview of his second term look at Deval Patrick- anybody seen him lately? What does he care about nowadays? Has he championed any progressive legislation or done anything interesting since being reelected? Where is he on the MBTA funding quandary, for instance?

  3. Where's the list?

    The article would be more meaningful to me (and might perhaps reveal more about any biases of the author) if the list of the top 8-15 presidents was offered — maybe I missed it.

    By the way, here’s my list of seven president’s I’d rank ahead of what I’ve seen from Barack Obama so far: FDR, Lincoln, Truman, TR, Washington, Jefferson, Clinton. We could argue about Eisenhower and LBJ. Please note that I do NOT claim to be a historian or presidential scholar.

    I think “He’s a little better than Bush” is far too harsh — George W. Bush was among our worst presidents ever. I am confident that between the gross mishandling of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the economy (any one of which would move a president a long way down), George W. Bush managed to do more harm to more people — and to America — than any predecessor I can think of.

    • I am surprised to find

      that I do not disagree with your list.

    • Top 10 List

      The Sienna poll they reference is here (PDF)

      In 2010 they listed Obama as #15, top 10:

      1. F Roosevelt
      2. T Roosevelt
      3. Lincoln
      4. Washington
      5. Jefferson
      6. Madison
      7. Monroe
      8. Wilson
      9. Truman
      10. Eisenhower

      2010 Five Worst
      1. A. Johnson
      2. Buchanan
      3. Harding
      4. Pierce
      5. GW Bush

      • Jackson...

        … was among the worst IMO. Although certainly Pierce and W were worse.

        • Jackson is like LBJ

          They both did something amazingly vital for America (making it a semi-democracy/Civil Right Act) and something horribly bad (Native landgrabs/Vietnam involvement). I think on balance, though, that without Jackson, it would have been another generation before the US had democratic characteristics.

          sabutai   @   Tue 13 Mar 5:50 PM
          • Jackson's populism...

            … was important, but if it wasn’t him it was only a matter of time before someone else rode a populist wave. His ideas about paper money, however, could have destroyed the country.

  4. Richest 1 Percent Account For Nearly All Of U.S. Recovery's Gains: Report

    Richest 1 Percent Account For Nearly All Of U.S. Recovery’s Gains: Report

    Technically, the economy has been in recovery for two years. But it turns out the rich have been doing most of the recovering.

    In 2010 — the first full year since the end of the Great Recession — virtually all of the income growth in America took place among the country’s very wealthiest people, says an economist at the University of California, Berkeley. The top 1 percent of earners took in a full 93 percent of all the income gains that year, leaving the other 7 percent of gains to be sprinkled among the vast majority of society.

    Those numbers come courtesy of Emmanuel Saez, the Berkeley economist who co-created a resource known as the World Top Incomes Database. Saez and his colleagues crunched the data on income growth from 2010, the most recent year available, and found that it was shockingly lopsided.

    While much of the country is simply treading water, with a growing number of people either edging toward poverty or already there, the richest of the rich seem to be coping nicely.

    And with the three Bush-Obama “free” trade agreements passed last November that are predicted to destroy hundreds of thousands of US jobs, attacks on Social Security, dramatic expansion of extra-judicial escapadesnothing but net, baby!

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