The results after two years: universal health insurance, the rescue of Detroit, the avoidance of a Second Great Depression, big gains in private sector growth and productivity, three stimulus packages (if you count QE2), big public investments in transport and green infrastructure, the near-complete isolation of Iran, the very public exposure of Israeli intransigence and extremism, a reset with Russia (plus a new START), big drops in illegal immigration and major gains in enforcement, a South Korea free trade pact, the end of torture, and a debt commission that has put fiscal reform squarely back on the national agenda. Oh, and of yesterday, the signature civil rights achievement of ending the military's ban on openly gay servicemembers.
Let me be clear, I cannot stand the fact that this President refuses to engage the demonstrable insanity being pushed by the right-wing on the national stage. In an attempt to prove how centrist and pragmatic he is, lets them say whatever they want about him, his party and his supporters. On Saturday, I listened to a Rush Limbaugh rebroadcast as he sputtered incoherently about how the "Democratic Party is trying to destroy America" and how Obama isn't in the center, he's moving away from a "straight line to Marxism." If you listened only to Fox News and Clear Channel radio, I can understand why you'd think incredibly badly of the President.
Yet Obama continues trying to work with the other side, despite their obstruction and non-participation, not to mention their often referenced goals to destroy him. The crazy thing is, while there are infuriating political consequences for doing so, he seems to expect them. He makes political chicken salad out of political chicken shit like it was all part of a plan from the beginning.
It is difficult to argue with results.
To be sure, I wasn't in with the left-wing version of Obama. He was never going to end Bush-era surveillance, dismantle the security-state, end the War on Drugs or turn our economy green in a fortnight. He was not going to immediately pull all the troops out of Afganistan and Iraq or put individuals from the former administration on trial for war crimes. He was never going to outlaw the use of oil in everyday America.
I didn't expect him to flap his arms and fly to the moon, either. To me, there is no disappointment that he didn't do those things, because no one could realistically expect him to do so.
But there are plenty of things he said he was going to do, and got done. A lot of them aren't the best solutions in the world (Health Care, the Stimulus, the Tax Deal), especially politically speaking, but you aren't going to get better solutions than these, considering the group of folks in the legislature. Obama was dealt a hand of cards with Pelosi, Reid, McConnell and Boehner. They're all partisans first, but the former do so with no recognition of national political ramifications while said ramifications are the sole focus of the latter. (We saw how that worked out in November.) That this country got any policy out of them whatsoever is an incredible accomplishment. That this Congress continued working with the President into the lame duck session is nearly historic.
Nonetheless, that's a whole lot of CENTER-left policy objectives accomplished in 2 years. You damn sure weren't going to get anywhere close to that with a Bush presidency, a McCain presidency or a Palin presidency. You damn sure weren't going to get those policies out of a hard-core leftist President, either, even if you found one who was electable.
And then there were several things he didn't do that are notable in comparison to the previous 8 years of executive buffoonery - policy that would likely have continued under a McCain/Palin administration, based on their stated behaviors. First and foremost, while he may never prosecute the responsible parties, we have every indication that the torture regime of the Bush administration has ended.
When the Green Revolution began in Iran (where it quietly continues), McCain wanted the United States to "support" the revolutionaries by....saying we support the revolutionaries and that America "stands" behind them. I guess he means about 7,000 miles behind them, because there was f*** all we could have done in a material way. And despite the fact that most folks on the right wing think that American "support" of that nature always and everywhere inspires pro-democracy revolutionaries, that isn't the case in Iran - where the United States has actually participated in overthrowing a democratic revolution which directly contributed to the rise of their current oppressive government. Obama, wisely, just stayed quiet on the issue, and kept engaged in a realpolitik foreign policy with the Islamic Republic. No one has to attack them if they crumble or reform from the inside.
Other examples? Does anyone remember the Orwellian "color code" for the nebulous national threat level? Remember how freely the Bush administration would trot it out to scare the crap out of everyone before elections, travel holidays and expansions of the security state? How many times have we seen that nonsense since Obama took office?
Presented the options, none of these policies would have been touched by a McCain/Palin presidency. Even a McCain/Palin presidency would have been forced to make similarly unpopular decisions regarding bailouts and stimulii. I don't see the McCain/Palin administration taking the genuine risk of economic collapse that would have come by just handing out more tax subsidies as a remedy for what ails our economy.
What does all that mean? It means my biggest complaint about the Obama Presidency remains the political angle - and that is just as much the fault of Pelosi and Reid. Losing that big in November to nothing more than a savvy, irrational and fear-centered marketing campaign is ridiculous for a Democratic Party that has been delivering on campaign promises, extracting ourselves from strategic neoconservative boondoggles abroad, and resurrecting a failed economy. Losing the hundreds of state legislative seats on the eve of a Census reapportionment threatens to create a permanent Democratic minority for the next decade.
We'll find out how we really feel about Obama's policy accomplishments when that unassailable GOTP majority, and their absolute rejection of reality, makes a run at overturning every one of them, and returning us to the utter failure that was the Bush Era.