The annual Gallup poll of the most admired man has just picked President Obama. Even among Republicans he tied with Pope Francis. But to hear some Republican elected officials and pundits, Barack Obama is the devil incarnate. If he says the sky is a little cloudy, they will say it is clear. So what is going on? Are people finally catching on to what he has accomplished? Are people starting to look beyond the media’s short attention span? I don’t have any answers, but I know that the President has managed more than one could ever imagine given the Tea Party and solid Republican opposition to everything he proposes. Even people like Paul Krugman, who one would think would be a supporter, was not. But Krugman has changed his mind and in October wrote a widely circulated defense.
When it comes to Barack Obama, I’ve always been out of sync. Back in 2008, when many liberals were wildly enthusiastic about his candidacy and his press was strongly favorable, I was skeptical. I worried that he was naive, that his talk about transcending the political divide was a dangerous illusion given the unyielding extremism of the modern American right. Furthermore, it seemed clear to me that, far from being the transformational figure his supporters imagined, he was rather conventional-minded: Even before taking office, he showed signs of paying far too much attention to what some of us would later take to calling Very Serious People, people who regarded cutting budget deficits and a willingness to slash Social Security as the very essence of political virtue.
I certainly haven’t agreed with everything Obama has proposed or done, but no one agrees with anyone else 100% of the time. And there have been some scary moments. Remember the “Grand Bargain”? But we can list as accomplishments the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank financial reform (despite the reluctance of Congress to fund the Consumer Protection Bureau and the recent gutting of the prohibitions on banks and derivatives.), the steady improvement of the economy (the only one in the world not on the verge of tanking again) and the ending of our combat roles in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But I just don’t understand the continuous bashing by everyone. Plus, I firmly believe that the mid-term elections would not have been quite so bad if the Democrats had had the guts to run on the President’s record.
But now the shoe is on the other foot: Obama faces trash talk left, right and center – literally – and doesn’t deserve it. Despite bitter opposition, despite having come close to self-inflicted disaster, Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history. His health reform is imperfect but still a huge step forward – and it’s working better than anyone expected. Financial reform fell far short of what should have happened, but it’s much more effective than you’d think. Economic management has been half-crippled by Republican obstruction, but has nonetheless been much better than in other advanced countries. And environmental policy is starting to look like it could be a major legacy.
I think one of the problems the President has is that he is a canvas on which each person paints the picture of what they want him to be. Michelle Bachmann sees him as a non-Christian, non-American. Cornel West thinks he is a ‘counterfeit progressive”, meaning, I guess a conservative in progressive clothing. The problem is people do not look at facts. And they certainly don’t understand the character of the man. I found this description of him on the golf course very apt.
One of the golfers who played with Mr. Obama said the way the president carried himself on the course provided significant insight into his character.
“If you came down from Mars and saw his disposition on the golf course, you would think he would be a pretty good president,” the golfer said. “He’s honest, he keeps his composure through terrible adversity, he’s unruffled, he smiles, and he doesn’t quit.”
This is why after the mid-term elections, President Obama was able to have what Kevin Drum writing in Mother Jones magazine was able to call “a Hellava month”. Drum lists his accomplishments during November and December. Here are a few from his list.
November 11: Concluded a climate deal with China that was not only important in its own right, but has since been widely credited with jumpstarting progress at the Lima talks last week.
November 20: Issued an executive order protecting millions of undocumented workers from the threat of deportation.
November 26: Signed off on an important new EPA rule significantly limiting ozone emissions.
December 17: Announced a historic renormalization of relations with Cuba.
Plus a number of judicial and other nominees were approved by the Senate before they went home for the holidays. Jennifer Bendery explains in the Huffington Post.
If there’s one thing from 2014 that will define President Barack Obama’s legacy after he’s left the White House, it’s the number of lifetime judges he put on the federal bench.
In its final act of the year, the Senate blew through a dozen U.S. district court nominees on Tuesday night. That puts Obama at a whopping 89 district court and circuit court confirmations for the year, and means he’ll wrap up his sixth year in office with a grand total of 305 district court and circuit court confirmations — a tally that puts him well beyond where his predecessors were by this point in their presidencies.
It may be that, in the end, his biggest effect on the judiciary isn’t sheer numbers as much as the diversity of his judges. Forty-two percent of Obama’s confirmed judges are women, 19 percent are black and 11 percent are Hispanic, according to data provided by the White House. Eleven of his confirmed judges are openly gay or lesbian.
Even the 12 nominees confirmed Tuesday night will make a mark: Robert Pitman will be the first openly gay judge to serve in the Fifth Circuit, which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Loretta Biggs will be the first black woman to serve as a district judge in North Carolina.
The most interesting part of the nominee confirmation story is that the last were made possible by Senator Ted Cruz who probably had no idea what he was doing.
Democrats spent the final days of the lame duck thanking Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for inadvertently helping to expedite votes on Obama’s nominees. On Friday, Cruz derailed a plan by party leaders to leave for the weekend and come back Monday in an effort to force a show vote on Obama’s immigration executive action. The stunt kept senators in session all day Saturday, with hours to kill. So, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) used the time to tee up votes for the 12 district court nominees still on the calendar.
With two years to go, I don’t think any of us should write President Obama off as a “lame duck”. He seems to be freed by not having to run for office again. We all need to stay tuned to see what he does next.
Photograph: Uncredited from Mother Jones.