OPINION: Obama's Extraordinary, Aimless Presidency
By Damon Linker, The Week --
Attempting to render summary judgment of a presidency without the benefit of hindsight and historical distance is a fool's game. Though sometimes it's easier than others.
Bill Clinton presided over eight years of prosperity, relative peace, and fiscal restraint, which seemed to mark him as a better-than-average president as he left office (sex scandal notwithstanding). George W. Bush, meanwhile, bequeathed to his successor a barely contained fiasco in Iraq and a full-fledged economic crisis at home, demonstrating that his years in the Oval Office had been ... somewhat less successful than one might have wished.
What about Barack Obama? Well, with him things are more muddled. He has triumphed. And he has failed.
Obama swept into office on a wave of tautological idealism ("Change we can believe in!" "Yes, we can!") and immediately confronted the worst financial downturn in 80 years. Eight years later, the economy has created 11.3 million net jobs and is growing at a modest but respectable rate. Unemployment has fallen from a high of 10 percent during Obama's first year in office to 4.7 percent today. Millions more are covered by health insurance than before the Obama administration began, thanks to his signature legislative achievement. And despite facing a brutally hostile Congress for most of his tenure, the Obama White House has avoided the kind of scandals that engulfed the administrations of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, let alone the one that brought down Richard Nixon's presidency.
That makes it sound like Obama has been an enormous success. And yet...
Obama leaves the country far more deeply divided than it was eight years ago, with his party a "smoking pile of rubble," having suffered significant losses at every level of government, and the country having just elected a man singularly unqualified to serve as president, a man who ran for office on a wave of populist anger, stirring up ethnic and racial animosities, and whose administration will quite likely push the boundaries of corruption in high office beyond the limits of anything Americans have ever endured.