Obama’s achievements as president

At a dinner party the other night in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was asked if I was looking forward to November 7, 2012, when the U.S. presidential election would be over. I responded that I hadn’t been following the election because (a) I assume the Barack Obama will be reelected, and (b) there wouldn’t be any dramatic changes if Mitt Romney were elected. The host, who’d grown up in a wealthy New York family, and is a passionate Obama supporter, questioned me regarding this. I said “Well, under Bush we were embroiled in foreign wars, subsidizing government cronies with tax dollars, watching states bankrupt themselves with public employee pension commitments, and watching our children walk into some of the world’s most expensively funded and least effective schools. Obama is about as different from Bush as a U.S. politician could be and yet nothing substantive has changed. Why would we expect huge changes from Romney? And if we don’t expect huge changes, why it is worth spending a lot of time and energy following the election?”

This segued into a discussion regarding Obama’s achievements in office. It turned out that, for the host, Obama’s most important achievement was “standing up to Netanyahu”. The host regarded Israel’s 7.5 million people as the greatest reservoir of wrongdoers on the planet, apparently, and was impressed by the Commander in Chief of the world’s largest military “standing up” to the leader of a country whose $243 billion GDP is comparable to the combined GDP of Baltimore and Cincinnati.

What do the readers think? Perhaps we can fill up the comment section with what folks think are Obama’s biggest achievements over the past 3.5 years. For comparison, here’s the semi-official list for Eisenhower.

21 thoughts on “Obama’s achievements as president

  1. His biggest achievement has been spending trillions of dollars yet having nothing to show for it. Montgomery Brewster has nothing on Barack Obama.

    Oh wait…does the achievement have to be a positive one? Um…he makes millions laugh any time he goes off teleprompter and starts saying silly things.

  2. The difference between Obama and Romney is between a partial plutocracy and a predominant plutocracy, respectively. Of course, the Senate and House races will be a substantial factor. If the Republicans control White House, Congress, and Supreme Court, the question becomes do they do what they have been campaigning on (more tax cuts, spending cuts, less regulation) or do they feel a need to stimulate the economy with spending. And how will the public react in 2014 if the Republicans have not improved the economy (maybe Republicans will have gamed the voting system by then).

    While Obama has not made a major push on climate change, he has acted on a number of environmental regulations that are beneficial. I would not expect that from a Romney administration.

    I think the Obama economic stimulus programs were helpful to some extent, but the Republican House takeover in 2010 shut down further activity.

    Also, with Romney, I think we might be more likely to get a foreign policy surprise, such as war with Iran, which I would not expect with Obama.

  3. I think President Obama has made good progress considering the fierce push back of his desired outcomes. He has brought about much more openness and transparency of our Federal government. He has been withdrawing troops from Iran. He has helped the citizens of Somalia with increased naval presence in the area to support them.
    The list of accomplishments is long, but the frustration of slow progress is evident. I expect that President Obama will be re-elected and will have more time to accomplish more of his goals in office.

  4. Arguably you can’t really know a president’s impact (good or bad) until they’ve been gone for a while. Most of what they do (policymaking) has impacts many years out more so than now.

    Someone will say the healthcare law is a big positive. Even if they believe it, I’ll point out that most of it hasn’t taken effect yet.

    Someone might even claim that pushing the budget debate into the super committee compromise was a positive thing. Except that hasn’t played out yet — sequestration has yet to happen, and they can still change it.

    Obama put 2 SCOTUS judges in place, who will be there for a long time to come. They’re a key aspect of his legacy that we won’t really understand for another decade.

    So look at it this way. If a president is doing their job, they’re moving pieces on the board that have long-term effects, they’re not just sticking their finger into this or that gap in the dam. Which effectively means that if they’re doing their job, you’re buying a pig in a poke, since you can’t know whether the long-term outcomes of his policies are good or bad (yet). Your list for Ike has the “hindsight 20/20” problem. (E.g. had civil rights later been defeated, his support wouldn’t have looked good — had the Koren war not reached detente, his withdrawal from that wouldn’t have looked good, etc)

  5. Duke: This discussion is not supposed to be about whether Romney or Obama would be better for 2013 onward, but simply folks’ 3-point or 5-point summaries of Obama’s achievements to date (whatever issues have been most relevant to them or most important in their personal opinion). Matt’s posting, below yours, would be ideal if he had left off the preamble and the postamble.

  6. *Renewed focus on anti-terrorist policing and accompanying decreases in “war on terror” with troop draw downs
    *Attempted to address national healthcare problems with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
    *Focused attention on reducing air pollution by supporting previous administrations’ laws forcing reduced coal-fired power plant emmissions

  7. * Got us out of Iraq (where we never should have been in the first place), saving trillions

    * Focused “war on terror” with killing bin Laden as priority number one. Goal achieved. Raised national spirit – it’s the only time in the “war on terror” that Americans cheered in the streets. It may be the only time in decades that Americans cheered in the streets over any government action.

    * Attempting to fix the health care crisis. A tax increase (for a few people) that will actually help almost everyone. It’s rare that happens.

    * Had government’s role in helping to fix the health care crisis vetted by no less than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; a man appointed by his predecessor.

  8. Ending Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell seems the only one.

    I keep thinking that he did manage to keep us out of war with Canada. But the first term isn’t over yet.

  9. He got within 500,000 likes of Spongebob Squarepants on Facebook.*

    He has kept the guards at Gitmo employed for his entire term.

    He was there as the real civil rights movement for GLBT Americans started. (That means he “evolved” to support gay marriage and ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.)

    He has demonstrated to the American people that our country, since Reagan, can be run by a figurehead, like the United Kingdom. This seems important to a nation with intense interest in looks and acting ability. Personally, I would like the president to be someone with some leadership potential, but I realize that I am in the minority and I am not even certain the constitution supports my preference.

    His administration was able to deport more people in 4 years (less!) than Bush’s administration did in 8. His aunt in Boston must be a little ways down the list, because they haven’t gotten to her yet.

    I saved this one for last, since I know it is so near and dear to Philip’s heart: He managed to stay off Marthas Vineyard for 2012, allowing the businesses there, especially the flight schools in the area, to have a little less restricted access to the airspace. That must be good for the economy, right?

    * My wife wrote that joke, which is actually a fact (an excellent thing to use in place of a joke), and which Obama recited off teleprompter one evening in SF. He cracked himself up, since he hadn’t read the speech ahead of time.

  10. “He was there as the real civil rights movement for GLBT Americans started.”

    As a president, you do get credit for this sort of thing. Reagan is quoted often with, “Tear down this wall,” but the collapse of the Soviet Union really had little to do with Reagan’s acting (er, leadership). The pieces were all in place.

  11. 1) Successfully demonstrated that a great nation and a great economy can continue to function pretty well, despite the utter incompetence of its leaders, when it comes to economic matters. You know, leaders like the ones who said that if you have a successful business “you didn’t build that”, or like the ones who pointed out that increasing the welfare and the unemployment program participation creates jobs, or that it doesn’t matter if raising the capital gains tax won’t bring in more revenue, because doing it would be an issue of fairness etc.

    2) Brought the United States much closer to the point of a sovereign debt crisis. The other guys would have done that more slowly. I see this as an accomplishment because the quicker the crisis moment will arrive the easier it will be for the country to rebuild after it. See Japan’s 20 year malaise for the alternative.

    3) Clearly showed that the centrally managed economy approach fails in this country too. For details, see the unemployment rate and the GDP growth over the past three years, after enormous amounts of borrowed money were allocated by a central authority, in order to stimulate the economy.

  12. Some excerpts from http://tinyurl.com/8a2sdto

    Takeover & turnaround of car industry

    Healthcare reform (# insured += 30M) (http://tinyurl.com/cyj7qam)

    Wall street regulations

    Consumer protections on credit card industry

    End don’t ask don’t tell

    Refocus of war effort from Iraq to Afghanistan, and troop pulldowns

    Food safety laws overhaul


    These and others, for better or worse, and others despite clear, unambiguous, targeted Republican obstructionism.


    Finally, he has, by choice or otherwise, presided over a government with the slowest spending growth since the 1950s. (http://tinyurl.com/c3h6dw3)

  13. Thanks Phil for the good question. I think everything good President Obama has done has been pretty well enumerated above, so…
    I think there’s a glaring omission from President Eisenhower’s accomplishments though, which is: built the national highway system.

    I would agree with you that nothing President Obama has done seems substantial right now, though I think ending don’t ask don’t tell is going to be viewed that way, fifty years from now. I would also add that beginning don’t ask don’t tell was a significant achievement of President Clinton’s, since the previous policy was “no homosexuals period,” pretty much.

  14. – Fiddling around with tertiary issues while the US economy sputtered on fumes, the % of long-term unemployed skyrocketed, and millions were added to the rolls of WIC, food stamps, SSDI, and similar “dole” programs.
    – Bringing the troops home from Iraq only to send them to Libya, where we replaced a cooperative ruler with the Muslim Brotherhood (see also Egypt), all while turning a blind eye to the hideous human rights abuses occurring in longtime ally Saudi Arabia
    – Ramming through an unpopular, impenetrable health care bill that does little to address the core issues making healthcare a burden for US citizens
    – Making permanent the temporary, emergency spending spike from the Bush administration, pushing federal debt/GDP over 100 for the first time since WW2
    – First US President to endorse sodomy and use the state to promote it both here and abroad, against the wishes of most Americans and at great risk to public health
    – Nationalized GM to appease union cronies, only to have the stock drop 50% in 18 months after new IPO
    – Failed to meaningfully reform financial services industry or prosecute wrongdoing even as fresh scandals like MF Global and Liborgate continue to break. Oversaw consolidation of the industry into even fewer too-big-to-fail juggernauts than ever before.
    – Despite token deportations, making no meaningful headway against the tens of millions of illegal aliens living here (unless you count crippling the economy to make the US less attractive to immigrants), while harassing states attempting to create local solutions to this urgent problem. Also, declared a mass amnesty-by-fiat against the express wishes of the vast majority of Americans.
    – Utterly failing to deliver on his promises of reduced partisanship (Tea Party, OWS), improved race relations (flash mobs, media circus surrounding Trayvon Martin affair), and transparent, responsive goverment.

  15. Wow! Talking about the exact same thing, one says “Made the best pizza ever,” the other says “Totally failed at making a pancake.” One says “Walked on water,” the other says “Showed he can’t swim.”

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