During his Reddit AMA on Friday, the incoming host of NBC's Meet the Press, Chuck Todd, was asked about President Obama's legacy. Todd's answer wasn't terrible:
He broke an important ceiling — he’ll always be America’s first black president. That is not an insignificant legacy. That’s a major barrier that was broken. Hard stop… As for the rest of his presidency… I’ve pondered this a lot (even am finishing up a book attempting to start this conversation). Legislatively, health care is also a major legacy; it’s here to stay… now, is it a positive legacy or a negative one? We may not know for years. On foreign policy, this is where his legacy is the fuzziest. Is he a victim of circumstance? Did he make mistakes responding to the Arab Spring? I think that’s going to be a long post-Obama presidency debate among many folks for years. Finally, his most important NEAR-term legacy is how his campaigns of 2008 and 2012 forever changed how campaigns are conducted, both financially and on the ground level front, re: targeting. I’m not sure the advent of multi-billion campaigns is healthy for the long term, but no doubt POTUS’ campaigns completely transformed how all campaigns are now run, period.
Again, his answer could've been a lot worse. But what shocked me about Todd's reply is the colossally huge thing he left out, which, as far as I'm concerned, is the signature achievement of the Obama presidency. Simply put: he rescued the economy from a second Great Depression. This is a monumental achievement that overshadows even his healthcare reform legislation, and it certainly outweighs any deficiencies in his administration so far.
It's an economic success story that can't be emphasized enough, yet too many people seem to forget where we were just a little more than six years ago. The world economy was in danger of almost entirely imploding. When the president was inaugurated, our economy alone was losing 800,000 jobs per month. No one was spending. No one could find a job. Everyone was in debt. Housing values crashed. Every metric for a dying economy was in a nose dive. So, out of the gate, the Obama administration proposed a massive recovery plan that including a major infusion of government spending to inject cash into the economy, while also including what would amount to be -- dollar for dollar -- the largest middle class tax cut in American history.
(Oh, and by the way, despite the stimulus spending, the deficit has dropped from $1.4 trillion to $500 billion since 2009. Fact. Furthermore, I can name two post-WWII presidents who've cut the deficit through the duration of their presidencies: Clinton and Obama. What about the various Republican presidents? Bush 43? He turned a $200 billion surplus into a $400 billion deficit by the end of his first term, and a $1.2 trillion deficit by the end of his second term. Bush 41? No. Reagan? No. Ford? No. Nixon? No. The last Republican president who cut the deficit was Eisenhower.)
We can pinpoint the exact date of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's passage based on charts that illustrate an upswing in GDP, jobs and the stock market.
Had the other ticket won in 2008, it's terrifying to imagine where we'd be right now. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) vocally opposed the president's stimulus proposal while failing to present any alternative other than making the Bush tax cuts permanent, even though such a plan would only have created 32-cents of stimulus for every dollar spent.
For every dollar spent by the government on the above proposals, spending on unemployment benefits, etc, created a greater return on investment.
By the way, "the other ticket" included Sarah Palin. Talk about a nightmarish alternate reality.
It might not have been the New Deal, but historians of the future will surely look to March, 2009 as a landmark time in American history when a president staked his political capital in an increasingly divisive and terribly partisan climate on an economic stimulus package that, in spite of deafening GOP objections and McCarthyite red-baiting, absolutely rescued the economy from certain doom.
I don't care if the entire balance of the Obama presidency was an utter failure (it really wasn't), the passage of the ARRA -- aka "the stimulus" -- should be near or at the top of the list of Obama legacy achievements. Regardless of your party affiliation and place on the ideological spectrum, it can't be denied that the election of Barack Obama and the decisions he made in his first two months transformed a deepening crash into a steady recovery.