Anyone who’s kept up with economist and columnist for The New York Times, Paul Krugman, is well aware that he’s far from being considered an “Obamabot,” and from the beginning of the administration he’s taken a fairly critical yet realistic posture regarding the president, starting with more than a few blog entries about how the stimulus was too small to be truly effective. But now, with just over two years remaining in the Obama years, Krugman has, with very little equivocation, declared Obama’s presidency to be “historically successful.”
Here’s the most salient passage from his new article published in Rolling Stone:
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.
Before digging into the president’s major policy successes, Krugman analyzed the “current wave of Obama-bashing,” suggesting that the criticism from the right is based on pure fiction, while the criticism from the left are difficult to take “seriously.”
There’s a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who ”posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit.” They’re outraged that Wall Street hasn’t been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that ”neoliberal” economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have con- strained even his much more modest efforts. It’s hard to take such claims seriously.
Krugman went on to suggest that the president’s low approval ratings have more to do with polarization than an actual failed presidency, which he makes a convincing case for it to be the exact opposite — a rousing success based on several areas:
—Healthcare reform and Obamacare: “By the time Obama leaves office, there will be tens of millions of Americans who have benefited directly from health reform – and that will make it almost impossible to reverse. Health reform has made America a different, better place.”
—Financial Reform: “But there’s enough evidence even now to say that there’s a reason Wall Street – which used to give an approximately equal share of money to both parties but now overwhelmingly supports Republicans – tried so hard to kill financial reform, and is still trying to emasculate Dodd-Frank.”
—The Economy: “When conservatives accuse Obama of redistributing income, they’re not completely wrong – and liberals should give him credit.”
—The Environment: “As a way to curb green house-gas emissions, these actions, taken together, are comparable in importance to proposed action on power plants.”
Krugman is cautious to note that more can be done on each of these issue areas: “Obama delivered less than his supporters wanted, less than the country arguably deserved, but more than his current detractors acknowledge.” But I would argue that it’s not insignificant that Obama’s major successes occurred at a time when the political discourse is historically toxic. Additionally, the low approval numbers are also symptomatic of the modern presidency in which social media and meme culture controls the message more than any “bully good pulpit” could ever hope to achieve. I simply don’t believe any president will ever be able to maintain popularity (shy of a 9/11-style event) beyond a particular stage, hovering around year five. The new narrative won’t allow it.
Nevertheless, Krugman’s article is both accurate and even-handed. It’s the kind of fair analysis that’s sorely lacking on the right and the left these days.