I like Kevin Drum, but I think this is pretty much all wrong.
On the specific issue of the debt ceiling, the obvious thing Obama could have done differently was to insist that it be included as part of the lame duck deal last year. But for all the grief he’s gotten over this, it’s worth keeping in mind that Obama got a helluva lot out of that deal. In the end, he got a food safety bill, passage of the START treaty, a stimulus package, repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and a 9/11 first responders bill. Maybe it would have been worth risking all that over inclusion of a debt ceiling increase, but that’s hardly an open-and-shut case.
What’s more, Obama also won passage during his first two years of a stimulus bill, a landmark healthcare bill that Democrats had been trying to pass for the better part of a century, a financial reform bill, and much needed reform of student loans.
To Steve Benen, all of this makes Obama “the most effective politician since Reagan, and depending on the day, perhaps even the most effective politician since LBJ.”
Obama had three luxuries when he entered office: a mandate at the polls, huge majorities in both houses and a massively unpopular, discredited opposition. So it was a given that he was going to get a lot of bills passed.
But the question isn’t how many “wins” you get or how much stuff you “get done” — the question is, are you making good policy? And the answer with Obama clearly is no.
The president’s first responsibility was fixing the economy — not for the banksters, but for working people — and the stimulus was far too small to do it. Unemployment is still over 9% and the economy may be slipping into a second recession. The stimulus made the Great Recession less damaging, but sorry, that’s cold comfort to millions of voters who are out of work and losing their houses. And other programs that were supposed to help working people like HAMP were a catastrophic failure.
Meanwhile, the health care bill is still broadly unpopular. Why? Because people know they’re going to be forced to buy an increasingly expensive product from a pernicious cartel that they already hate. Will the Affordable Care Act help some people, like those with pre-existing conditions? Absolutely. But again, that doesn’t do much for millions of middle class families struggling to pay their health care bills, which they already can’t afford.
I’m surprised Kevin and Steve didn’t mention Obama’s rescue of the auto industry, because that’s an example where he was bold and made the right call.
But being an effective Democratic president means more than passing a lot of bills. It means making working peoples’ lives better, and it’s hard to argue that Obama’s succeeded at that over the past three years.