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Obama's Exaggerated Political Death

History is likely to judge Barack Obama's tenure as president a success.
History is likely to judge Barack Obama's tenure as president a success.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” Mark Twain said in 1897 upon publication of his obituary in a New York paper. He lived another thirteen years.

Barack Obama might say the same about reports of his political death.

Pundits and politicians have been writing the president’s political obituary for some time now, claiming he is an ineffective president who can’t get Congress to approve his agenda and an incompetent leader presiding over a disastrous foreign policy. In a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 54 percent of respondents said the president is no longer “able to lead the country and get the job done.” NBC’s Chuck Todd commented, “This Poll is a disaster for the president. Essentially, the public is saying ‘your presidency is over.’” Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio told Sean Hannity of Fox News, “I agree with that.”

“Whether it’s foreign policy, or the issue on the border, or the VA, or the IRS losing its emails or Benghazi before that, it seems like every day now, every other day, there’s a new crisis,” Rubio said. “It’s almost like we’re overwhelmed by the number of crises, conflicts that are arising as a result of the incompetence and in some instances design of this administration.”

Instant analysis may be instant, but it’s often not very analytical. And while journalism may be the first draft of history, it’s only a draft. History requires a longer view, one not available to contemporary critics.

The pundits and the politicians and the public should take a deep breath. Barack Obama’s presidency may be battered, but it’s not over. The results in the recent NBC/WSJ poll were similar to other polls in the last half year; they hardly constitute a “disaster.” The real issue over Obama’s popularity is whether he will drag Democrats down in November. The same poll found that the public favors, by a slight margin, Democrats over Republicans to control Congress. (They won’t, because of gerrymandering, but that’s another article.)

For the longer view of history, look at Obama’s domestic record. Healthcare reform, his signature achievement, has overcome its rocky start and is a stunning success; it will not be reversed when he leaves office, no matter who wins the White House. The president’s actions on the environment are the most important in decades. Obama reversed the financial slide of the last years of his predecessor’s failed presidency, and during his tenure millions of jobs have been added. Financial reform, though not as sweeping as progressives wanted, still has placed significant curbs on the excesses of Wall Street and the big banks.

True, the president has not delivered on immigration reform and restructuring of tax policy, among other promises. But is that his fault? History is likely to say no, pinning the blame on obstructionist Republicans in Congress who would rather see the nation suffer than accord the president a success by doing the right thing.

Much of the current Obama-bashing stems from recent foreign policy crises. The president did not prevent Putin’s illegal seizure of Crimea; he failed to avert the horrific blood-letting in Syria; and Iraq is splitting into three pieces on his watch.

No less an expert that Dick Cheney says, “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.” This from the former vice president who assured the nation that American troops will “be greeted as liberators” by the Iraqis and who so confidently asserted that Saddam Hussein’s regime harbored weapons of mass destruction and cooperated with al-Qaeda.

On Iraq, Cheney criticizes the president for not leaving behind “residual American forces” in 2011, conveniently forgetting that it was the government of Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki that refused to accept the presence of American troops.

Yes, Iraq may fragment into Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish regions. Not an ideal solution, but perhaps a practical one to the crisis caused by the Bush-Cheney illegal invasion of the country and a solution no worse than the artificial borders drawn by the British and the French following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Europe in the 21st century has achieved a degree of stability because, for the most part, ethnic and religious groups now have a country of their own, a result of the horrors of the previous century which began with the cataclysm of the First World War, witnessed the untold sufferings and the genocide of the Second, and ended with ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.

As for the rest, there is only so much the United States and its president can do. Stop Putin? Short of a military intervention, how? Stop Syria’s Assad? Congress wouldn’t go along with the president’s plans. Failed to achieve a Mideast peace? Well, no one else ever succeeded.

What about Benghazi? Countless congressional probes have failed to document administration wrongdoing; new investigations won’t find what the previous ones could not. The Bergdahl-Taliban trade? What president would not have made it?

Republicans are quick to criticize all things Obama. But partisan attacks do not constitute analysis or historical insight.

No one knows for sure what the sober view of historical perspective will be on President Obama, but here’s betting the Obama administration will look pretty good in the rearview mirror.

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