I was thinking retrospectively a little bit the other day. Pretty soon, there's going to be a lot of retrospection on the first term of Obama's presidency, hitting the same high and low points as each other (most likely). So I tried to think, what are the things that happened on his watch that might not make the lists, things that have dropped off the radar? With no further ado, here they are

Biggest Underrated Success

Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal. It's already hard to imagine this was once a very contentious issue because of how matter-of-factly it went away. It'll be impossible to get future generations to believe this was ever a big deal. It's hard even for me to remember it. And yet, this thing was on the knife's edge for two years, and a lot of people thought that it wouldn't happen, even with a 60-vote Democrat majority in the Senate. The attempt to attach it to the NDAA failed, which prompted supporters to try a last-ditch effort to pass DADT repeal as a free-standing bill, which actually worked, and after it was assured of passage the bill actually drew a fair amount of bipartisan support. The most embarrassing episode in retrospect was just-elected Sen. Joe Manchin ducking a vote on the law to "go to a birthday party," which sadly never developed into a meme along the lines of "hiking the Appalachian Trail." Ah well, it passed anyway, despite the vociferous objections of McCain and Graham. Then it truly ended with a whimper. And sometimes, that's what the best kind of victory sounds like.

Biggest Underrated Mistake

Forming the Simpson-Bowles Commission. On the surface this shouldn't have been a big problem: after Congress failed to form a commission on the debt, President Obama created his own. It wasn't binding, but as a PR move and a way to get people talking, no big deal. But the headaches this commission has caused the Obama Administration and Re-Election Campaign have not let up ever since. It started with bad personnel–Alan Simpson was once able to face the voters and get a gig, though that was decades ago and in Wyoming, a state where few people live. Erskine Bowles was only one more election loss away from perennial candidate status in North Carolina. Together they put together a proposal that Obama would have been crazy to endorse, and indeed could not, since no Democrat could vote for significant Social Security cuts and tax cuts for the wealthy without getting primaried with a speed that would make the Tea Party envious. But these guys seem to have seen their goal not as producing a document that Obama could have presented to the public as a realistic starting point on the debt, so much as finding a way to get themselves glowing notices from moderate fiscal-conservative types like Andrew Sullivan, which they did, and these previously-obscure fellows have been fixtures in the debate ever since. They've analogized Social Security to a giant cow (Simpson) and lauded Paul Ryan's ridiculous budget plan (Bowles), playing their moment for all that it's worth. Obama, though, had to face constant attacks from Republicans that he didn't back his own commission's plan, including from Ryan, who also didn't support it. But he also had to carry the baggage of that plan to some extent, he couldn't say it was a dumb plan because he set up the panel and he didn't want to offend opinionmakers like Sullivan. Worst of all worlds.

  1. Matmos says:

    I got the feeling over the past four years that Obama took Truman's line about "it's amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care who take the credit" line to heart.

    • Metavirus says:

      good point.  it's one of the indicia of a quality politician -- quite unlike all the freaking state and local politicians who make their names on government forms bigger than the title (e.g., "ROB BLAGOJEVICH, GOVERNOR.  open road tolling" Signs on Illinois freeways (which cost a few hundred thousand dollars to remove after he was booted out)).  there is also this hilarious sign on this long strech of wasteland along southern la brea avenue in LA (which is a popular alternative route to LAX) with a sign that I first saw 13 years ago that pronouced that YVONNE BRAITHWAITE-BURKE (yes, i still remember her name -- SUCCESS) has graciously sponsored the lovely renovation of the wasteland in the area.  but yet the wasteland remains.  

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