Barack Obama’s Place in Progressive History
Granted I’m a huge O-bot and all, but I really think Jon Chait is significantly understating himself here:
Let me offer a ludicrously premature opinion: Barack Obama has sealed his reputation as a president of great historical import. We don’t know what will follow in his presidency, and it’s quite possible that some future event–a war, a scandal–will define his presidency. But we do know that he has put his imprint on the structure of American government in a way that no Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson has.
It’s of course possible that an unpopular war or scandal or something could diminish Obama’s historical narrative, but it’s worth pointing out that, bad as Vietnam was, it didn’t really diminish LBJ’s legacy so much as it diminished the affinity liberals feel for him today. But Vietnam notwithstanding, Johnson is still the President who helped shepherd the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and the rest of the Great Society’s social welfare programs through Congress, and played a substantial role in breaking the hold Southern racists held on Congress as an institution. So far as 20th century Presidents go, Johnson is easily amongst the top 3 in terms of lasting consequence, along with FDR and Teddy Roosevelt (you could throw Reagan in the mix too, but he left office less than 25 years ago, so you’d expect to see some lasting effects from hs policies, even if they’re mostly forgotten 25 years from now). Given out habit of attributing major legislative victories to Presidents, Barack Obama has just achieved a sweeping reform of the health insurance market that rationalizes the individual market, provides coverage to some 30 million previously uninsured, and provides basic consumer protections to everyone. It is easily the most monumental piece of social policy legislation since 1965, and it guarantees that, no matter what happens, Barack Obama’s Presidency will be a major point in the arc of progressive advancement in the United States.