Today is the inauguration and the beginning of President Obama’s second term in office.
Ralph Nader, for one, isn’t impressed with inaugurations. As he noted Sunday:
“Tomorrow I’ll watch another rendition of political bulls—- by the newly reelected president, full of promises that he intends to break just like he did in 2009.”
Nader might be a bit harsh in his evaluation. I doubt that President Obama assumed office in 2009 with the intention to break his promises. More likely, he issued his promises to build a coalition and did so before he fully understood the intrinsic complexities of the issues and the limitations of the office. In the end, there are distinct limits to what a president can achieve given our system of separate institutions sharing powers. Certainly, President Obama seems to have had distinct difficulties with Congress, even when there was unified Democratic control (e.g., health care, Dodd-Frank, climate change). Whether this was a product of his inexperience or his management style is the subject of ongoing debate. Certainly, things have only become more difficult in the post-2010 period with the GOP in charge of the House. The sluggishness of the recovery (in part a product of public policy and regime uncertainty) has imposed its own set of constraints.
This weekend, Ed O’Keefe provided his assessment of the past four years (WaPo), comparing the campaign promises of 2008 with the performance record. His assessment:
- Afghanistan: partially achieved
- Iraq: achieved
- Climate change: incomplete
- Health care overhaul: partially achieved
- Guantanamo Bay: failed
- The economy: failed
- Transparency/government openness: partially achieved
- Making government “cool again”: incomplete
- United States’ standing in the world: partially achieved
- Financial overhaul: partially achieved
- Breaking the partisan logjam: failed
- Supreme Court appointments: achieved
I would issue a somewhat harsher evaluation of Afghanistan, climate change, transparency and the financial overhaul. Beyond these items, I would make more of the expansive use of drones and the carnage it has created for civilian populations (apparently, we mourn only the innocent children killed within our own borders).
Looking to the future, my guess is that some of the promises of the past will be recycled. Others (gun control, immigration) will rise to the top. The constraints imposed by our fiscal problems and the economy will continue to impose limits, both in terms of new spending programs and their crowding out other items on the policy agenda. All in all, I can’t imagine that there will be much of a legacy emerging out of the next four years.
Do any Pileus readers want to issue their own assessment of the past four years?
Any predictions of what the next four years will hold?