Let us now praise Barack Obama. For if he loses on Nov. 6, he will lose for the same reason he would have won — because of his very real, very substantial, and very consequential achievements.
Mitt Romney has based his bid to replace the president on the very simple argument that Obama is a failure — the economy is mired in the doldrums, fewer Americans are working today than in 2009, and job growth has lagged. Obama, Romney says, doesn’t know how to fix what is broken, but Romney does.
It’s a powerful argument, and it may win Romney the presidency, but it’s actually beside the point. If you look at Obama’s presidency not as a denizen of Twitter, focused on the minute-by-minute, but rather with a historian’s eye, you can see it wasn’t about those things at all.
Obama’s presidency hasn’t been dedicated to achieving economic growth in the short term, or about creating jobs.
Those would have been desirable for political reasons, of course. But he was after bigger game. His presidency has been about something larger and grander — and far more disturbing to those who don’t share his implicit sense of what America ought to be.
In his first 16 months as president, from his inauguration through the signing into law of ObamaCare, Obama arguably altered the trajectory of the United States in a manner that neither Mitt Romney (should he become president) or the president who succeeds Obama after his second term concludes in 2017 will find easy to redirect — if he or she even wishes to.
In the first place, there was Obama’s liberation from certain practical limits that would have stymied a less ambitious new leader.
By the time Obama came into office, Washington had already agreed over a period of a few weeks to a $700 billion government infusion into the world banking system. Nothing of the sort had ever been done before, and it was done spit spot with very little national debate.
That TARP program utterly changed the terms of the Washington debate about the economic crisis and the nature of the government’s role, especially since its colossal size barely slowed its rapid adoption into law. The voices raised against it were basically dismissed as being on the fringe. The system needed an expression of confidence and an explosion of liquidity.
When Obama was inaugurated, he and his team had an insight — though whether the insight was conscious or not I don’t know. But it was this: The TARP $700 billion price tag was a new kind of model. Because it got through Congress with so little controversy and was signed into law by a Republican president, TARP gave this new Democratic president who spoke forthrightly about his liberalism and his belief in the curative powers of government serious running room.
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