Not since 1993, when FDR took office at the depth of the Great Depression, has a president confronted such a grave and profound economic crisis on the first day of office. Over that first year, many wanted greater intervention, or less, from his responses to it. But the results are that his policies were more successful than Roosevelt’s. Obama ended the recession, and disengaged the nation out of two foreign wars.
After FDR, President Reagan has long been considered the best modern president for national economic performance. But job creation under President Obama kept unemployment from peaking as high as it did under Reagan. He promoted more people into the workforce than under Reagan. Under Obama, the US has had the best private sector jobs creation performance in modern history. The decline in labour participation rates has been largely due to male and female baby boomers retiring. Sharemarket listings and performance have gone through the roof under Obama.
The federal deficit is down 70%, from $1.4 trillion when he started to $439 billion in 2015.
US taxes are as low or lower than at any point in the last 50 years. Except for the 2% over $400k, who pay more now.
Dependence on foreign oil has shrunk. The US now exports more oil products than it imports. Renewables are seriously challenging coal across many fronts.
At least 20 million more US people now have health insurance than before Obama. Sure, it needs fixing. But the Affordable Healthcare Act built on Hillary Clinton’s efforts, and has been a massive policy breakthrough.
The US currently has fewer soldiers, sailors, and air force in foreign war zones than they did under either of the Bush presidencies. He brought the troops home. He suppressed almost all new domestic terrorism and killed the terrorist super-villain Bin Laden, after near-nationwide panic only a few years earlier. He was spectacularly dove-ish compared to all presidents since Carter.
Obama cut groundbreaking deals on Cuba, Iran, and climate change.
But he didn’t close Guantanamo Bay. Not for lack of trying, but fail mark there.
No meaningful immigration reform was passed. No difference whatsoever on gun control either.
He made valiant but futile attempts to change the political logjam of Washington. It got worse.
But the biggie is racial inequality. The wealth gap between US black and whites has grown. Tension between black people and the police has gone truly bad. The US proved it could elect its first black into what Muhammed Ali called “The Black House”, but overall this didn’t improve the lives of black people particularly in justice issues.
But Obama never promised radical change. He was never in a position to achieve that anyway. What he did do was stop a whole bunch of things from getting worse, and set in place a set of major policies that will continue to pay off for the medium and long term, both domestically and internationally.
He was thoughtful, progressive, rational, super-calm, fact-focussed, and could take and give good jokes. The epitome of campaigning in high poetry, and governing in cold black prose. He was exceedingly well supported by a very, very clever and telegenic First Lady in Michelle Obama. Scandal free, high in delivery, and got better and better. He was highly successful in the economy, in social policy, and in international affairs.
That’s a pretty high benchmark to follow.