The Barack Hussein Obama presidency has been more consequential than it looks, Michael Grunwald argues. Wading through the minutiae of the stimulus bill and Department of Energy regulations, Grunwald says the president’s domestic legacy will outlive him:
What he’s done is changing the way we produce and consume energy, the way doctors and hospitals treat us, the academic standards in our schools and the long-term fiscal trajectory of the nation. Gays can now serve openly in the military, insurers can no longer deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions, credit card companies can no longer impose hidden fees and markets no longer believe the biggest banks are too big to fail. Solar energy installations are up nearly 2,000 percent, and carbon emissions have dropped even though the economy is growing. Even Republicans like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who hope to succeed Obama and undo his achievements, have been complaining on the campaign trail that he’s accomplished most of his agenda.
“The change is real,” says Ron Klain, who served as Biden’s White House chief of staff, and later as Obama’s Ebola czar. “It would be nice if more people understood the change.”
Grunwald avoids foreign policy, which isn’t his strength or interest, and notice even this excerpt how he hurries past the consequences of Race to the Top and the mushrooming of the charter school racket and the public career of Arne Duncan, but otherwise it’s a serious appraisal. But:
Healthier school lunches. A ban on “light” cigarettes. Streamlined financial aid forms that take college applicants 20 minutes to complete instead of an hour. Reduced sentencing disparities between crack and powdered cocaine. A popular new competitive grant program called TIGER for innovative transportation projects. Immigration enforcement that prioritizes dangerous felons rather than ordinary families. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act easing gender discrimination lawsuits. New rules requiring fast-food restaurants to post nutritional information. The percentage of student borrowers getting relief through through “income-based repayment” has tripled in just the past two years. George W. Bush’s tax cuts are gone for families earning more than $450,000 a year and permanent for everyone else; Bush’s limits on stem-cell research are gone, too. Medicare will now cover end-of-life planning discussions, a shift that could help ease the pain, as well as the cost, of many American deaths.
I’ve criticized the president a great deal; his foreign policy achieves coherence when he signs orders having a drone vaporize an American accused of sedition and his blameless son. But he has been the most consequential Democratic president of my lifetime. We’re going to get many retrospective pieces in the next twelve months. If anyone could write one, it’s the author of The New New Deal, the only book I’ve read that examines the legislative tumult of 2009 without my fumbling for garbage words like “policy wonk” even when the prose coarsens for the sake of the Chris Matthews claque.