A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds a combined 55% of Americans believe Barack Obama – compared with the past several U.S. presidents – will either go down as one of the very best or be better than most.
Todd Purdum: “It is not too much to say that Obama did for decency in the presidency what only the best of his predecessors have ever done: He and his wife and daughters set an example for good behavior that even many of his political adversaries were forced to concede. He is leaving office seemingly confident that the country that elected him against the historical odds can’t really go wrong, for long.”
“If that promise seems a little less plausible—maybe even a good deal less—than it did when he took the oath of office eight years ago, that’s a short term setback he seems willing to risk. From the moment he first set out on his improbable odyssey, Barack Obama has always played the long game.”
David Leonhardt: “Obama leaves office as the most successful Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt. His effect on the ‘trajectory of America,’ to use his benchmark, was certainly smaller than Roosevelt’s, but is in the same league as Reagan’s. Obama did more while in office, while Reagan better protected his policy changes, thanks to Republican gains in state and congressional elections — and the victory of his chosen successor.”
“When future historians look back on today, they’re likely to come to a similar conclusion. They are also likely to believe that Obama’s vision of America was far superior to Trump’s. After all, a vast majority of Americans born in the last few decades share Obama’s vision. And history is ultimately written by the young.”
“Not since Lincoln has there been a president fundamentally shaped — in his life, convictions and outlook on the world — by reading and writing as Barack Obama,” the New York Times reports.
“Last Friday, seven days before his departure from the White House, Mr. Obama sat down in the Oval Office and talked about the indispensable role that books have played during his presidency and throughout his life — from his peripatetic and sometimes lonely boyhood, when ‘these worlds that were portable’ provided companionship, to his youth when they helped him to figure out who he was, what he thought and what was important.”
“During his eight years in the White House — in a noisy era of information overload, extreme partisanship and knee-jerk reactions — books were a sustaining source of ideas and inspiration, and gave him a renewed appreciation for the complexities and ambiguities of the human condition.”
Associated Press: “It’s unclear whether Obama will sign with Ari Emanuel. But the discussions suggest Obama has been looking to Hollywood for inspiration about ways to engage creatively and on multiple fronts, such as digital media and television. Emanuel didn’t respond to a request for comment.”
“Whatever direction he goes, Obama will not be pressed financially. Obama can expect to fetch an advance of more than $20 million for his book, said Keith Urbahn, a literary agent at Javelin DC who’s handled best-sellers for top political figures.”
Ron Brownstein: “Most analyses overstate the Democrats’ down-ballot losses under Obama because they only start counting after he took office in 2009. That denies him credit for the candidates he helped elect during his resounding first win in 2008. As I’ve written before, the fairest way to measure a president’s impact on his party is to compare its electoral position just before he first appeared on the ballot with its position just after the election to succeed him. That gives the president responsibility for any other officials initially swept in with him, the outcomes during his tenure, and the shadow he casts over the election to replace him.”
“Under that approach, we would measure Obama by comparing the Democrats’ standing after the 2006 election—just before his first race—with its position after November’s contest. Using that standard, Democrats will end the Obama era with 39 fewer House seats (233 to 194), three fewer Senate seats (51 to 48), and 12 fewer governorships (28 to 16).”
“Those losses are formidable, but hardly unique. Parties almost always lose ground elsewhere while they hold the White House.”
James Hohmann notes that every Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt “has left behind a swath of disillusioned lefties when he left office – only to see his image markedly improve among the base after a Republican subsequently took office.”
Bill Clinton is now remembered fondly by Democrats for presiding over a pre-9/11 period of peace and prosperity, but so many liberals were despondent during his tenure about everything from throwing Zoe Baird under the bus at the beginning to pardoning Marc Rich at the end – as well as shepherding through NAFTA, jacking up mandatory minimums, embracing welfare reform and elevating Dick Morris in between.
Jimmy Carter is remembered now for his post-presidency embrace of humanitarian causes. But he almost got defeated by Ted Kennedy, running at him from the left, in the 1980 Democratic primaries. He never pushed comprehensive health care reform, but he did cut capital gains taxes and deregulate the airline and trucking industries.
Obama was often compared negatively by liberals during the last few years to Lyndon Johnson, a wheeler-dealer who successfully cajoled a Congress dominated by segregationists to pass civil rights and voting rights acts. Most seem to forget that he dropped out of contention for the Democratic nomination in 1968 after liberal opposition, driven mainly by Vietnam, metastasized. He also hardly got anything done in his final two years because of Republican gains in the 1966 midterms.
Harry Truman, now venerated as a liberal fighter who gave ‘em hell, watched as more than a million progressives defected to Henry Wallace in 1948 because they were mad about his record on labor and his failure to expand the New Deal.
Out next week: Audacity: How Barack Obama Defied His Critics and Created a Legacy That Will Prevail by Jonathan Chait.
“Over the course of eight years, Barack Obama amassed an array of historic achievements. His administration saved the American economy from collapse, expanded health insurance to tens of millions who previously could not afford it, negotiated an unprecedented nuclear deal with Iran, helped craft a groundbreaking international climate accord, reined in Wall Street, launched a fundamental overhaul of our education system, and formulated a new vision of racial progress. He has done all of this despite a left that frequently disdained him as a sellout, and a hysterical right that did everything possible to destroy his agenda, even in instances when they actually agreed with what he was doing before Obama was the one doing it.”
“Now an elder statesman, Barack Obama is returning to Chicago where he launched his unlikely political career to tell Americans not to lose faith in their future, no matter what they think about their next president,” the AP reports.
“Obama’s final speech as president, before thousands who will gather at McCormick Place, is his last chance to try to define what his presidency meant for America. It’s a fitting bookend to what he started eight years ago. It was in Chicago in 2008 that the nation’s first black president declared victory, and where over the years he tried to cultivate his brand of optimism in American politics.”
McClatchy: “According to a dozen prominent Democrats, Obama is planning a more politically active post-presidency than perhaps any other previous U.S. leader in modern times. He will work to rebuild the beleaguered party, mentor and train young people and plan strategy with Democratic lawmakers, possibly campaigning and raising money.”
Politico: “Trump’s win upended his plans for life after leaving office, and people who’ve been talking to him say he’s been quietly sorting out how to honor the tradition of withholding criticism of his successor as he also considers how best to salvage his legacy and rebuild his party.”
“Already, former aides are revamping Organizing for Action, the group formed out of his old campaign structure. No longer about backing up Obama’s agenda in the White House, it will be a nexus for training activists and candidate recruitment, reshaped both by Trump’s win and some of the factors that contributed to Hillary Clinton’s loss.”
“The most powerful and ambitious Republican-led Congress in 20 years will convene Tuesday, with plans to leave its mark on virtually every facet of American life — refashioning the country’s social safety net, wiping out scores of labor and environmental regulations and unraveling some of the most significant policy prescriptions put forward by the Obama administration,” the New York Times reports.
“Even before President-elect Donald J. Trump is sworn in on Jan. 20, giving their party full control of the government, Republicans plan quick action on several of their top priorities — most notably a measure to clear a path for the Affordable Care Act’s repeal. Perhaps the first thing that will happen in the new Congress is the push for deregulation. Also up early: filling a long-vacant Supreme Court seat, which is sure to set off a pitched showdown, and starting confirmation hearings for Mr. Trump’s cabinet nominees.”
More from the Washington Post: GOP Congress maps sweeping plans for conservative agenda.
Playbook: “Does the Senate cool the House down, by ignoring some of its more aggressive legislation? How much bloodletting will there be over replacing Obamacare? How much does Trump’s infrastructure package shrink, and how long will it take to come to fruition? Will all of Trump’s Cabinet nominees survive? Where do conservatives in the House pick their battles, and can they keep their outsized relevance?”