Obama Best Democratic President Since LBJ?

How do President Obama's accomplishments stack up from a liberal standpoint?

Kevin Drum assesses President Obama’s record in light of yesterday’s passage of financial regulatory reform:

Here’s the good news: this record of progressive accomplishment officially makes Obama the most successful domestic Democratic president of the last 40 years. And here’s the bad news: this shoddy collection of centrist, watered down, corporatist sellout legislation was all it took to make Obama the most successful domestic Democratic president of the last 40 years. Take your pick.

In any case, I think this probably marks the end of Obama’s major legislative agenda. I don’t give Congress much chance of passing a climate bill, and after the midterms the Democratic majority will either be gone or significantly reduced, making large-scale legislation just about impossible.

I tend to agrees.  The only significant domestic initiative I could see passing at this stage is some sort of regulatory correction in light of the BP oil spill disaster, and even that’s likely to be relatively modest.

But, yes, Obama has moved the dial much more than Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter, the only other Democratic presidents since Richard Nixon took office in 1969.    The former was a very effective president for the middle four years or so of his administration and the latter something of a failure, but neither were liberal firebrands and, more importantly, neither of them had the sort of crises to leverage that Obama has.

For comparison, though, go back to the Democrat before Nixon:   Lyndon Johnson was much more successful at moving the country in a progressive direction, what with the Great Society programs, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.   That simply blows away health insurance reform, financial regulatory reform, and the stimulus boondoggle.    LBJ’s reforms were not only more significant but more cost effective.

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. just me says:

    Well as much as the right wanted to paint Bill Clinton into the super left leaning liberal corner, I think Clinton was always an honest centrist. I think some liberal polticians swing to the center to keep support but their heart isn’t really in the center, but I think that was Clinton’s natural inclination. So I think Clinton with even a democratic congress was unlikely to go too far to the left.

    I think Obama’s natural resting place is much to the left of Clinton, and he was also lucky enough to have a large democratic majority to push his ideas through. Obama had a perfect storm to get things he wanted through congress, Clinton never had that kind ability and I am not even sure he would have been on board with some of what Obama is on board with other than probably healthcare.

  2. Tano says:

    Hmmm. Thats the first time that I have heard a relatively conservative person refer to the Great Society programs as “cost effective”.

    And don’t you think it might be a tad premature to compare these to the health care bill, which has barely begun to take effect, or the financial regulatory reforms, which have not even been signed into law yet?

  3. Brummagem Joe says:

    Interesting take on Johnson. I agree that along with FDR, he’s the most significant Democratic and domestic president of the 20th century although his record is obscured by the Vietnam war. Obama has definitely moved the dial more than any Democratic president since although the shift as of now does not appear to be anywhere near as great but it’s probably way to early to render a verdict since when these programs become embedded they take on a life of their own. But even if the preliminary verdict proves correct little if any of it is ever going to be repealed whatever Boehner says so his mark will be permanent. And the stimulus was not a boondoggle. Without it we’d probably have bled at least another million jobs, many at the state level, and GDP growth would not have resumed in the second half of 2009.

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    While disengaging from Iraq, escalating in Afghanistan, and saving the country from an epic meltdown that threatened outright depression, Obama accomplished the health reform no previous president has managed, and now major financial reform, while faced with an implacably nihilist opposition that had, under its control, exploded the deficit and destroyed American credibility around the globe.

    For bonus points Mr. Obama replaces two old liberal Supremes with two younger ones. And apparently saves GM. And rocks Al Qaeda back on its heels with relentless drone attacks.

    That’s the first 19 months.

    This, by the way, is the president that the Right insists is “in over his head,” and “unprepared.”

    Meanwhile, the conservative candidate who opposed Mr. Obama, John McCain, suffers a complete loss of credibility and honor as he actually repudiates himself while desperately clinging to power. And the GOP’s vice presidential candidate validates every sneer she earned earlier by abandoning her governorship and chasing dollars-from-dimwits.

  5. Brummagem Joe says:

    “dollars-from-dimwits.”

    I wish I’d coined that phrase. Yeah but he didn’t don a wetsuit and dive down and shut off the leak. A total fail on his part, then he made it worse by shaking down BP for 20 billion.

  6. Juneau: says:

    While disengaging from Iraq, escalating in Afghanistan, and saving the country from an epic meltdown that threatened outright depression, Obama accomplished the health reform no previous president has managed,

    Disengaging from Iraq – already planned when he took office

    Escalating in Afghanistan – already planned when he took office (Obama’s contribution consists of under-manning and hamstringing the troops by imposing ridiculous ROEs)

    Saving the country from an epic meltdown – you, Obama, and Obama’s kool-aid kids are the only one’s who think this. You certainly can’t show he’s had a positive impact in any substantive, measurable way.

    Yah, he’s done just a smashing job – if you want fear, uncertainty, and distrust to be spread throughout the country.

  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    Juneau:

    You know, combining ignorance of the basic facts with a seething rage no doubt makes you a perfect Tea Partier, but it doesn’t make you seem very bright to anyone else.

  8. Juneau: says:

    Reynolds:

    Ignorance of the facts is your shortcoming, not mine. A discerning observer might garner that from the complete lack of any “basic” facts contained in your reply. That’s understandable though… being a cheerleader is all about enthusiasm, not about the fact that your quarterback has two left feet and can’t throw his way out of a wet paper sack. What’s important is that you’re in their corner, whether they deserve it or not.

    Second, accusing me of demonstrating “seething rage” is meaningless and silly – not to mention a purely subjective interpretation on your part.

    Third, your opinion of me is also meaningless. I don’t worry about the opinions of racist and bigoted people.

  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    Don’t get me wrong Juneau: I like you and the rest of los tres pinheados. You serve a very useful function: you drain the life out of intelligent conservatives like the bloggers here at OTB. Again and again, over and over, you make the point that they now find themselves not on the “intellectual” team, but on the “moron” team.

    This cannot help but make them sad. After all, they joined the GOP that was “the party of ideas.” Not the GOP that is the party of furious imbeciles.

    People like Joyner and Mataconis and the rest actually belong with us. They are temperamentally, intellectually, socially much closer to us liberals. Yes, they disagree with people like Anjin, or Personna, or me, but they cannot help but have a curled-lip contempt for so-called conservatives who can’t even argue the facts but can only rage and seethe and jerk their Beck-programmed knees.

    You and the rest of the teabaggers are our secret weapon. We’re actually going to get Harry Reid re-elected, thanks to people like you.

  10. Juneau: says:

    You and the rest of the teabaggers are our secret weapon. We’re actually going to get Harry Reid re-elected, thanks to people like you.

    First of all, use of the term “teabaggers” speaks volumes about your lack of class and your inability to think apart from your liberal minders. It is also quite illuminating about the quality of your judgement when it comes to what constitutes your idea of “intellectual” discussion. In short, try to keep the conversation above the level of your belt, hmmm?

    You haven’t got the first clue what “people like me” are about, because you are a cloud-dancer. Cloud-dancers are folks who like to flit around societal and political issues, like little fairies with gossamer wings on their slippers. You chew and snort about the pros and cons of daily events measured through the prism of your defunct political philosophy. Everything is relative to you except your hatred of conservative values.

    Ultimately, you couldn’t be more wrong. Because in the end, none of it makes any difference. Harry Reid might – stress might- even win this November. But… this November, or November 2012, or November 2014 – whatever. Your side can no longer win because “people like me” will not stop, will not be quiet any longer, and we no longer believe the bullshit put forth by the “Party of the little people.”

    You’ve already lost. You just don’t know it yet.

  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    Juneau:
    That’s right, it’s 2010 and the future belongs to rustic ignoramuses. Yep.

  12. Juneau: says:

    Reynolds:

    Do not mistake reticence, and an unwillingness to compromise any longer, for ignorance. What eloquence on my part would change your perspective? What illustration, what historical reflection, or what example of the completely bankrupt notions promoted by the left would convince you that my positions have merit? The answer, of course, is none. So… why bother with niceties, when I now witness the power-corrupted, double-standards, and hypocrisy of the liberal cause on a daily basis.

    What should really give you pause for thought is that I don’t even identify particularly closely with the tea party. Nor do the many, many people I come into contact with throughout my days, that feel much the same way I do.

  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    Juneau:

    Dude: you’re wrong. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You said, Escalating in Afghanistan – already planned when he took office (Obama’s contribution consists of under-manning and hamstringing the troops by imposing ridiculous ROEs)

    Factually incorrect. In fact, utterly ignorant.

    As everyone who actually follows the news knows, Obama took months — the GOP accused him of taking too much time — considering his strategy in Afghanistan. The escalation was not underway. It was Obama’s move, for better or worse.

    Obama does not set ROE. McChrystal did. It was inherent to McChrystal’s strategy, his entire approach to war. He was a special forces guy, remember?

    So you are just factually wrong. Not wrong about some obscure detail, wrong about something that was played out very publicly for months.

    You don’t know a goddamned thing about politics or policy. It’s all just an excuse for you to express incoherent rage. And that fact is obvious every time you write some irrational, rage-fueled comment. You know nothing. You’re completely uninformed.

  14. Juneau: says:

    “Factually incorrect. In fact, utterly ignorant. As everyone who actually follows the news knows, Obama took months — the GOP accused him of taking too much time — considering his strategy in Afghanistan.”

    No sir. He took months contemplating the requested troop level escalation. The initial requests had already been on the table when he took office. They were just updated.
    (Besides, do you realize that by claiming this is Obama’s initiative, you’re stating that it was somehow up for grabs on whether or not Afghanistan would be abandoned as Iraq wore down?)

    Source: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/12/02/rumsfeld-rejects-obama-claim-troop-requests-denied-afghanistan/

    Quoted text: “Throughout this period, our troop levels in Afghanistan remained a fraction of what they were in Iraq,” Obama said. “Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive.”

    Further: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs explained Wednesday that Obama was referring to requests that CAME IN DURING 2008 [emphasis added]

    Obama does not set ROE. McChrystal did.

    Wrong again. McCrystal’s ROE instructions were changed as a result of pressure from the adminstration due to the perception of too many civilian casualties. Please see below:

    Source: http://dailycaller.com/2010/07/13/experts-question-very-restrictive-rules-of-engagement-in-afghanistan/

    Quotes: In June, Strategy Page, a military affairs news site, reported that NATO forces in Afghanistan had reduced civilian casualties caused by foreign troops 44%, civilian injuries 52%, and civilian casualties caused by air strikes by 82%.

    Further: McChrystal changed the ROE in Afghanistan in 2009 amid concern that too many Afghan civilians were dying.

    And finally: According to Strategy Page, “The ROE change was partly in response to POPULAR (or at least MEDIA) anger at civilians killed by American smart bombs.” The report continued, “Now American commanders have to decide who they shall respond too; Afghan civilians asking for relief from Taliban oppression, or Taliban influenced media condemning the U.S. for any Afghan civilians killed, or thought to be killed, by American firepower.” [emphasis added]

    Do you seriously think that McCrystal was reading the news on a daily basis to determine how he should prosecute the war?

    You don’t know a goddamned thing about politics or policy.

    It appears that I am a bit more aware of them than you are. How’s that liberal tolerance thing working for you?

  15. Brummagem Joe says:

    Juneau: says:
    Saturday, July 17, 2010 at 02:41
    “Factually incorrect. In fact, utterly ignorant. As everyone who actually follows the news knows, Obama took months — the GOP accused him of taking too much time — considering his strategy in Afghanistan.”

    You obviously prefer impetuous hip shooting to prolonged consideration of difficult problems where making serious mistakes can be costly. But hell it’s only guys lives you’re putting on the line.