Maybe it's pretty good.
Barack Obama is the most accomplished progressive President since Lyndon Johnson when you sit down and look at the record of his first term.
Sure it's not the social democracy I'd like to see. I continue to have big problems with his expansion of the national security state and all the lawlessness that comes with it. But the rest is real accomplishment.
The Affordable Care Act is a muddled compromise thought up by the Heritage Foundation, including the much reviled mandate. It is various conservative initiatives strung together to somehow get close to universal coverage without going so far as providing actual national health insurance and becoming one of those awful European welfare states.
Robert Frank points out that this may have been a necessary compromise given that most Americans get their health insurance through their employers. I would be delighted to see that system end. Why should employers be obliged to insure workers? A universal medicare system would do the same thing much better at far less expense to employers and employees. Implementing such a change would be a major disruption that most Americans would not tolerate. I would favor phasing it in as a fall-back option, as Obama originally did during the 2008 campaign, and as most progressives wanted. But we Yanks are a selfish people. If someone else gets something, it means we are losing something else, so we reason. I doubt any politician, no matter how great, could get past that block. The ACA may be the best we can get ... for the time being.
Conservative muddle that it is, it is the most significant and far reaching progressive legislation in almost 50 years, since the Medicare Act of 1965.
Obama brought a measure of law and order into the student loan business by taking the banks out of it. It's way short of what I'd like to see, public education from pre-K to post-doc. But, it is a tremendous step in the right direction that at least brings a measure of reliability to the whole business of student debt.
I think something else that goes unheralded is Obama's foreign policy.
It is a standing rebuke to the unilateralism of Bush/Cheney. The invasion of Iraq was a unilateral action of the USA based on false (and maybe falsified) intelligence. Throwing out Saddam Hussein led to years of bloody civil war and sectarian strife with the Iran-backed Shiites emerging as the winners.
Libya was a multilateral action involving Europe and other Arab states. The Libyan people took the initiative. The USA played only a partial role. Muamar Gaddafi, a tyrant coddled by the oil industry for decades, fell. Libya was hardly a perfect or even a model operation, but it was far more successful than the Iraq invasion.
We're still in Afghanistan, and the reliance on assassin drones raises a lot of legal and moral questions. The intended targets of these hits do indeed have every intention of causing as much harm to the USA and its people as possible. Neutralizing them would be a top security priority for any president. Taking them out with a drone may be the most expedient way of doing things, but is it the right way? Those choices of expediency over morality and legality have a historic habit of coming back to bite us. The "collateral damage" of civilian deaths should be reason enough to rethink the policy.
It goes without saying that when it comes to gay rights, Obama is the best President we've ever had, taking the lead on these issues.
All of these things were done in the face of a hostile press, and later a hostile Congress.
The right wing may have the energy of frothing at the mouth spittle flecked rage, but Obama has some deeply loyal constituents in minority communities. A lot of not so white people never thought they'd see a President of the United States who looked like them.
I think what is driving all the division is some people freaking out over the fact that the face of power and authority is no longer exclusively white, male, and elderly.
I've always said that ultimately politics is not about ideology. It's about doing concrete things for real people. I can't think of anyone who embodies that better than Obama right now. We all have our guiding principles. Politics gives us a chance to act upon them and to realize them however imperfectly.
All the pundits bemoan the partisanship in Washington these days and pine for some lost golden age of civility and cooperation (tell it to Lyndon Johnson). Washington is divided because the country is divided, and sharply so. People are angry because the stakes are high. We are split between two competing and incompatible visions of the USA: America the white Christian republic versus America the cosmopolitan secular democracy. My loyalty is definitely to the latter.