The presidency is a bit like a baseball season. Players go through streaks and slumps, good days and bad days. Teams rack up wins and losses. It is only over the course of the long season that champions emerge, their record of accomplishment finally coming clear.
As President Obama’s eight years heads into its final stretch, his accomplishments are becoming clear, rising above the daily skirmishes, wins and losses. As the first African American president, Obama was always going to be an historic figure. But increasingly, it is becoming clear that he will be remembered as a significant president not simply for winning office, but for what he accomplished while holding it. The first inklings of the results are reflected in recent polls showing that 50 percent of Americans now think the Obama presidency has been a success – an impressive number given the bitter partisan divides of our politics.
Economically, the president inherited an economy that was in free fall, losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month. Now he presides over an economy that has created 12 million jobs, witnessed the fastest economic growth in a decade, and sets a record each month for the longest consecutive months of jobs growth. And the U.S. recovery has far outstripped that of Europe. And this was accomplished despite the unrelenting obstruction of the Republican opposition that committed itself from day one to opposing every thing Obama attempted.
Health care reform – with the Affordable Care Act reaffirmed once more in the Supreme Court – has provided a big step forward. Some 15 million Americans have gained insurance, even as health care costs have risen at the lowest levels this century. And that despite the fact that partisan opposition led about half of the states to oppose expansion of Medicaid, denying millions from protection.
On the environment, the president is the most important leader since…well, since Nixon. His stimulus plan provided a major boost to renewable energy. He used regulation and executive order – particularly the gas mileage standards and the soon to come carbon emission standards – to boost energy conservation and limit carbon emissions. He will carry a strong hand into the round of climate negotiations in Paris.
On immigration, the Congress has stymied comprehensive reform. But by executive order, the president has provided some hope for the millions left in the margins.
On social issues, the president has been more observer than actor. Yet on his watch, the Supreme Court has ratified gay marriage. After the publicity about police shootings garnered attention, a bipartisan turn against mass incarceration has gained momentum with the Justice Department weighing in.
On economic inequality, President Obama used his bully pulpit to put the issue in the front of the American people. In the budgetary wars, he has succeeded in raising taxes on the rich. He sought, with little success, to increase investment in the most vulnerable. Inequality has grown more extreme on his watch, but any hopes of redressing it were blocked by Republican opposition to any and all efforts to take on the rigged rules that feed the inequality.
On foreign policy, the president’s effort to extricate us from the sectarian wars in the Persian Gulf have been largely frustrated. Troops are going back into Iraq, now to take on the threat posed by ISIS. He has emerged as a defender of presidential prerogatives in national security. His administration has continued to police the world, while deploying drones across the Middle East. By opening relations with Cuba, the president has created the basis for a new start with our neighbors in this hemisphere.
Much, of course, remains to be done. The president remains wedded to the failed trade policies of the past decades. There has been no clear policy for urban development or for targeting the most vulnerable communities. Government has grown more corrupted, not less. Big money dominates our politics more than ever before. The president’s education policy with its emphasis on high stakes testing has been a disappointment.
But this president has faced unprecedented obstruction, insult and venomous hatreds. He has more than survived; he has a record of accomplishment to be proud of. And has forged a potential majority political coalition that could insure – if its members show up at the voting booth – that reform accelerates rather than retreats.
Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is founder and president of the Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition. You can keep up with his work at www.rainbowpush.org