Even if you think it’s too generous to a fault, Paul Glastris’s big piece assessing the Obama presidency is a must-read. His conclusion is that Obama has accomplished more than any president since Lyndon Johnson, but Americans are not prepared to credit him with his accomplishments.
Glastris posits that this is because they are judging him through the prism of their continued suffering amid the ailing economy and Obama’s failure to fix it as fast as we’d all hoped.
Getting reelected, Glastris concludes, is Obama’s only hope of getting a fair judgment of his record from the American people:
One of the most important tasks a president must master — and Obama hasn’t — is speaking up for his own record. This has been especially challenging for him because of the still-widespread economic suffering across the country and the too-soon-to-tell quality of his biggest accomplishments. And again, his even temperament hasn’t helped. He has seemed to want his achievements to speak for themselves. Who wouldn’t? But the presidency doesn’t work that way. A president has to remind the public every day of what he’s already done, why he’s done it, and how those achievements fit into a broader plan that will help them in the future.
With his State of the Union and some subsequent speeches, he has only begun this task. And while it’s very late in the day, the election is still eight months away. The irony is that, while Barack Obama has achieved a tremendous amount in his first term, the only way to secure that record of achievement in the eyes of history is to win a second. And to do that, he first has to convince the American voters that he in fact has a record of achievement.
I’m going to reiterate that Obama’s ability to speak up for his own record, as Glastris puts it, rests almost entirely on whether he can successfully remind the American people of just how awful a situation he inherited. Obama has now begun to do this, as the campaign video he released today demonstrates.
Obama’s overall record simply can’t be judged properly without a clear appreciation of the fact that he inherited the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. If the American people aren’t prepared to factor this into their decision this fall — and this is particularly true if the recovery doesn’t continue accelerating — then Obama very well not get reelected. Obama is one of the best public communicators of our generation, but getting the American people to take the long view of his presidency amid continued economic suffering is going to be a formidable political challenge. His entire legacy may rest on whether he can pull it off.