The Washington Post

Obama's Second Term Challenge: A Lasting Legacy

According to Gallup, only two out of the seven two-term presidents who have served since World War II have achieved higher approval ratings in their second term than in their first term: Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Today, President Obama’s approval ratings stand at 56 percent, up from his average first-term rating of 49 percent. One question is: Will he join Reagan and Clinton and enjoy higher approval ratings over the next four years?  But perhaps better questions are: Does this kind of popularity matter at all? And does it make the president more effective?

The truth is that President Obama already has a significant place in the history books as the first African American president of the United States. But will his legacy encompass anything more? His allies might point to Obamacare as the president’s signature achievement, but Obamacare is not a legislative victory in the same way as, say, the big legislative triumphs that Lyndon Johnson accomplished. The president’s health-care legislation has not only caused extreme divisiveness, but ita also has not proven to be beneficial for Americans thus far. 

Obama’s legacy may turn out to be what he has done to explode our national debt. Currently, the U.S. national debt is $16.4 trillion dollars, up from $10.6 trillion when he took office in 2009. Our debt is currently approximately 70 percent of GDP, and our economy is being stifled by Obama’s spending problem, whether he denies it or not. 

Starting the day after the inauguration, power flows out of the White House. Obama already lacks influence in Congress, and he is not adept at channeling the popularity he has in the polls into solid relationships in Congress. Democrats seeking office in the 2014 midterm elections will not be running on a platform of loyalty to Obama and the Obama administration’s agenda. Everyone knows that he is headed for the door.  And Obama’s dismissive attitude toward even his supporters in Congress makes it likely that he will be ignored more and more frequently as his second term progresses.

So Obama’s popularity, even if he manages to maintain his high approval ratings, may not mean that his legacy will be more than a momentous landmark in America’s racial history. Popularity for popularity’s sake is just a political sugar cube, and unless he uses it to create something tangible and new, it doesn’t appear that this president will have a positive, substantive legacy.

Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.

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