It’s too early to come to firm conclusions. But it’s not too early to make preliminary assessments. Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House is not over. But, but it is almost over. So safe to rate the following:
- History will give Obama high marks for character. There is every evidence that he is a man of rectitude.
- History will give Obama high marks for temperament. There is every evidence that he is serious, stable, and psychologically secure.
- History will give Obama high marks for dignity. There is every evidence that he behaved throughout his time in the Oval Office in keeping with the nation’s highest office.
- History will give Obama low marks for interpersonal skills. There is every evidence that he failed to use his considerable personal charm, or even the perks of his presidential office, to firm his domestic political alliances, and, or, to win over his domestic political opposition, most obviously members of Congress.
- History will give Obama low marks for foreign policy. His deeply ingrained reluctance to use American power, or to even threaten to use it, has not served the West well. Moreover, America’s willingness to stand by and do nothing while the catastrophe that is Syria continues to drag on, will forever stain his presidency.
- History will give Obama high marks for domestic policy. Not so much for the passage of legislation – though he has had major legislative victories, including the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank Act – as for his use of executive power. Once Obama realized that if he was to continue to create change, he would have to do so without the benefit of a partnership with Congress, he took the regulatory route – full speed ahead. To quote from the New York Times, once Obama got a taste of it, “he pursued his executive power without apology, and in ways that will shape the presidency for decades to come.”* During his first seven years in office the president finalized 560 major regulations – nearly 50 percent more than did his predecessor during the comparable period. In coming years, Obama’s full-throated embrace of executive power will be seen as a significant extension of the reach of presidential leadership. During a time in which getting followers to go along is a task increasingly onerous, being able to create change without exercising presidential leadership in the traditional sense, will be an option attractive not only to the incumbent, but to his successors as well.
*Binyamin Applebaum and Michael D. Shear, “How the President Came to Embrace Executive Power,” August 14, 2016.