The lineage of the term Obamacare pretty much tells you all you need to know about how history will view President Barack Obama. That is to say, what his legacy will be.
In a (relatively) short five years, Obamacare has morphed from having a Republican-driven derogatory connotation to being an appropriate honorific for the man who against formidable odds has finally brought meaningful reform to a vastly dysfunctional sector of the economy. Or more precisely, made a damned good start despite an obdurate opposition party that continues to believe that providing affordable health care to the poor and middle class violates Americans' "freedom and liberty".
Legacies are, of course, in the eyes of the beholder. While few people would begrudge George Washington and Abraham Lincoln their legacies as great presidents, the tenures of Richard Nixon and even Franklin Delano Roosevelt are too recent. And George W. Bush's is still too raw.
Nixon's legacy is mixed because beyond his constitutional criminality and stealth war in Cambodia were some notable accomplishments, including environment-friendly initiatives and laws, ending the draft and signing Title IX, while FDR will long be skewered by conservatives as the father of Social Security and big government and not for shepherding the U.S. through the Great Depression and leading the charge in beating back fascism.
Beyond Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act and now twice upheld by the Supreme Court, the president's greatest legacies -- amidst innumerable vicissitudes -- may be to show that big government can work in an era when Washington is widely distrusted, if not detested, as well as his willingness to engage in costly political fights from the day he took office. Although not necessarily always the right ones, mind you.
People who naïvely believed Obama could settle the issue of race in America are bound to be disappointed, his tour de force eulogy in Charleston notwithstanding. But isn't it a hoot that his legacy and that of Supreme Court Chief John G. Roberts Jr. are likely to be intertwined although they represent opposite ends of the political spectrum.
What impact might George W. Bush have on Obama's legacy?
While Dubya left a hell of a mess and Obama cleaned up much of it, including dragging the nation out of recession and presiding over the most robust job growth in 15 years, as well as ending a war or two, historians are not likely to factor in those things in assessing Obama's legacy. I tend to agree.
It is bemusing that Obama's foes continue to paint him as unpatriotic when his love of country has been so obvious and his commitment to public service -- from Southside Chicago community organizer to the first African-American president -- has been a constant in his life. Both are guaranteed legacy builders as our more immediate memories fade with the passage of time.
When Obama commented on the iffy chances of the ACA passing on the eve of the make-or-break 2010 Senate vote, he quoted Lincoln in saying "I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true." And when his signature achievement survived another near-death experience in the Supreme Court last week, he noted "That's when America soars, when we look out for one another, when we take care of each other. That’s why we do what we do. That’s the whole point of public service."
FEARING THE TRUMP BUMP
Donald Trump is the best thing to happen to the Democratic Party since . . . well, George W. Bush.
Although the celebrity gadzillionaire has no chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination, his loud mouth is been increasingly viewed by GOP insiders is a serious obstacle to taking back the White House.
"Donald Trump is like watching a roadside accident," said former Dubya press secretary Ari Fleischer. "Everybody pulls over to see the mess. And Trump thinks that's entertainment. But running for president is serious. And the risk for the party is he tarnishes everybody."
Trump is in eighth place among Republicans, according to the RealClearPolitics' average of national polls. That puts him ahead of so-called serious presidential wannabes like former Texas Governor Rick Perry and Governors Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Chris Christie of New Jersey, as well as former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. That also likely qualifies him for the first two GOP debates, which means taking away face time from so-called more serious candidates like Jeb Bush . . . er, Jeb!
Fleischer, who backs Bush the Younger and is a co-author of a Republican National Committee report on why the party got clobbered in the 2012 presidential election, said Trump embodies all of the party's problems with nonwhite voters.
"He's irresponsible, he's divisive, he's hurtful,” Fleischer said, inadvertently describing exactly why the GOP continues to marginalize itself nationally.
Trump has no intention of letting up on the personal attacks on other candidates and has eschewed the advice of advisers who want him to dump the vitriol, executive jets and helicopters and present a, shall we say, more humble image to voters.
"They [other candidates] should be worried about Donald Trump," declared campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Indeed, Trump's capacity to say outrageous things seems to have no limit, like blaming Jeb Bush for the Supreme Court decision validating same-sex marriage.
He reasons (pardon the term) that Bush, as Florida governor, helped his brother steal the 2000 election, his brother then nominated John Roberts to head the Supreme Court, and even though Roberts was on the dissenting side of the gay marriage decision, it's Jeb's fault anyhow.
A LITTLE HELP, PLEASE
I have written that the Republicans seem to have a limitless capacity to bite themselves in the ass by staking out positions that come back to haunt them, whether in governance, in court decisions as we have recently seen, and at the ballot box in national elections. The modern-day GOP surely isn't the first political entity to have a franchise of short-sightedness, but I cannot think of a comparable situation in American political history. Can you?
I'd appreciate your help and insight for a future post on the subject. You can leave a comment or email me at email@example.com. Thank you in advance.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968. Click here for an index of previous Politix Updates.
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