Can Obama’s policies survive a Trump regime?

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump greets outgoing President Barack Obama before Trump's Jan. 20 swearing-in as the country's 45th president at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (CNS photo/Rick Wilking, Reuters)
Audacityby Jonathan Chait

Custom House. 272p, $20

After decades of books that described presidential campaigns as thrill rides, in which any bold move or gaffe could prove decisive, political scientists have begun to push back. The fundamentals are what count, they say: debate performances mean little next to the state of the economy and whether voters are tired of the party in power. Audacity, a brisk assessment of Barack Obama’s tenure as president, comes off as a similar exercise in reframing. Jonathan Chait, a columnist for New York magazine, argues that Obama may not have excelled at political spin but “he has accomplished everything he set out to do, and he set out to do an enormous amount”—not only passing a landmark health care law and steering the country away from a “Second Great Depression,” but boosting renewable energy, reforming the federal student loan program and changing American life in all kinds of ways.


Chait writes that Obama succeeded despite Republican obstruction, frequently bad press—he counts at least 19 instances in which pundits claimed that crises such as the BP oil spill would be “Obama’s Katrina,” crippling his presidency—and “despair” from liberals who, Chait writes, wildly overrate the skills of previous Democratic presidents. (The sainted Franklin D. Roosevelt, for example, prolonged the Great Depression by giving in to conventional wisdom and imposing an austerity program.) Barney Frank, the former Democratic congressman known for his pragmatism and candor, has a damning cameo in Audacity, telling the president that Democrats’ loss in a special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts meant that the Affordable Care Act was dead. Time and again, Chait writes, Obama cared more about the fundamentals—enacting policy—than about winning headlines.

The question mark now affixed to Audacity, written before Nov. 8, is the election of Donald J. Trump as president. Obama may have accomplished much by keeping his head down, but if he had devoted more effort to political showmanship, would the Democrats have done better in the 2016 election? Regardless of his influence on public policy, should Obama be docked points for leaving his party worse off? If a large part of Obama’s policies survive the Trump administration, Chait will be able to write the foreword to a new edition of Audacity with vindication. If not, he may have to retitle the book Hubris.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
JR Cosgrove
3 years 5 months ago
If not, he may have to retitle the book Hubris.
One part of the hubris is that Obama steered the country away from a “Second Great Depression." This is nonsense. The economy at the time of the 2008 election had two titles associated with it. One was the "Financial Crisis" and the other was the "Great Recession." The Financial Crisis was over by Thanksgiving just after the election. It was a crisis of liquidity. There were several things done by the Bush administration and the Democratic Congress to make this happen and certainly Obama had no more input than any other member of Congress to these policies. The Bush administration, the market and the economists did not know the Financial Crisis was over at that moment just before Thanksgiving but looking back in time from several months later, they were able to pin point the end of this crisis. Relatively little to do with Obama. The Great Recession which started in early 2008 and lasted into 2009 and was accompanied by a huge drop in the stock market along with massive unemployment and was most certainly exacerbated by the Financial Crisis. Did Obama and his policies do anything to halt the Great Recession. Maybe some with the stimulus program but the recovery from this recession has been the weakest recoveries since the Great Depression. If it wasn't for the fracking revolution providing low priced gasoline and low electricity costs as well as some good jobs, the growth would have probably been anemic. And Obama opposed the fracking. What also helped the economy was the continued innovation coming out of Silicon Valley, again nothing to do with anything Obama did. So yes, definitely hubris, on the economy. We will have to wait on health care. Some of Obama's ideas will remain but how much of the law will persist is a major question at the moment. It is currently in a death spiral but a replacement has not yet been completely formalized and switching from one system to a new one will be complicated if not very difficult. And though not mentioned in the review above does Mr. Chait consider this an achievement for Obama And what about all the chaos in the Middle East, directly attributed to Obama? Also for a different take on Obama's legacy see
Chuck Kotlarz
3 years 5 months ago
Yes, the Federal Reserve, more than Obama, restored confidence in the financial system, but that’s the Federal Reserve’s job. The Obama stimulus needs perspective. Obama spent about $800 billion to pull the US economy out of the Great Recession. From 2004 to 2014, stock buybacks topped $7 trillion to boost capital gains. From 1990 to 2010, about half of all the capital gains went to the wealthiest 0.1 percent. Perhaps a 15% capital gains rate (2003 to 2012) allowed the 400 top earners to hijack the economy for their own enrichment.
Leonard Villa
3 years 5 months ago
"Chait writes that Obama succeeded despite Republican obstruction, frequently bad press" Succeeded? It depends how you define success. Is this success? Obamacare his signature legislation without one Republican vote is imploding and premiums skyrocketing. He left the USA $9,335,000,000,000 deeper in debt. He was the first President never to reach 3% growth GDP. His stimulus stimulated government and deficit spending. 95,000,000 are out of the work force. He destroyed the Democratic party given their losses in the Congress, governors, and local government and now the White House driving traditionally Democratic voters to vote Republican. He made the Clinton campaign a referendum on his own policies to disastrous political results for Democrats.He weakened the military, apologized to America's enemies like Iran, and caved to communists like the Castro's getting nothing in return. He threatened the security of the country with his open borders and his blindness to Islamic terrorism. Republican obstructionism is laughable. In 2008 he had a supermajority in Congress and could do what he wanted! The Republicans even after they regained Congress were afraid of their own shadows and caved to Obama time after time afraid of the media as well. Bad press???? That's probably the most laughable assertion. The press was Pravda-like "in the tank" for the Obama administration. Theirs has for a long time been a double-standard: one for Democrats, the "good guys" and another for Republicans, the "bad guys." This sounds like a book from the ideological bubble that is the mainstream media.
Lisa Weber
3 years 5 months ago

History will judge President Obama's legacy. I think he did well, especially considering that he was left with an economy threatening to crash. History will also judge Donald Trump's legacy. If he is unable to get himself based in reality, his presidency should last a matter of only a few weeks.

Anthony Miller
3 years 4 months ago

I wonder if President Trump will be able to reverse the horrible policies of the Obama Regime.

Had Obama followed the Constitution, and allowed Congress to write the laws rather than using the extra-Constitutional mechanisms such as executive orders, his policies would be much easier to reverse.

As it stands, my guess is when the dust clears, the only thing left of Obama's legacy will be the doubling of the national debt, and some judicial appointments.


The latest from america

Colson Whitehead's award-winning novel is a timely reflection on who gets to write history...and who gets to erase it.
Two recently published books from Oxford University Press address the variegated and multifaced character of sin in the New Testament.
Candida MossJune 26, 2020
His vivid firsthand experiences on the job as a police officer are recounted extensively in Adam Plantinga's new book.
Deniz DemirerJune 26, 2020
Leslie Woodcock Tentler's new book is both a rigorous and laudable effort to cure American Catholics of the illusion that our desires have no history.