Obama on the Home Front: Domestic Policy Triumphs and Setbacks

Obama on the Home Front: Domestic Policy Triumphs and Setbacks

Obama on the Home Front: Domestic Policy Triumphs and Setbacks

Obama on the Home Front: Domestic Policy Triumphs and Setbacks


The record of any American President attracts attention, but Barack Obama, the first African-American president in the nation's 240-year history, is of special interest. Obama came into office as the economy was careening into the worst downturn since the Great Depression. On the political front, he would be challenged by the intense congressional polarization faced by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, exacerbated by the rise of the Tea Party movement. In this comprehensive assessment of domestic policymaking, John D. Graham considers what we may learn from the Obama presidency about how presidents can best implement their agendas when Congress is evenly divided. What did Obama pledge to do in domestic policy and what did he actually accomplish? Why did some initiatives succeed and others fail? Did Obama's policies contribute to the losses experienced by the Democratic Party in 2010 and 2014? In carefully documented case studies of economic policy, health care reform, energy and environmental policy, and immigration reform, Graham asks whether Obama was effective at accomplishing his agenda. Counterfactuals are analyzed to suggest ways that Obama might have been even more effective than he was and at less political cost to his party. This book builds on Graham's well-received analysis in Bush on the Home Front, elaborating and applying a theory of presidential effectiveness in a polarized political environment.


From 2001 to 2006 I served President George W. Bush in the Executive Office of the President as a Senate-confirmed official in the us Office of Management and Budget (OMB). My role, dubbed “regulatory czar” by the New York Times, was to oversee the regulatory, statistical, and information-policy functions of the federal government. in this capacity, officially known as administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), I supervised a staff of fifty career civil servants and collaborated with the key White House offices, including the president and vice president, on virtually every domestic policy issue from homeland security to environmental protection.

One of the lessons I drew from my rewarding experience inside the government is that the power of the president to shape public policy on domestic matters, while substantial, is quite constrained. That was the intention of the framers of the Constitution, but the informal powers of the presidency grew enormously in the twentieth century, creating the so-called imperial presidency.

A new development has accentuated the limitations of presidential power: the polarization of the Congress on party lines. America has gone through several bouts of intense polarization in its history, but the current one has lasted longer and affected more issues than the previous ones. It appears that there is no end in sight, meaning that future presidents are also likely to govern under conditions of polarization along party lines.

As President Barack Obama’s two-term presidency comes to a close, I am struck by a disheartenin called “piling on,” but in politics there is . . .

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