Obama at the Crossroads: Politics, Markets, and the Battle for America's Future

By Lawrence R. Jacobs; Desmond King | Go to book overview

1
Varieties of Obamaism

STRUCTURE, AGENCY, AND THE OBAMA PRESIDENCY

Lawrence R. Jacobs and Desmond King

BARACK OBAMA’S PRESIDENCY is marked by startling contrasts that both define the politics during his term in office and underscore the need for a more integrated approach to analyzing presidential leadership. With the largest popular vote in two decades and the largest Democratic victory margin since Lyndon Johnson’s in 1964, Obama’s election in 2008 smashed the race barrier and inspired majorities of voters to believe in the possibility of change that would remedy the country’s economic problems while soothing the long-standing and bitter partisan divide. The high hopes surrounding Obama’s election boosted his approval to stratospheric levels of 60 percent or higher during his first months in office and were realized in the passage of historic reforms of health care and higher education. These reforms have reshaped policy and politics in these areas—both substantially extending government responsibilities and provoking a furious backlash that has propelled unprecedented legal and legislative efforts to repeal health reform. But these accomplishments and breakthroughs also coincided with President Obama’s failure to deliver on a new, post-partisan politics, to enact far-reaching legislation on labor, immigration, and energy, or to recast foreign policy toward the Middle East and global climate change. The striking contrasts between historic accomplishment and abject failure are also accompanied by more ambiguous cases. None stands out more than the strained effort to reform America’s financial system: the scope of change is unprecedented since the New Deal, but the final legislation was substantially watered down and falls short of the restructuring that the administration proposed and that many experts recommend to prevent future system breakdowns.2

The remarkable range of policy change during Obama’s first two years—from landmark breakthroughs to ambiguous or failed efforts—was

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