Jonathan Chait on Obama’s Enduring Legacy – Obama “had the power to build.”

by durrati –

Sam Rayburn, the homespun Democratic Texas Legislator who would preside as Speaker over the house of Representatives for twenty years (1940-1961), excepting two aberrant (for those times) two year terms in which the Republicans seized control only to promptly relinquish it, famously said on the eve of one such change in leaders in 1953 that…

“ Any jackass can kick a barn down, but it took a carpenter to build it.” 

Well, folks, the jackass has arrived, but Jonathan Chait, at NYMag, is happily adding a supplement to Rayburn’s adage…

”If the carpenter builds well enough, the jackass will fail.”

Chait uses two primary examples of the jackass kicking in vain, the ACA and The Paris Climate accords to make his point, all the while acknowledging that the braying beast poses an existential threat to Democratic norms if not to history.

As for history, if any survive to write it – Obama’s legacy is writ large, and in cement. Jackdrumpf can kick as he will, but he cannot change that.

To bolster his point that Obama’s achievements have not only survived but prospered with the passage of time,  Chait begins by pointing out the differing viewpoints from which the they are surveyed and evaluated.

Obama’s critics on the right, of course will forever assail anything he sought to do, after the consecutive ass whippings he gave them, much as they continue to denigrate FDR for the same reason.

Seventy years of laments…

But Barack also had trouble on his flank, by way of the righteous and ever so slowly to be vindicated skepticism of the progressive left, who, at the time, saw  the President’s achievements as half measures worthy of dismissal…


“A very small number of people are going to get any insurance at all, until 2014, if the bill works,” sniffed Howard Dean. “This is essentially the collapse of health care reform in the United States Senate.” 

The Paris climate accord?

“Meh, said Bernie Sanders: “We need bold action in the very near future and this does not provide that.”

…but who picked up clubs when the Jackasswipe showed up:

“Dean has called Trump’s health-care rollback “a disaster.” Sanders has called his withdrawal from the Paris agreement “an abdication of American leadership and an international disgrace.”

Chait attributes this turnaround to loss aversion, which “the American People”, as the right likes to call them, while simultaneously discounting large swaths of the same, seem to be suffering from also.

A recent poll points out, that the once almost universally panned ACA now enjoys northward of 60% support.

As the Canadian bard Joni Mitchell observed…

”Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.”

In light of this support, which even GOP Senators must fear, it seems the ACA will be modified, but increasingly it looks like efforts to do away with it will come to naught.

Obama’s efforts in slowing the rate of climate change may prove to be inadequate, as Sanders feared, but have already spurred the building of more barns for the jackass to flail away at.

As Chait points out:

”Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement certainly slows and complicates the decarbonization trajectory that Obama had set. But some perspective is necessary. Obama’s climate-change strategy linked together political and economic momentum both domestically and internationally. Domestically, green-energy subsidies created in the stimulus would drive innovation, and the easier it became more technologically feasible to bring down emissions, the more ambitious politicians would become. Internationally, American promises in Paris could help produce reciprocal agreements from other countries. And as the green-energy developmental path became more economical, developing economies like India and China would increase their willingness to take it.”

The jackass is a willful, stubborn, ill-tempered and dangerous (if you walk too closely behind it) beast, but can it really kick down a barn?

Rayburn’s warnings notwithstanding the reforms and contributions of the New Deal have withstood any number of the less noble members’ of the equine family’s hind end assaults.

Chait is confident Obama’s efforts will withstand them also:

“… the practice of judging a president’s record by his successor’s antagonism to it is a new one, seemingly invented for Obama. Andrew Johnson undermined Lincoln’s legacy of liberating the slaves; conservative Republicans have tried to privatize or cut programs like Social Security and Medicaid decades later. Large chunks of the regulatory state — like the National Labor Relations Board or the Securities and Exchange Commission — now function only intermittently, turning feeble when Republicans control the Executive branch. And yet these facts do not usually make historians dismiss the importance of abolition or the New Deal or the Great Society.

Trump’s presidency poses a threat to many enduring institutions of government, including the Constitution itself. That stark reality is no more reason to dismiss Obama’s legacy than to dismiss James Madison’s. And as the scale and nature of Trump’s strange mix of fanaticism, corruption and incompetence sets in, we are coming to see it as a thing of its own, not the negation of the administration that preceded it.

Chait’s column is a fine read, I encourage all to enjoy it.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos