Assessing a presidency requires some cure time, some time for the rawness of recently-completed political battles to fade and for the historians (who may have been part of those battles) to establish sufficient viewing distance.
That doesn’t mean everyone does take the time, of course. Here’s a book and a review, point and counterpoint. Not bad first entries.
From Fred Siegel’s review, in City Journal, of Jonathan Chait’s new book, Audacity: How Barack Obama Defied His Critics and Created a Legacy That Will Prevail. Siegel writes that “A book trumpeting the Obama “legacy” should have been reconsidered in light of November’s electoral repudiation.”
Chait attributes Obama’s failures to Republicans, who, he says, produced a paralyzing polarization. When he can’t lay blame on the GOP, he attributes Obama’s failures to structural trends beyond any president’s repair. The honorable path for Chait would have been to rethink his argument in light of Clinton’s defeat. After all, Donald Trump’s victory was a repudiation of the Obama legacy of slow economic growth, heightened racial tensions, and global instability. Had Chait taken the time to recast his thesis in light of Clinton’s electoral embarrassment, he might have noticed that Obama’s farewell address—the lengthiest in history—was short on deeds but long on references to himself. A fitting valedictory, the speech contained 79 references to “I” or to “me.”
Chait’s rush to publish has the virtue of demonstrating the journalistic “audacity” that allowed failure to be repackaged as success. Obama’s great achievement was that, like Cuomo, he was able to make hard-edged, partisan politics seem moderate. Few will bother to read Chait’s book. Those who do will get a good look at the collapse of American journalism and how it enabled the Obama presidency, even as it undermined the nation.