What He Accomplished as President
By Michael I. Days
Center Street. 292 pp. $27
Reviewed by Michael D. Schaffer
It may be a little early to talk about Barack Obama's legacy. After all, he's still president and will be for three more months.
Nevertheless, as Obama's time in the White House nears an end, it's natural to reflect on what he accomplished in eight years as chief executive - especially in light of an extraordinary presidential campaign in which one candidate wants to dismantle just about everything Obama's done and the other wants to build on his agenda.
Clearly, the president is thinking about what he's done and is concerned about whether it will endure. He recently told the Congressional Black Caucus: "I will consider it a personal insult - an insult to my legacy - if [the African American] community lets down its guard and fails to activate itself in this election. You want to give me a good send-off? Go vote."
Some of Obama's legacy is already cemented in place, no matter what happens. He changed the American political landscape forever when he became the first black man elected president, and that alone guarantees him a prominent place in the history books.
However, Obama did much more than integrate the presidency. He brought about major changes in health care, environmental protection, and diplomacy; championed gay, lesbian, and transgender rights; and led the country's recovery from its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. And he did it with dignity, grace, and razor-sharp wit. His recent approval rating of more than 50 percent argue that the American people will miss him.
Philadelphia journalist Michael I. Days examines the president's achievements in Obama's Legacy, a meticulously researched volume that serves as a useful primer on the Obama presidency. In his introduction, Days, editor of the Philadelphia Daily News and a former managing editor of the Inquirer, writes that his purpose is to "examine Obama's accomplishments . . . in a straightforward, factual manner. It is not about what his ideas, plans or promises were; it is about what he actually got done."
Days delivers. Clear and simple, as a good primer should be, Obama's Legacy offers breadth rather than depth. The author takes great care to include every facet of Obama's program. His premise is that Obama has accomplished much in the face of unyielding opposition from Republicans but doesn't get credit for all of it. Don't look for an extended discussion of, say, the Affordable Care Act or the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This is an introduction, and it takes almost a textbook approach to the Obama agenda, with a boldface paragraph at the beginning of each chapter summarizing the chapter's content, boxes containing information about significant people and events, and a chronology of Obama's two terms.
The book's tone is frankly adulatory. It's not about failures or opportunities missed. As the subtitle says, it's about what Obama accomplished as president, not what he didn't accomplish. Days believes history will judge Obama a "transformational" president. "I would argue that ultimately historians will portray him favorably, well beyond that obvious citation that he broke the color line," Days writes.
Days' Obama is a man undaunted: "Perhaps his legacy will be that he just kept moving forward, in spite of the naysayers, and did the things he could, which turned out to be a lot."
Michael D. Schaffer is a former book editor of the Inquirer.