What grade will America give Obama?
posted at 1:22 pm on September 5, 2012 by Howard Portnoy
In December of 2009, Barack Obama was asked by Oprah Winfrey how he’d grade his first year as president. His answer, immortalized in this stomach-churning video, was “A good solid B-plus.” (“If I get health care passed,” he quipped later in the interview, “I—we tip into A, A-minus.”)
A less arrogant man would have replied, “That’s not for me to say. The people who put me here will render that judgment.” But Obama at the time was unacquainted with the notion of humility.
He appears to be still. Nearly three years and $5 trillion of new debt later, he was asked the same question over the weekend. This time his answer was “incomplete,” which at first blush seems more self-effacing. That is until you realize the answer is intended as a literary conceit. He is saying, in essence, his work here is not finished, that he needs another four years—get it?
Several commentators on the right have had fun with the answer. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said, “I have a 10-year-old and a 14-year-old. I know that if they came home with a report card with an incomplete, that means they failed, unless there’s summer school,” The governor wryly added, “There is no summer school.” Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin wrote:
If memory serves, when I attended Columbia University only a few years before Barack Obama’s arrival on campus, the rule about ‘incompletes’ was that you had a year to complete the course work before your grade was converted from an ‘I’ to an ‘F.’
The simple fact is that Obama’s final grade, as has been true of every president before him, will be decided by the American people. His mid-term grade, which comes up on Nov. 6, will be as well.
The likely differences in the way Americans would grade the Obama presidency reflect the intensely bitter polarization among us that he did much to foment. His résumé as commander-in-chief to date is dotted with large numbers that should be smaller (rate of unemployment) and small numbers that should be larger (GDP growth).
Some, including Obama (especially Obama!), will say that these unhappy metrics are all part of a “mess he inherited.” His campaign slogan, “Forward,” seems to affirm this until you notice that he sometimes looks backward, skipping a presidency, to the era of Bill Clinton, on whose record he is running. In August, he said on the stump, we “tried their plan”—their being the Republicans’—and then “we tried our plan—and it worked.” We, white man? Our?
An Obama victory in November would defy the odds. No president has won re-election with unemployment over 7.2% —with one notable exception: Franklin D. Roosevelt. Then again, FDR received an “incomplete” from the American people, so maybe there is hope for Obama still.
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