The top item has got to be the Affordable Care Act. Love it or hate it, America next year will have a health care system that aims for universal insurance coverage and that sets up—some would say inflicts—the architecture to make that a reality. Obama has thus achieved what presidents have been trying to do on and off since Teddy Roosevelt broached the issue in 1912, and what the other wealthy nations of the world already do. That’s transformational, from the standpoint of both citizens facing illness and a nation setting its priorities.
The second potentially immortalizing item in my book is ending the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gay troops, with support from most military leaders and poignant advocacy from at least one. It was a symbolic, highly visible step that appears to have ushered in a new era of gay-rights progress.
Transformational possibility No. 3 has to do with economic survival, of individuals and a nation. Historians may determine that Obama prevented his country from spiraling into a full-scale Great Depression II. If that’s the case, his much-disparaged stimulus package—with its grab bag of state and local aid, highway projects, education grants, and green-energy subsidies—will be seen as pivotal to his presidency. So will the Wall Street bailout and the steps his administration took to ensure the health of banks. And so will the auto bailout, which preserved an iconic U.S. industry and ultimately might also be viewed, along with various aspects of the stimulus, as having rescued and rejuvenated American manufacturing.