The nation Obama built: A legacy of major domestic change

It’s true that Obama failed to create the post-partisan political change he originally promised during his yes-we-can pursuit of the White House. Washington remains as hyperpartisan and broken as ever. But he also promised dramatic policy change, vowing to reinvent America’s approach to issues like health care, education, energy, climate and finance, and that promise he has kept. When you add up all the legislation from his frenetic first two years, when Democrats controlled Congress, and all the methodical executive actions from the past five years, after Republicans blocked his legislative path, this has been a BFD of a presidency, a profound course correction engineered by relentless government activism. As a candidate, Obama was often dismissed as a talker, a silver-tongued political savant with no real record of achievement. But ever since he took office during a raging economic crisis, he’s turned out to be much more of a doer, an action-oriented policy grind who has often failed to communicate what he’s done.

What he’s done is changing the way we produce and consume energy, the way doctors and hospitals treat us, the academic standards in our schools and the long-term fiscal trajectory of the nation. Gays can now serve openly in the military, insurers can no longer deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions, credit card companies can no longer impose hidden fees and markets no longer believe the biggest banks are too big to fail. Solar energy installations are up nearly 2,000 percent, and carbon emissions have dropped even though the economy is growing. Even Republicans like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who hope to succeed Obama and undo his achievements, have been complaining on the campaign trail that he’s accomplished most of his agenda.

“The change is real,” says Ron Klain, who served as Biden’s White House chief of staff, and later as Obama’s Ebola czar. “It would be nice if more people understood the change.”