We Got More Than Our Health

As a left-wing domestic columnist for this publication, I should be writing, thinking, breathing, celebrating, drinking, AND sleeping healthcare right now. It’s the big story. I should write a column about how important this decision is, how Chief Justice Roberts has defied expectations and changed the composition of the court, how the Democrats have been given a second chance to sell the health care bill to the public, which they failed to do the first time around, and I would close with a sweeping proclamation about how this issue is really beyond politics, because it’s the right thing to do. All of those things are true. But you also already know them.

Since oral arguments in March, but really since the day President Obama passed the health care reform act, the bill was in jeopardy. Republicans clamored to repeal it legislatively or outlaw it judicially. While working on the campaign for the last month, whenever I was telling voters about the benefits of the new health care law, I always felt the imminent threat that the law might be struck down. Maybe everything I’m saying will be totally invalidated in a few weeks. Most thought so. The president’s most meaningful piece of legislation could have vanished. Four years, immense political capital, nothing to show for it.

And then the ruling was reported. And then it was reported correctly. And in the moments of celebration, between the hugs and high-fives, I had a moment. I got a little idealistic, and carried away, but indulge me. Thinking about the history of the Supreme Court’s decision, I realized that President Obama is underrated. Not a little underrated, but like Tom Brady in the 2000 NFL draft underrated.

Only two presidents have inherited worse situations than Barack Obama: Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Abraham Lincoln was forced into the bloodiest American conflict in history, and FDR had to manage the longest economic downturn in American history. But unlike President Obama, FDR had the advantage of a Congress that would support his New Deal legislation, and three and a half years before he took office to evaluate the situation. President Obama had less than six months to evaluate, and less than two years of a compliant Congress before his legislative power was effectively disintegrated by the most partisan Congress in the last century. Arguably, President Obama had it worse than FDR, because he was never given much of a chance to actually fix the economy.

I have to credit President George W. Bush for putting in place the initial recovery legislation that prevented the economy from total collapse, but once in office, President Obama kept this economy moving. Unemployment never went above 10 percent under President Obama. Never. During the Great Depression unemployment never went UNDER 10 percent.

Okay, but the Great Depression was way worse, right? Arguable. Regardless, unemployment was higher under President Reagan, who was dealing with a much less severe recession than Obama. Plus the U.S. economy has been growing in GDP and jobs consistently for two-and-a-half years. I know you’ve heard ALL of these numbers before. It’s political backwash. But that’s why I ask you to consider the historical context I’ve laid out above. When you really think about it, the President’s ability to keep this country under control, to suppress the recession’s effects, is remarkable.

And that’s not to mention the President’s stellar counter-terrorism efforts, responsible conclusion to the Iraq War, tremendous civil rights policies, and inventive (and effective) education reform. Oh, and he also single-handedly saved the American auto-industry.

The health care law is historic. It fundamentally changes the way healthcare is delivered in this country. But what so many commentators missed, as they hailed the Supreme Court’s historic decision, is that President Obama passed historic legislation. It was as if the Supreme Court elevated the law by ruling on it. I don’t need the Supreme Court to determine the law’s importance. Neither should America. President Obama took on one of the worst crises in American history in one of the most politically polarized periods of American history and made lemonade. He passed historic legislation, he pulled America back from the brink of economic collapse, and he knows how to moonwalk.

There’s more to be done. President Obama isn’t perfect. And you’ve heard all of the statistics I’ve said here before. But I don’t think you get it. I don’t think most people get it. Hell, I know I didn’t get it until yesterday. All I ask is that as we approach the nation’s birthday, you think about these last four years without forgetting about America’s last 236.