Obama’s Claim Of Historic Success Has Some Factual Support

In Playbook today, Mike Allen flagged an unaired excerpt of President Obama’s recent 60 Minutes interview in which POTUS suggested that the “legislative and foreign policy accomplishments” of his first two years in office were better than or equal to all but three previous presidents — Lincoln, FDR, and Johnson. Allen called it “big on the blogs,” and suggested potential questions on the subject that Jay Carney should face today.

Indeed, Politico has already written up the right-wing blogospheric spit take at the boast. The reporter, MJ Lee, also compared Obama to Newt Gingrich, whose penchant for self-comparisons to great historical figures is comically known.

Despite the fact that making claims to one’s place in history is not the soundest idea for a president in the midst of his first, perhaps only, term, Obama can at least cite some objective numbers that support his claim to historically impressive accomplishments. At the end of last year, Congressional Quarterly found that Obama had a better success rate than any president since CQ started measuring success rates. From NPR’s write up:

In his first year in office, President Obama did better even than legendary arm-twister Lyndon Johnson in winning congressional votes on issues where he took a position, a Congressional Quarterly study finds.

The new CQ study gives Obama a higher mark than any other president since it began scoring presidential success rates in Congress more than five decades ago. And that was in a year where Obama tackled how to deal with Afghanistan, Iraq, an expanding terrorist threat, the economic crisis and battles over health care.

Obviously,  this measure doesn’t say anything about the content of Obama’s accomplishments, so the historical importance and impact of Obama’s first two years is very much still up in the air (I would argue he can make a claim to an historic first two years on that front, but that’s another post). Those 50 years also don’t include Lincoln, so that comparison can’t be made.

Additionally, the key to this measure is that it only includes legislative votes where the president takes a position. As GWU professor Sarah Binder (Disclosure: I’ve taken two classes with her) told NPR, Obama was strategic in the votes he took a position on. “She says he only took an official position on issues that were really important to him — those that he knew he had a very good chance of winning. He picked his battles carefully,” reported NPR.

But the point is that Obama’s assessment isn’t unmoored from any claim to reality, even if it is unrelated to the reality in which his perma-critics exist.

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