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Jonathan Bernstein has a question for us left-leaning types:

Think back to what you were thinking in November 2008, and in January 2009. As the 111th Congress winds down, what’s your biggest disappointment of the things you expected to happen? Not your wish list, but the things you really expected to happen. What’s your biggest happy surprise?

This is fairly easy for me, since I wrote a blog post on November 3, 2008, saying that I’d consider Obama’s first term a success if he got three things done: (1) withdrawal from Iraq, (2) real healthcare reform, and (3) carbon pricing. “Get something serious done on those issues, and Obama’s administration will be a big success. Fail on them, and it’s not clear to me that any combination of other new programs will be enough to salvage it.”

This leaves me in a pickle. Withdrawal from Iraq appears to be proceeding apace, and healthcare reform did indeed get passed. Carbon pricing, obviously, didn’t. On the other hand, we can add a modest stimulus bill, a modest financial reform bill, and repeal of DADT to Obama’s list of accomplishments. Does that make up for the failure of the carbon bill? Two years ago I said I didn’t think any combination of other new programs would be enough to make up for failure on one of the big three, and that’s a tough statement to walk back. So I guess I’d say I consider Obama’s first term a success, but not a big success. How’s that for weaseling?

As for happy surprises, I’m not sure I have any. I didn’t expect miracles, but I did expect more from Obama, and I can’t think of anything significant he passed that I wasn’t expecting. Partly this was due to epic levels of Republican obstructionism, and partly it was due to Obama’s native economic conservatism. On the other hand, I can think of two big disappointments that I didn’t fully expect: the size of the buildup in Afghanistan and Obama’s failure to rein in some of the civil liberties excesses of the Bush era. Again, I didn’t expect miracles, but neither was I expecting 140,000 troops in Afghanistan or almost complete acquiescence to the national security posture of the Bush/Cheney administration.

So there you have it: on net, I’d call Obama a successful president, but not a hugely successful president. But he’s still got six years left. There’s still time to surprise us.

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