On Presidents’ Day, 10 academics rank Obama’s legacy

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Regardless of how the public currently views President Barack Obama, his legacy will certainly be subject to debate for years to come.

One way to rate presidents, writes Politico contributor and author Stephen Sestanovich, would be as sports fans evaluate baseball players, using a “Wins-Above Replacement” score that puts players into context when establishing a position in the record books.

The same “parlor game for the historically-minded” can be used for the commander-in-chief, applying the political equivalents of “weather, ballpark size and the other side’s strengths and weaknesses” to determine if a particular athlete (or statesman) adds to the “bottom line” of the team (or country).

Politico’s “History Dept.” called on ten leading historians to give an educated guess to how history might consider America’s first African-American president.

Among the responses — Douglas Brinkley of Rice University views Obama as “above-average,” highlighted by the political achievement of “encouraging women and minorities that they, too, can win the White House … The very fact that Barack Obama-an African-American-was twice elected to the presidency will always be the lead line in that hard-to-meld, gold-plated paragraph.”

Margaret MacMillan of Oxford University rates Obama as “a man who promised too much.” Although his ascendency did seem to show America was finally beginning to overcome racial tensions, the country remained deeply divided—by class, ideology and race.

Sean Wilentz of Princeton University cites the enactment of healthcare as Obama’s signature achievement, but the next person taking office will affect his true legacy. His inability to stop the “acrimonious polarization” of Washington D.C. and attempts at foreign policy will be cemented by who is Obama’s successor.   

Other opinions include Jeremy D. Mayer of George Mason University, who asks if Obama will be “the next Taft?” Robert E. Bonner of Dartmouth calls the president a “stabilizing force.” Yale University’s Beverly Gage insists he is not “a liberal standard-bearer,” while Jack Rakove of Stanford refers to him as the “analyst-in-chief.” James Goldgeier of American University also notes Obama’s legacy will be that “he ended the wars, but … “

Finally, two historians from Harvard: James T. Kloppenberg says, “He’s no LBJ,” and Lizabeth Cohen sums up Obama’s historical legacy in one word — Obamacare.


Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.