This is the Johnny Appleseed version of the presidency in which important programs ignored by the daily press make a huge impact in people’s lives in the future. That is the essential argument of Michael Grunwald’s book “The New New Deal” on the $800 billion Obama stimulus package passed early in his tenure. Judged at the time based on whether it would halt the economic slowdown, its lasting impact may well be in the programs it launched — everything from Race to the Top to improve education, to ideas promoting electronic medical records to transportation innovations, to support for clean energy.
Remnick treats this evolution of Obama’s vision as a laudable outgrowth of his special temperament. The president takes the “long view,” a sensible antidote to the conventional wisdom that a president must achieve success on big things quickly and almost despite the obstacles. This is right, but it is not Obama’s insight alone. This view about history’s verdict provided solace to George W. Bush as well. Bush also said he was never worried about the day-to-day evaluations of his presidency because history’s verdict was all that mattered. “You can’t possibly figure out the history of the Bush presidency — until I’m dead,” he told Robert Draper in a typical remark. According to Peter Baker’s book “Days of Fire,” Bush and Obama also shared another realization. In the New Yorker interview, Obama seems to be embracing a view of the presidency’s limitations that Bush offered in the response to an aide who asked him what surprised him the most about his presidency. “How little authority I have,” said Bush.