'Obama on the Home Front' examines domestic policy successes and setbacks

  • Aug. 8, 2016


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- "Obama on the Home Front: Domestic Policy Triumphs and Setbacks," a new book by Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs Dean John D. Graham, offers the first rigorous assessment of Barack Obama’s domestic agenda, providing lessons for scholars, students, future presidents, stakeholders and members of Congress.

Available this week from Indiana University Press, the book examines the president’s successes and failures in dealing with the economy, health care, environmental policy and other controversies at a time of intense polarization of U.S. politics.

Graham concludes that Obama achieved significant domestic policy successes, most notably in steering the economy away from its worst crisis since the Great Depression. But he argues the president could have achieved even greater triumphs and avoided some of the political backlash that hurt the Democratic Party.

"If Obama had advanced an ideologically more diverse policy agenda in his first year, one that highlighted some of his centrist as well as progressive inclinations, his presidency could have unfolded quite differently," Graham writes. Also, Graham argues that Democrats in Congress would have been less vulnerable if he had pursued some of his priorities with executive powers rather than forcing votes on controversial legislation.

Graham is dean of the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, a position he has held since 2008. From 2001 to 2006, he was administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the White House Office of Management and Budget. He is also the author of "Bush on the Home Front" (2010, Indiana University Press).

In "Obama on the Home Front," Graham elaborates and applies a theory of presidential effectiveness in a polarized political environment, offering prescriptions for presidents who seek to govern in such times. He examines Obama’s success and failure on economic recovery, long-term growth, climate change and energy policy, immigration policy and the adoption and implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

IU faculty member Lee Hamilton, who spent 34 years in the U.S. House, said Graham "makes a persuasive case that President Obama could have accomplished more, with fewer election losses to the Democratic Party, by practicing more astute politics."

"The dean reminds all of us that, to succeed, presidents need more than vision, good intentions and sound policy," Hamilton said. "They also need to be an effective politician."

Daniel P. Franklin, author of "Pitiful Giants: Presidents in Their Final Terms," calls the book "the best comprehensive review of the Obama administration’s policies available, written by an individual who is both knowledgeable in the policy sense and savvy in the political sense."

The book includes a chapter on "midterm massacres," the setbacks that Democrats suffered in the 2010 and 2014 elections, including the rise of the Tea Party that cost the Democrats 63 House seats and six Senate seats in 2010. It concludes with a chapter on the "counterfactual" Obama presidency that suggests how different choices by the Obama White House may have led to different outcomes.

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Jim Hanchett

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