Obama tried in his first term to pass a law capping greenhouse gas emissions, only for Democratic Senators from coal and gas states to join with Republicans to defeat it. Environmentalists spent much of Obama’s presidency lambasting this failure.
But Obama discovered that existing regulations allowed him to accomplish the same goals to which his failed legislation aspired. In his second term, he unveiled strict new standards for automobile efficiency and power plant emissions that, taken together, allow the United States to meet its internal targets for carbon emissions. He reached a major climate agreement with China, which presages the first-ever international agreement by industrialized and developing countries alike to curtail their emissions (an agreement made easier by the revolutionary improvements in green energy, which could allow developing economies to leapfrog straight past the dirty energy stage). The success of this agreement will take decades to measure, but it could well go down in history as Obama’s most significant legacy.
Overall, Obama’s federal government powerfully reordered the most irrational and damaging aspects of the untrammeled marketplace without impairing its entrepreneurial vigor. …
There have been plenty of additional policy victories: higher taxes on the rich and lower taxes on the working poor; major reform of the student-loan program; a substantial increase in Pell Grants; relief from deportation for 4 million unauthorized immigrants; the end of the ban on gays in the military. Historians will also note a series of laudable negatives: Obama has, to date, wound down two wars while avoiding others, not to mention a major domestic terror attack. With the sole exception of David Petraeus, who resigned as CIA director over an extramarital affair, not a single political appointee has had to resign, let alone face indictment.