The Obama era -- an 18-month swirl ... and then six years of improvising


.This is what TV should be doing more often -- taking big looks at the mega-events that change the world. Now -- Dec. 7, plus reruns -- CNN's Fareed Zakaria views the Obama era. Here's the story I sent to papers:

(Very interesting TV
story about an Obama CNN special that debuts Wednesday and reruns
Friday)

By Mike Hughes

How do you ponder
the Barack Obama era? For starters, you could split it in two.

There was that
first, swirling stretch. “It all happened in 18 months,” said
Fareed Zakaria, whose two-hour special debuts Wednesday on CNN.

And then there was
the aftermath – six years of government by executive action. “We
may look back and be surprised by how much was done in small-ball
ways,” Zakaria said.

It was the early
swirl – viewed by Obama as the busiest domestic-policy stretch
since the Lyndon Johnson years – that led to the Republican
takeover of the House and Senate.

During that stretch,
Obama had resisted public opinion. “The auto-industry bail-out was
wildly unpopular,” Zakaria said. “Two-thirds of the people
opposed it.”

Even more unpopular
was the bank bail-out. “David Axelrod (then Obama's senior advisor)
said. 'I've never seen anythig that polled so badly.'”

The Wall Street
collapse had come at the end of the Bush Administration, which made
the same recommendation – bail out the banks, to avoid a total
economic collapse. But the bail-out came at the start of the Obama
years, sparking outrage. Zakaria points to what Timothy Geithner,
Obama's first Treasury secretary, wrote: “We saved the economy
(but) we lost the country.”

That came as the
unemployment rate was climbing toward 10 percent. Preparing a
stimulus package, Obama made the rare move of going to Congress to
push for Republican votes; he got none.

“The Republicans
say his mind was made up .... he didn't want any feedback,” Zakaria
said. They used the phrase “arrogant”; Zakaria falls short of
that. “He tends to be a compromiser, but he's a technocrat” who
prefers to mold his own version of the compromise.

That approach
collided with total opposition, Zakaria said, nudged by “the fact
that it started so early.” On Inauguration Day, 15 Republican
leaders formulated a total-resistance policy. “(Sen.) Mitch
McConnell said, 'Our No. 1 priority was to make sure Barack Obama was
a one-term president.'”

Ironically, he
served two terms, leaving with a fairly high approval rating and low
(under fivepercent) unemployment rate. But the early actions,
particularly Obamacare, led to the Republicans' takeover of the House
and Senate.

With no chance of
getting things through Congress, there was improvising. “Obama's
use of executive action has been very creative.,” Zakaria said.

Some actions (on
immigration, for instance) didn't hold up in court, but most did.
Some – involving climate change and gun-control – may be
susceptible to quick turnover. But others could linger: “We
actually have a very strong clean-energy industry now,” Zakaria
said, due to executive actions.

Also likely to
survive is some form of Obamacare. It may change, Zakaria said, but
Americans now have “the expectation that there will be health care
in one of the richest nations in the world.”

Other presidents
have pointed to mistakes; Bill Clinton, for instance, said he should
have moved more quickly to stop genocide. But when Zakaria
interviewed Obama in September., he found little of that.

There wete some
Obamacare regrets -- “he feels that it got way too complex,” with
key things missing. But even when pondering disasters involving the
Middle East and ISIS, Zakaria said, Obama felt he'd done “the best
he could, with the hand he was dealt.”

This is the Obama
nature, he said. The image -- “the cool, methodical act” -- is
part of his make-up. “He said, 'When things go well, I don't get
that high and when things go badly I don't get that down.'”

That's handy,
because he's wrapping up eight years of extreme highs and lows.

-- “The Legacy of
Barack Obama,” 9-11 p.m. ET Wednesday, CNN; rerunning at midnight.

-- Also: 11 p.m.
Friday, rerunning at 2 a.m.; 9 a.m. Dec. 25; 9 p.m. Dec. 26,
rerunning at midnight.

-- Each could be
pre-empted by news events; all times are ET, three hours earlier PT