On Sunday's NBC Meet the Press, moderator David Gregory fretted over the "shrinking presidency" of Barack Obama: "A thousand days left for President Obama. And here was a headline we looked up back in 2009 at the inauguration. [From Washington Post] 'Historians say he,' meaning Obama, 'could redefine the presidency.' And with no disrespect to this policy, here's Denis McDonough, the chief of staff, talking about, you know, broadband connection, getting more kids connected [to the internet]." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Turning to liberal historian and perpetual NBC pundit Doris Kearns Goodwin, Gregory worried: "Is that what you envisioned?" Goodwin tried to defend Obama's weak legacy: "He accentuated gay rights in an inaugural speech. We're getting energy independence. He said we shouldn't be on a war footing forever. He ended two wars. These things may take a while to get into history. But if he set things in motion that show a forward movement in social justice and defining inequality as the issue of our generation, then he will be remembered."
Goodwin also attempted to place Obama on the same level with past presidents:
...when you think about a thousand days, some people might think that seems short. That was the entire span of JFK's presidency. And why is he remembered? In part – not just for the Cuban Missile Crisis – he set things in motion for the future: civil rights, that LBJ was able to get through, Medicare, LBJ was able to get through.
And so I think what Obama's saying is, in these next thousand days, through executive orders – and there's a triumphant history of executive orders. Harry Truman's desegregation of the Army was an executive order. JFK and LBJ did discrimination ending in federal hiring and in federal contractors.
National Review editor Rich Lowry called out Goodwin moments later: "I thought the State of the Union was a banal speech in the service of picayune agenda....It feels much more like exhaustion. And Doris Kearns Goodwin can cite all these historic executive orders over the decades. None of the things they're talking about at the White House are anything like that."
Minutes later, chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd wrung his hands over Obama being "resigned to the constraints of the office and the constraints of the politics of this town" and having "given up on trying to break the polarization addiction that this town has." Todd observed: "...that's going to be something that I think historians are going to be writing about as the great disappointment of the Obama era."
Goodwin refused to accept that conclusion and asserted that "historians" like her would make sure to cover for Obama: "[They're] going to say that the structural problems with political culture preceded him. And they're so deep in the system, they have to do with districting, they have to do with the poison of money in the system. Of course he came in hoping to do that."
Todd replied: "But did he do it? I mean did he attempt it? My sense is I don't feel like, in the last thousand days, he's even going to attempt it."