But whatever the genuine merits of such criticism, the era of sweeping legislation—at least barring some midterm election miracle—is over for now. Pragmatically, the best Obama can do over the next three years is to offer an alternative policy vision, as he recently outlined in his 2015 budget—one that stands no chance of congressional passage; sign executive orders that are as impactful as possible; and use the White House as a bully pulpit to promote a vision of American society that may wind up being fulfilled only after he has left office.
For now, boosting the paychecks of millions of Americans unfairly exempted from overtime laws is a good start, even if long overdue. Ending deportations aimed at appeasing right-wing voters and politicians who won’t be satisfied until all “illegals” magically vanish from our shores is a positive step toward political reform that, however long delayed, will never be denied.
And the act, even if largely symbolic, of acknowledging the crisis that confronts young black men in America is historic, even if the level of funding for My Brother’s Keeper doesn’t address the depth of need. More than five years after entering office with grand—indeed, almost impossible—expectations, the president remains bruised but unbowed. His political resilience against daunting opposition is at once an inspiration and exemplar of what’s at stake not only during the rest of his term in office but also long after he exits the national stage.
Peniel E. Joseph, a contributing editor at The Root, is founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and a professor of history at Tufts University. He is also the Caperton fellow for the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard University. He is the author of Waiting ’Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America, Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama and the newly released Stokely: A Life. Follow him on Twitter.