(Excerpts from The Guardian) What will Barack Obama's legacy be? After he was elected on a tidal wave of optimism by promising to heal America’s wounds, did he deliver?
[Editor's note: No. He ran on "hope and change". We got some change, but we were mostly left with a lot of dashed hopes.]
In many ways Obama’s 2008 campaign for the presidency was unremarkable. He had voted with Hillary Clinton in the Senate 90% of the time. He stood on a centrist-Democratic platform, promising healthcare reform and moderate wealth redistribution – effectively the same program that mainstream Democrats had stood on for a generation. But his rise was meteoric. His story was so compelling, his rhetoric so soaring, his base so passionate – and his victory, when it came, so improbable – that reality was always going to be a buzz kill ...
By 2011, even those closest to Obama could see he was losing not only his base but his raison d’être as an agent of change. “You were seen as someone who would walk through the wall for the middle class,” his senior adviser David Axelrod told him that year. “We need to get back to that.”
Back then, Obama’s prospects looked slim. His campaign second time around was a far cry from the euphoria of the first. The president’s argument boiled down to: “Things were terrible when I came to power, are much better than they would have been were I not in power, and will get worse if I am removed from power.” What started as “Yes we can” had curdled into “Could be worse”
By the end of Obama’s first term in 2012, there was a general sense that things hadn’t moved fast enough, that he had caved in to his opponents too easily. It was as though he negotiated with himself before reaching across the aisle, only to have his hand slapped away in disdain anyway. Having been elected on a mantle of hope, he seemed both aloof and adrift. Having moved people with his rhetoric, he was now failing to connect ...
I supported Obama against Hillary Clinton because he had opposed the war in Iraq at a time when that could have damaged his political career; she had supported it in order to sustain her own. I thought he was the most progressive candidate that could be elected, and while even his agenda was inadequate for the needs of the people I most care about – the poor and the marginalised – it could still make a difference. I got my disappointment in early, to avoid the rush ...
Obama never promised radical change and, given the institutions in which he was embedded, he was never going to be in a position to deliver it. You don’t get to become president of the United States without raising millions from very wealthy people and corporations (or being a billionaire yourself), who will turn against you if you don’t serve their interests. Congress, with which Obama spars, is similarly corrupted by money. Seats in the House of Representatives are openly and brazenly gerrymandered. This excuses Obama nothing. On any number of fronts, particularly the economy, the banks and civil liberties, he could have done more, or better ...
As Obama comes to the end of his tenure, we are no longer confined to discussing what it means that he is president; we can now talk in definite terms about what Obama did. Indulging the symbolic promise of a moment is one thing; engaging with the substantial record of more than seven years in power is quite another ...
[The article goes on in great detail to list all the things that Obama did — both good and bad.]
And finally, there are the things Obama didn’t do. He didn’t pursue a single intelligence officer over torture; he didn’t pursue a single finance executive for malfeasance in connection with the 2007/8 crash; he didn’t close Guantánamo Bay.
But a legacy is not a ledger. It is both less substantial than a list of things done, and more meaningful ...
Hillary still suffers from the same vulnerabilities as in 2008. She is seen as an insider, when the voters want change. She remains dogged by scandal – her emails sent via a private server – and voters find her untrustworthy. She promises progress by increments, rather than transformation. She even tries to make a selling point of the fact that her platform is not exciting. “I’d rather underpromise and over-deliver,” she tells the crowd. She is effectively running for Obama’s third term, asking for the opportunity to continue what he started.
A few days earlier, Bernie Sanders offered a younger crowd a future more radical and bold – free healthcare, no tuition fees, a $15-an-hour minimum wage – and a clear departure from a political culture corrupted by money and corporate influence. Sanders has reservations about Obama’s legacy; he recently endorsed a book called Buyer’s Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down. But on the stump he knows there is no mileage in criticizing the president.
A 19-year-old Sanders supporter tells me she thinks Obama has done a great job. “He did what he could. I think he would have done more, but they kept blocking him.” A Hillary supporter agreed. “He gave it his best shot. I don’t think anyone could have done better when you’re up against people who just want to stonewall you.”
This was the standard response at any Democratic event when I asked them how people thought Obama would be remembered: effectively a phantom legacy. Not what he actually achieved, but what he might have achieved if the other side weren’t so unreasonable. As endorsements go, this seemed like faint praise . . . the case for Obama’s legacy was the subjunctive – what might have been. Yes. We. Tried.
When the political tone is set this low, when so little is expected of the candidates and the choices are this poor, the fact that Obama tried – and the way that he tried – starts to eclipse the fact that he so often failed. Like a dutiful doctor, he performed triage on a reluctant patient and didn’t give up even when the prospects looked bleak. He did his job.
As his term comes to an end and the fractured, volatile nature of the country’s electoral politics is once again laid bare, Americans may be coming to realize that, in Obama, it had an adult in the room. As violence erupts at election rallies and spills over into the streets, they may come to appreciate the absence of scandal and drama from the White House. As their wages stagnated, industries collapsed, insecurities grew and hopes faded, he tried to get something done. Not much, not enough – but something. It is possible to have serious, moral criticisms of Obama and his legacy, and still appreciate his value, given the alternatives.
In Obama, Americans are losing someone who took both public service and the public seriously; someone who stood for something bigger and more important than himself. This is the end of the line for a leader who believed that facts mattered; that Americans were not fools; that their democracy meant something and that government had a role: that America could be better than this.
[Editor's note: Trump wants to make America "great again". Clinton wants to make America "whole again". Bernie Sanders wants real change without false hope. But to celebrate Obama's non-legacy, the taxpayers have to shell out a billion dollars to build his presidential library. So I do NOT want to build another Clinton library for Hillary, nor one for Donald Trump. It's better to honor an honest man, like Bernie Sanders.]
- The problem with Hillary is, I don’t vote Republican
- Clinton isn't Entitled to Bernie Sanders' Supporters
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