The Obama legacy is on the clock…
Barack Obama’s term as the 44th President of the United States ended today. Mr. Obama leaves a mixed legacy, with high approval ratings on one hand, and the wreckage of his party on the other. His ascent to the White House was by all accounts remarkable, rising from a veritable unknown in the previous presidential election all the way to the position of leader of the free world. He occupied the office with impeccable class and unassailable personal grace, regardless of how one views his policies. As the first African American president in our nation’s history, he was constantly under the microscope. The challenges he faced must have seemingly came at him from all angles.
The Right Flank
He was attacked relentlessly by Republicans in Congress who from the beginning saw a strategic advantage in being the party of no, and opposing everything Obama did on ideological grounds. This was taken to a whole new level by this group, with creepy Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell famously stating “Our goal is to make Obama a one-term president.” This ushered in whole new era of hyper-partisanship in Washington D.C. whereby the job was no longer seen as governing, but rather defeating the enemy. Making a deal with the opposition, or what Congress is supposed to do, became tantamount to treason.
This culminated with the Tea Party, and all of their fringe-right pet issues to boot. They began to howl about how our country was being taken over, we were becoming socialist and the debt was growing out of control (never a problem while ballooning under the previous administration). They brought to the mainstream a new brand of conspiracy peddling, most famously in the form of now president-elect Trump shamelessly lying about our first black president being born in Kenya and not the U.S., which would make his presidency illegitimate. Of course, implicit in all of this was the fact that this guy is black. He isn’t one of us. Not a real American. He doesn’t get us plain folks. WE WANT OUR COUNTRY BACK!
A Liberal Dose
Mr. Obama has also faced significant criticism from the left, who held his feet to the fire for all of his campaign rhetoric about hope and change. Progressives were fiercely critical of his policies, such as
- Drone Strikes: Obama’s massive expansion of our drone war program has caused untold numbers of civilian casualties in the middle east, ramping up the number of total drone strikes by a factor of 10
- Domestic Surveillance: The surveillance state has continued to grow into more of an all encompassing entity, which was brought to light with the embarrassing NSA spying scandal involving Edward Snowden
- Failure to Prosecute Financial Malfeasance: The Administration failed to prosecute a single case of fraud stemming from the financial crisis of 2008, one of the worst in our history. This was in conjunction with millions of working class Americans’ homes being foreclosed on, creating a system whereby the law was effectively enforced for one class of Americans and not the other.
By running as a change candidate, he created expectations which he failed to meet either fully or at all in some instances.
The Man In the Arena
He walked into office facing tremendous challenges, such as the financial crisis, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, a broken healthcare system, and a government in shambles. His brand of pragmatism was a relief to our country at a time when public confidence was eroding. He brought a level-headedness and intelligent introspective style that was very much a breath of fresh air to the national political discourse.
He was able to fulfill the decades long Democratic dream of a national health care plan, albeit with a less than perfect model. He oversaw the recovery of our economy from the great recession, even if those gains were seemingly not equally felt by all. He presided over ending the war in Iraq. He has overseen a climate in our country which is generally more accepting of free speech, equality, and upward mobility for all.
He was not perfect by any stretch. I disagreed with him on many issues, but I did get the feeling that he was by and large a sincere president. It seemed to me that he made a good-faith approach to try and do what he could to make the country work better for all Americans. He is by his nature an optimist. He believes in America, and in the basic goodness of its people. And he believes that change is incremental, and not something that comes from the top down, but rather an organic process, gradual over time, and taking a zig-zag approach.
Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.
Saying Goodbye, Why Is It Sad?
President Obama penned a thank you letter to the American people yesterday for his 8 years as our president. The full text is below:
My fellow Americans,
It’s a long-standing tradition for the sitting president of the United States to leave a parting letter in the Oval Office for the American elected to take his or her place. It’s a letter meant to share what we know, what we’ve learned, and what small wisdom may help our successor bear the great responsibility that comes with the highest office in our land, and the leadership of the free world.
But before I leave my note for our 45th president, I wanted to say one final thank you for the honor of serving as your 44th. Because all that I’ve learned in my time in office, I’ve learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man.
Throughout these eight years, you have been the source of goodness, resilience, and hope from which I’ve pulled strength. I’ve seen neighbors and communities take care of each other during the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes. I have mourned with grieving families searching for answers — and found grace in a Charleston church.
I’ve taken heart from the hope of young graduates and our newest military officers. I’ve seen our scientists help a paralyzed man regain his sense of touch, and wounded warriors once given up for dead walk again. I’ve seen Americans whose lives have been saved because they finally have access to medical care, and families whose lives have been changed because their marriages are recognized as equal to our own. I’ve seen the youngest of children remind us through their actions and through their generosity of our obligations to care for refugees, or work for peace, and, above all, to look out for each other.
I’ve seen you, the American people, in all your decency, determination, good humor, and kindness. And in your daily acts of citizenship, I’ve seen our future unfolding.
All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into that work — the joyous work of citizenship. Not just when there’s an election, not just when our own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime.
I’ll be right there with you every step of the way.
And when the arc of progress seems slow, remember: America is not the project of any one person. The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’ ‘We the People.’ ‘We shall overcome.’
Yes, we can.
President Barack Obama
President of the United States