Why the Obama Presidency Failed

Cyril Straight

Assoc. Political Correspondent

The Obama Family Story and Accomplishments Aren’t as Inspiring as They Seem

Obama Standing At a Dais
Obama Standing At a Dais

When Americans look for progress in the political system, many often turn to Barack Obama, even if as nothing more than a symbol of that perceived progress. Obama is regarded not so much as a herald of progress for his actions, inasmuch as he is a talking piece for his vision and a visual beacon for both allies and opposition alike.

The sole reason for this interest in Obama is that, to some Americans, anything he does is viewed as a standing achievement. For Americans who play image politics, they pat themselves on the back as progressive for just liking, or even just tolerating Obama.

Sorry to say, Obama is a failed president. Barack Obama was one of those American presidents, like William Taft or Herbert Hoover, who were thoughtful and had a vision of what they wanted to achieve, but were in the end stunted by partisan opponents, and fundamentally indecisive on a wide host of issues.

To blame Senate Republicans for the failure and impotence of the Obama years expects that there was really nothing Obama, or another president, could have done to overcome it — that he was doomed to be ‘on a hiding to nothing’ for 8 years.

The “legacy” of the Obama Administration — the Affordable Healthcare Act — was indeed accomplished in the first two years of the Obama presidency, followed by 6 years of immobility after Democrats went from a majority government to a minority voice in both the House and the Senate. Obamacare, as it came to be known, was practically the only “Obamaesque” policy to survive Republican attacks in the individual states and the following four years of the Trump event.

Obama Democrats failed because they were a hermit government, sealed away into the capitol and issuing assessments on high down to the Democratic plebeians. Obama could not agree with Republicans because they were a deteriorating party, red-eyed, blood-in-the-water vultures after his election, so Obama’s first objective should have been to respond to party politics with party politics, and fight to retake the House and Senate.

Obama’s fence-sitting turned dyed-in-the-wool Democrats into dead-in-the-pool Democrats over a long, deflating siphon of power that culminated in Senate Republicans unconstitutionally blocking Obama’s supreme court nominee, and Nancy Pelosi ripping up a copy of Trump’s State of the Union Address on the House floor and ceremoniously signing copies of his impeachments, only to face near-unanimous defeat by the majority party in the Senate. For declawed, media-crazed politicians, theatre became more prevalent than power.

Instead, Obama walked a strange line of centrism: sidling up to Wall Street wherever he could, absorbing many Clinton Democrat policies into his playbook, and constantly stating that Americans need to reach across the aisle for bipartisan agreement.

Obama came off to many Americans as egotistical, arrogant, condescending, reclusive, pensive, cerebral, reticent, enigmatic, indiscernible, and naïve. Obama was hardly a natural-born leader, and stubbornly refused to play politics, viewing his office, and himself, as above it all.

The purpose of a party-electoral system is not to ensure constant compromise and divided government, as many cynical Americans have come to believe, but to have a party for each significant plan, or point of view, and let the electorate at large choose to what extent each view shall represent themselves in government.

American elections at a certain point almost seem to be decided by random or at a coin flip, often coming out 50–50, with a boost to the incumbent or to the challenger when the incumbent steps down. American government has two parties and is currently split in half between those parties, with Democrats controlling more of the population and Republicans controlling more of the institutions. It almost seems as if the American electorate does choose at random who they are going to vote for, as their voting habits are statistically resistant to responding to current events, or even party platforms.

Obama was a Democratic Party candidate, and while Wall Street is deep in the bones of both parties, it looks worse for Democrats to so blatantly join forces with them. Obama alienated progressives by taking a hard line for the Centre-Right at the start of his administration during the 2008 recession, fearful that Bush had caused a depression, Obama cherrypicked as many Clintonites and Wall Street hacks as he could before signing off on anything that would keep him from looking like the next Herbert Hoover.

For such an inexperienced politician, this was a major decision that would have consequences for not only the American people, but the world economy and even human culture for decades to come. The banks were now the enemy, and a superpolitical force manipulating governments in every nation, and at both ends of the ideological continuum.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a third-party candidate focused almost singularly on regulating the banks, wanted to primary Obama in 2012, but saw the threat Mitt Romney, a “Massachusetts Republican,” posed to Obama, a neo-Clinton Democrat, and decided to wait until 2016 to challenge Obama’s mentor/surrogate, one of the Clintons. Sanders probably viewed himself in no small degree as a Rooseveltian figure, a “bull-moose” determine to “bust up the banks.”

Obama and Clinton held different views on dressage issues, but Obama hired numerous aides from the Bill Clinton administration, several staffers from the Hillary Clinton campaign, and made Clinton one of his top five senior advisors, alongside David Axelrod, John Kerry, Jeh Johnson, and Joe Biden.

Secretary Clinton in the Obama Administration had far more power, influence, and visibility than Senator Clinton or First Lady Clinton did during the Bush and Clinton Administrations respectively. Clinton was both the driver and the fuel, but chained by the fact that her word could at any moment be vetoed by a fledgling politician who had spent more time as a professor at the University of Chicago than in legislature.

Obama never had a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish, nor did he have the experience or temperament to be the person to make it happen. Obama spent more time reading briefs than drafting policy, and more time drafting policy than directing Congress to act. That would not be so much of a hinderance, except for the fact that Obama was a primarily legislation-focused president, as opposed to presidents like Polk who were focused primarily on controlling enforcement through the executive branch, rather than steering legislature through the veto power.

Even as a candidate Obama was wishy-washy, always focused more on ideas than realities. His stump speeches for change were ironically most appealing to people who wanted to avoid change, Obama turning out to be more of a caretaker president trying to gently steer the ship forward instead of be a mover and shaker.

Obama was always obsessed with the optics of his government, and put all his energy on youth and minority voters, but those people don’t vote in midterms, and Obama lost all three of his Congressional elections despite winning both of his presidential ones. Obama also sucked all the life out of the Democratic Party by skyrocketing to become its head and then sleeping on all the minutia directives the party wanted from him. The Democratic Party was in its weakest state after during the Obama years than in any time in recent memory.

The American psyche seemed to be cracking: 9–11 in 2001, the Patriot Act in 2002, the Afghan War in 2003, the Iraq War in 2004, Obama elected to the Senate in 2005, the atrocities at Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo Bay in 2006, the Panama Papers in 2007, the election of Obama in 2008, the Great Recession in 2009, the Tea Party in 2010, the Snowden Whistleblower in 2011, on, and on, and on, until Trump called Mexicans rapists in 2015, the Panama Papers in 2016, Trump explodes the deficit in 2017, Trump ditches Cohen in 2018, Trump gets impeached in 2019, and Trump gets impeached for a second time in 2020. Obviously the dates have been changed for sequential effect, but the point is Americans were hit by existential scandal after scandal, each one contributing to an erosion in international reputation and an uptick in domestic strife.

After his opening façade to the Centre-Right with the banks, Obama shifted to the Centre-Left, striking a deal with pharmaceutical and healthcare lobbyists to expand Medicaid to poor families, nominally a government programme but heavily dependent upon the negotiation power of the private medical industry.

Obama prided himself for being “scandal-free” at the end of eight years, but what this terminology did was cement his tonal deafness to the country. Obama was referring to the fact that he hadn’t majorly misspoken in public or cheated on his wife (in public), or something like that, when Obama ran a litany of scandals and controversies to people across the nation, but these were focused more on his decision-making than on his person.

Obama gave $3 Billion dollars of taxpayer money to the very people that destroyed the world economy.

Obama tied healthcare even closed to the hands of private corporations, enacting his one long-standing policy as an opt-in bundle of money offered to the individual states.

Obama had inherited Bush’s mass surveillance programme, rife with corruption and abuse, and said nothing, even lying directly to the American people.

Obama ramped up deportation of immigrants and smashing of whistleblowers, and was able to offer a verbal reproach of torture and extrajudicial prisons and interrogations, but ultimately was ineffective in enforcing those criticisms.

Obama backtracked on anything that would be seen as stronghanded or decisive, feeling that targeting racism as a problem would hurt his numbers among both racist Democrats and racist Republicans, who had voted for him, but were ready at a moment’s notice to switch sides.

Under Obama, Democrats lost seats in state congressional districts, national elections, municipal councils, and governorships at an unprecedented level.

Part of it was racism served as a galvanising and unifying force to disparate enemies of Obama who didn’t have policy objectives but could now say, “not him” in a single voice. Part of it was Obama’s weakening of the Democratic Party by straining it on both ends and providing little guidance or support without spending a week to run the numbers first. Part of it was Obama as a failed president.

Obama represented very little social change. He does not even offer hope to poor and struggling Americans, who many racist, liberal commentariats proposed would finally see themselves in a politician. The assumptions that all minorities are alike, or like Obama, or that Obama is even a minority, expose the self-contradictory and hypocritical racism of American Leftists and Conservatives alike.

Obama was born to a lower-upper middle-class family comprised of university graduates, high-profile immigrants, professors, government officials, and banking clerks. Obama represents no hope for the downtrodden classes of America, or the world, as a rich person by any other name is just as elitist.

Obama was no paragon of virtue, as he would be the first to admit. He was in and out of relationships in his youth, he did drugs, and he would get into political arguments with people in alternatives scenes until he found them a little too edgy to continue. He attended expensive private schools as a child, went on to four different colleges, starting at Occidental College, transferring to Columbia University, taking a gap year before enrolling in Harvard University, and accepting a professorship at the University of Chicago.

Many politicians come from this background, for instance Boris dePfeffel Johnson did drugs in his early years and attended Eton and Oxbridge before sauntering into government. Obama did face scepticism and had his focus set on “ordinary” Americans, feeling a moral impetus to visit churches in American ghettoes instead of spend all his time as a corporate attorney, but he had and has almost nothing in common with the common American. Obama is an incisive and perceptive person, and uses that information to adjust his beliefs, where a Boris Johnson would use those observations to adjust his shallow message or his bank account, but those traits and skills are not political skills, and even not particularly useful skills.

To suggest that Obama chose the common man over his ambition, when he could have been a corporatist, ignores the fact that Obama did follow his ambitions, sometimes irrespective of the country’s interests, by jumping into various political waters here, and taking $60 Million dollar book deals there. Politics is often more lucrative than a profession.

Even his wife, often viewed as more likable, stable, and relatable than him — as wives often are — isn’t really all that inspiring. Michelle L. R. Obama was a common and unremarkable girl, born to a lower-middle class family, who got accepted to a magnet school through a desegregation bussing initiative, and her brother got a basketball “scholarship” to Princeton University, two years before she was admitted to Princeton through legacy admissions via her brother, coupled with affirmative action, that the Princeton staff saw no reason to hide from her.

She finished at Princeton University, then went straight to Harvard University, then to corporate law, then to administrational management. Michelle Obama didn’t fight and claw her way to be there; She, like many other people situated in such environments, merely found her way there, selected more by chance and by association than by merit or grit.

The Obamas are middle-class Americans, that just so happen to be targeted by unjustified racist attacks. They have nothing to do with, and nothing to particularly offer, the lower class, underclass, and working-class sectors of America, or Europe, or the world. The Obamas did not overcome racism for anyone, but merely proved that money is more important to Americans than racism. And after all, what was racism created to do but attempt to control the economy through marginalising poor people and immigrants. Obama may feel sorry for, even pity poor people, but he is not one of them, and he is not their champion.

If Obama left his presidency the champion of anyone, it would have to be those contented and ruling classes, of neoliberals buying assets overseas, or Wall Streeters still evading regulation, or celebrity media personalities who view Obama as some kind of hero as compared to Trump. The common man or woman doesn’t fit into that package.

Donald Trump is viewed by many Obama apologists as a negation of Barack Obama, voted into the presidency by the last throngs of a dying, racist brood of Americans backlashing against the eight years of greatness and optimism that were the Obama tenure, often masking Obama’s failings with the mere image of himself and his family life as being transcendent or ‘post-racist’ over America’s truly horrifying past. Trump is not a negation of Obama, and such an view is both an oversimplification and an undeserved credit to Trump.

To better understand the view Trump had of Obama, one need go little further than the 2008 presidential election, where first blipped onto Trump’s narrow radar. Trump was always a racist, and this question was neither in question nor particularly significant to the national audience until his campaign began, and right-wing commentators starting spreading chary lies to the contrary. Trump’s full-on support of Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary against Obama, and then Trump’s support for Obama adopting Clinton’s policies, followed by Trump’s endorsement of McCain after Obama didn’t seem ‘Clinton enough,’ provide a view of a much more salient truth, that Trump will do or say anything he believes is in his own interest, and that Trump did hate Obama but was never really serious about anything he said.

The complete transformation of Trump’s views from 2008 to 2016 are astounding, until one remembers just how malleable and useless Trump’s words are.

Referring to Hillary Clinton in 2008, Trump endorsed Clinton over McCain, meaning that for the moment, Trump was a supporter of the Democrats. Some commentators have suggested that Trump’s racist statements about Obama, fused with the anti-intellectual movement sparked by Sarah Palin in 2008, was the catapult of reactionary “working-class voters” that saw Trump defeat Clinton in purple states in 2016.

Trump said of Clinton in 2008, “I’m a big fan of Hillary’s. She’s a terrific woman. She’s a friend of mine.” During the Republican primary to succeed Obama in 2016, Republicans called Trump a Democrat and referenced that he supported Clinton in 2008, and Clinton was the presumptive nominee for the Democrats for the same year. Trump responded that he was completely self-interested and would vote for anyone who ‘served his purposes,’ seeking to undercut trust in both Democratic and Republican establishments while bolstering himself and dodging the question.

What that shows is Trump is entirely self-involved, and Obama supporters who view Trump as an existential challenge to Obama or America are taking it too personally, as well as conflating their personal view of the country with the right way to govern.

In 2008, after Obama defeated Clinton, Trump swapped over to McCain, saying “I’ve known him. I like him. I respect him. He’s a smart guy.” When McCain opposed Trump in the Republican primaries in 2016, Trump called McCain a loser, stating the infamous words, “He’s not a hero. I like soldiers who weren’t captured.” There were no limits to what Trump would say because Trump would say anything; He would complement anyone he thought he could attach himself to, and he would attack anyone who contradicted him, no matter how baseless his flattery or how baseless his insults.

Trump’s migration from Clinton to McCain, around and away from Obama, do demonstrate that Trump would support anyone over Obama, and this is probably because Trump didn’t know who Obama was, and more substantially because Trump is a racist. But to say that Trump was elected for the sole purpose of erasing Obama’s effect or legacy, or even that Trump had that kind of secondary effect, is absurd to suggest the Trump Administration of ideologically opposed to Obama. Trump threw concessions to racists and “deplorables” because he saw racism as a winning issue, and wrecked policies that were in place long before Obama, like provisions of the EPA.

It’s important for Obama apologists to recognise that Obama does not represent the American people, the institutions of government that speak for the America people do, and they selected Obama, then selected Trump, then selected Biden — and certain activities like ACA and Paris Accords were ultimately kept, and others, like the Iran Deal, were not.

Obama was hit pretty hard by Republicans because he’s a pretty easy target to hit: he doesn’t move around too much. While he did jump ship on policy often, he viewed public office more as a public relations rep between himself and the media than an actual, physical institution to get dirty and get involved with. Obama spent more time writing letters than shaking hands, and his lack of personal scandals might be afforded to the fact of his lack of individual action.

Speaking to Americans on a personal level instead of ordering them around or instructing them on how it was going to be irrespective of their thoughts or realities, Obama was a genuinely civic-minded person who inspired hope through his speeches and carried a celebrity glow around him wherever he could tilt his power towards relief to the suffering. That is probably the Obama legacy, not the mundane policy micro-adjustments, or even the defeat of Hillary Clinton, or placement of the Obama Presidential Library. Obama’s person was his strength.

That’s not political power, so much as star power, and for a lot of people Obama made a great celebrity but came off as rehearsed and unscented. Obama is by all accounts a good man, and a person you ‘want to like,’ and perhaps the greatest credit to his character one can give is that his presidency does not entirely reflect or define him.

Failing to hold leeches in society accountable in exchange for preferential treatment, Obama’s administration lost credibility in just a matter of months, and was dead in the water after two years. Obama was uninterested in rebuilding party support and unable to mount a comeback, coasting his lofty plane into the crashlanding of 2016.

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