From the first time I heard him speak as a young congressman, I knew that he had something special. Not since the great Ronald Reagan had a politician been able to communicate in such an inspirational style. As a traditionally orthodox Baptist, Barack Obama and I were bound to have differing views on subjects like abortion and freedom of religion. Our views on when it is in the country’s best interest to deploy troops into harms way is also quite different. But we share a love of country and compassion for the disenfranchised. I was especially hopeful that he would champion environmental protection to a not-yet-witnessed degree by any president.
Today is the last full day of President Obama’s eight years of service. Despite having voted for him, I have to say that there are many areas in which I am disappointed in what he did.
Barack was our first president of African-American descent. I am thrilled that my mother lived to see this milestone achieved. Her position throughout the years of civil rights unrest never wavered. I had hoped that his ascent would lead to healing and better race relations. As is always the case, changing times play a big role in a president’s legacy. Institutionalized racism had been almost a given in American culture. Long after the Jim Crow laws had been repealed and Confederate flags relegated to our backwater regions, beneath our veneer of civility, Blacks continued to receive stiffer sentences and be more likely to suffer from police brutality. Barack came to office just two years after the first iPhone. By the time he left office, it had become quite common for this hidden-to-the-majority racism to be caught on cellphone cameras and shared to the world. It is a crisis that cries out for a leader that can navigate the treacherous path between ignoring injustice to the disenfranchised and betraying those within the system who are not guilty of these abuses. We need the rule of law. We need our police. They must never doubt that we support their efforts toward enforcing the rule of law in a just manner. But our disenfranchised also need to know that black lives matter. I realize that many of our black brothers and sisters feel that our president failed to do enough to cleanse the system of its injustice. But I feel that his efforts toward that goal were so harsh on law enforcement that a climate was created in which violence against our police officers became alarmingly common. Instead of progress toward a just peace, gas was thrown on the fire. This was a crisis, but also an opportunity to help each side view things from the other’s perspective. In my opinion, this opportunity has been lost and contributed to the white working class backlash that allowed Donald Trump to limp into the White House.
This inability to see that there are other perspectives on domestic issues carried over into fueling the divisive relationship between our two parties. Barack came across to me as very arrogant in the way he related to those politicians with views that differed from his own. I would go so far as to say that he comes across as more empathetic to foreign leaders perspectives than to those of his own Congress. It is my sense that no President has done a worse job of working with those across the aisle than President Obama. Does anyone know how many bills were co-sponsored by both parties during his administration?
There are areas of foreign policy that I would also say were disappointments. After eight years, there is still no viable exit strategy for the seemingly unending wars in the Middle East. I was so hopeful that our troops would either be brought home or provided the resources that they needed to annihilate their enemies. Instead we have repeated one of the great mistakes of the Vietnam War. We neither withdrew nor pursued victory with a full commitment of our resources. This is a great injustice upon the military whose lives are put on the line and too often in the ground in service to their Commander-in-Chief.
Further, the red line that Barack announced in Syria was ignored and the situation allowed to drag on until Assad could get help from Russia. Either our intelligence failed or our strategy failed, as Russia was allowed to overrun Crimea and then part of the Ukraine.
Our cyber security appears to have been almost an afterthought in this administration. China was allowed to steal our federal employees personnel files. Russia was empowered to hack our election and help to put someone believed to owe them large sums of money into power. Both of these large hacks followed on the heals of years of our businesses having their systems hacked. One of his last acts was to commute the sentence of Private Manning whose espionage had helped propel WikiLeaks to the forefront as a marketplace for hacked intelligence.
Two of America’s worst environmental disasters also happened on the Obama watch. The Gulf oil spill was a result of lax safety enforcement procedures. Flint’s water issues were a result of insufficient federal oversight of municipal practices. When a city has to decide between bankruptcy and safe drinking water it is time for the Feds to step up and help out.
At this point you may be thinking that I am going to be happy to see our President replaced. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I don’t think we can look at the last eight years as anything but an economic triumph. The American auto industry would no longer exist if it weren’t for the leadership of this president. The push toward renewable energy and green industry have laid the groundwork for what is the inevitable economic future of the planet. Unemployment is low. Inflation is low. The growth of the national debt has slowed.
Barack played the long economic game with treaties like the Trans Pacific Partnership. A small dip in jobs today ties us to the exploding growth opportunities of Asian economies. This represents courageous and wise economic leadership, but also requires patience in order for our country to reap its benefit.
I must also point out that Obama’s FCC protected net neutrality. This policy allows everyone equal access to the internet’s information pipelines. Services like Netflix cannot be slowed down so that Comcast can serve up its competitive service with an unfair advantage to Comcast customers, for example. This has resulted in a boom of internet entertainment options like Sling TV, DirecTV Now, CBS All Access, and a more robust Hulu. I am unaware of an OMB cost-benefit analysis of this policy, but I would love to see that done.
18 million of our working class and poor now have insurance that they never had before. I know that the Affordable Care Act is a mixed blessing. Deductibles are sometimes too high for people to get that preventive medicine they should have, but that is still better than not having any backstop in the event of catastrophic illness – which is where they were before the ACA.
Perhaps my greatest joy in this administration comes in the area of public lands. President Barack Obama set aside more public lands than any previous president (UPI). Despite fierce opposition from local groups who sought to exploit those resources, our President moved to protect our national interests. He belatedly joined the world in an alliance to fight perhaps the greatest threat to our planet, global warming, when he signed the Paris Agreement.
I don’t think we have ever enjoyed a longer stretch of executive power without a hint of scandal. Even Reagan had the Iran-Contra scandal. The Obama family has in many ways been a model of the kind of love, thoughtfulness, fun, and decency that we all want for our own families. This law professor was careful in what he said, recognizing that his words would impact the world. Barack Obama is a scholar and a gentleman, a President that allowed us to feel proud as he represented the United States to the World.
Why was he not succeeded by a Democrat? His failures in building bridges between races and parties. His failures to show empathy to the white working class most vulnerable to the impacts of future-looking trade deals. His inability to prevent the rise of the Islamic State. His failure to address national cyber vulnerability before our election process got hacked.
If you wonder why I’m not happy to see him go, here are some things to think about. While Donald was crafting 140 characters to tweet his opinions about Saturday Night Live, Obama authored an 84 page journal article on criminal justice. While Donald was appealing to our basest racism, Islamaphobia, homophobia, and bigotry toward those with disabilities, Obama was literally the personification of the American ideal of inclusivism. While Donald was bragging about his infidelities and sexually assaulting women, Obama championed women – especially his wife and daughters. While Donald was nominating a cabinet of billionaires with a history of racism, financial misconduct, and rife with conflicts of interest, Obama gave us eight years free from a hint of scandal. So it is with sadness that I say goodbye to President Obama. For eight years we have disagreed on many things, but I felt safe in the conviction that our President had only the best interests of our nation as a goal.
Now, we will see what happens as a group of billionaires, all of whom have a vested interest in policies that will favor the wealthy, come into power. PBS reports that these nominees have a combined wealth in excess of the combined assets of the poorest 43 million American households – or a third of the country. It appears that they have already gone soft on Russia (Post-Gazette) because of those same financial interests despite Russia’s attempts to undermine the institutions of democracy. So, I sadly say goodbye to a good man and look fearfully to our future. It will be interesting to see how well our constitutional checks and balances work against such a nakedly self-interested executive power. I hope I am wrong. I pray that I am wrong. I pray for Donald Trump, for America, and for a world whose stability is, I believe, about to be tested in ways not seen since World War II.
Goodbye Barack, and may God bless us all.