Obama’s Legacy–Optimism

January 15, 2017

The Optimism of Barack H. Obama

Americans will miss Mr. Obama’s negotiating skills on tough issues and the dignity and character that he and his family brought to the White House.–New York Times

Barack Obama is leaving the White House with polls showing him to be one of the most popular presidents in recent decades. This makes sense. His achievements, not least pulling the nation back from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, have been remarkable — all the more so because they were bitterly opposed from the outset by Republicans who made it their top priority to ensure that his presidency would fail.

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Many Americans celebrated the election of the first African-American President as a welcome milestone in the history of a nation conceived in slavery and afflicted by institutional racism. Yet the bigotry that president-elect Donald Trump capitalized on during his run for office confirmed a point that Mr. Obama himself made from the start: that simply electing a black president would not magically dispel the prejudices that have dogged the country since its inception. Even now, these stubborn biases and beliefs, amplified by a divisive and hostile campaign that appealed not to people’s better instincts but their worst, have blinded many Americans to their own good fortune, fortune that flowed from policies set in motion by this President.

That story begins on Inauguration Day in 2009. That’s when Mr. Obama inherited a ravaged economy that was rapidly shedding jobs and forcing millions of people from their homes. The Obama stimulus, which staved off a 1930s-vintage economic collapse by pumping money into infrastructure, transportation and other areas, passed the House without a single Republican vote. Republican gospel holds that government spending does not create jobs or boost employment. The stimulus did both — preserving or creating an average of 1.6 millions jobs a year for four years. (A timely federal investment in General Motors and Chrysler, both pushed to the brink during the recession, achieved similarly salutary results, preserving more than a million jobs.)

Mr. Obama’s opponents have had trouble accepting that any of this actually happened. They have not learned the simple truth — a truth clear in the New Deal and just as clear now — that timely and significant federal investment can make a real difference in people’s lives. Or accepted that compassionate and well-designed government programs can do the same. Driven by ideology or envy, or maybe both, Republican leaders have now pounced upon the demonstrably successful Affordable Care Act of 2010, a law that has improved the way medical care is delivered in the United States, providing affordable care for millions and driving the percentage of Americans without insurance to a record low 9.1 percent in 2015. Despite the law’s clear successes, Mr. Trump and Republican congressional leaders have nevertheless declared it a failure, hoping to justify a repeal that would rob an estimated 22 million people of health insurance. The point of following this destructive course can only be to destroy a central Obama legacy — even though doing so will drive up costs and cause havoc in the lives of the newly uninsured.

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With no help from Congress, Mr. Obama has also managed to make progress on issues where nobody gave him much of a chance, notably climate change, which both he and his secretary of state, John Kerry, placed very near the top of their to-do list. Against heavy odds, Mr. Obama first managed to persuade the Chinese to join the effort. This demolished the critics’ argument that he was asking America to do all the heavy lifting. It also made possible the Paris agreement in December 2015, in which 195 nations agreed on a plan that they hope will reduce greenhouse gases that are warming the atmosphere and threatening the viability of the planet itself.

Americans will miss Mr. Obama’s negotiating skills on tough issues and the dignity and character that he and his family brought to the White House. Beyond that, they will also miss an impassioned speaker whose eloquence ranks with that of Abraham Lincoln. The way he has defended the founding precepts of the United States while also arguing that those precepts have to be broadened to achieve a new inclusiveness has been especially striking, as have his remarks delivered at moments of national tragedy.

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His 2015 eulogy in Charleston, S.C., after a Confederate flag-waving white supremacist slaughtered nine African-American parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, was redolent with history. As always, he viewed the horror through the prism of a seemingly innate optimism about the country’s ability to set aside hatred and move toward a more perfect union.

Mr. Obama never would have gained the office without that unflagging optimism, which inspired a generation of young voters who saw in him a new kind of leader. So it seemed fitting that he would end his farewell address in Chicago on Tuesday with them in mind:

“Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair and just and inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, that it’s not something to fear but something to embrace; you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result the future is in good hands.”

4 thoughts on “Obama’s Legacy–Optimism

  1. A better judgement of Obama’s legacy can only be made at the constitutional end of Trump’s presidency or his assassination, whichever comes first.

  2. Foreign Affairs
    China took over China Sea
    Russians moved into Syria
    Russia moved into Crimea
    One Malaysian Plane got shot down
    Iran got back frozen deposits and nuclear deal
    ISIS was born
    Pivot to Asia and TPP
    National Debet up by 10 trillion

  3. Barack Obama, as a man and as a leader, has been strong and decent. He has served the presidency with integrity. Is he perfect? Of course not, but he has cared about America and its people deeply; given the job his best; and withstood unrelenting claims that tried to tear him down in every way possible. Claims that he is “not born in America” and “not one of us” are but a thinly veiled racism; claims that he “hates and wants to destroy America” are beyond comprehension in reference to anyone who takes on the job of President.

    It is sad that Trump and some GOP bigots are so blinded by hatred that they will seek to erase his “legacy” all the while refusing to acknowledge any good at all in what he has done. What they don’t get is that while they can indeed tear down much of what he has done they can not destroy Barack Obama nor can they truly tarnish his “legacy,” for he will be known to history as the man of integrity, decency, hard work, thoughtfulness, and grace he will always be.

  4. Obama, for which I have voted twice, is a child trapped in adult body as I regrettably found out as he serves toward the end of his presidency. He failed most miserably as the commander-in-chief in protecting the nation when he failed not only to confront the enemy in the form of radical Islamists, but also failed to call the threat by its name – we have a Fort Hood massacre report cleansed of sensitive terms such “Islamist” and “Jihad” under his directive to do the censoring on Pentagon. He misjudged the world when he went to Cairo to praise the radical Islamists which eventually led to premiership of Mohammad Morsi, of which his overthrown by General Al Sisi had deeply enraged Obama. He failed also in domestics policies when he upended the health care of the nation by causing the increase of insurance premium by 25% from last year alone, with some states incurs 100+% increase of premium. He has the passion of a socialist but also unfortunately has the brain stunted by the ideology of socialism.

    I think Obama will be judged by historians as one of the worst president in US history. The only thing I regret is I was a part of his support.

    He now enjoys 52% approval rating (good by US standard) is, I think, mainly the result of white-guilt – majority of white Americans cannot bring themselves to render negative assessment of the first African American president. They want to be called neither racist nor lacking of compassion – a very Christian notion that most want to stay in line almost at all cost. However, I think those who do not suffer from white-guilt should point out the obvious.

    I am happy finally US will soon have adults in charge. A man like Al Sisi will not be shunned in the name of democracy. Many other things will operate in the adult-intended manner.

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