There’s a tendency in this country to speak of ex-presidents with the same generosity one would use to speak of the recently departed. A “funeral parlance” (if you’ll forgive the awful pun) that leads folks to look on the old administration with rose-tinted glasses. Considering the replacement, that’s going to be doubly true this year.
Not at Culture War Reporters, though.
Here’s our final grade for Obama,
Note: The issues selected here are based upon the principles we here at CWR seem to touch on most frequently. We hope to make this a regular tradition, provided the United States still exists in four years and that this writer will not have been imprisoned or sent to work on a lunar penal colony.
Advocates of the president will be swift to point out that the unemployment rate at the beginning of the president’s term was in the double digits, and has since fallen to about 4.9% after years of slow but steady recovery. And there absolutely should be credit where it’s due- the Obama administration has seen the recovery of the economy. Can I whine about it not being enough though? You bet I can.
While many Americans are finally back to work, the positions they find themselves in are often low-paying with little to no security. While that’s not entirely the president’s fault, the president himself has been agonizingly slow (and bafflingly conservative) in advocating a raise for the minimum wage. While the extremely wealthy are paying slightly more in taxes, taxes have also risen for folks making less than $250,000 a year (which is the overwhelming ****ing majority of us) with the majority of the president’s proposed reforms having ended in defeat. All in all the extremely rich continue to enjoy unrivalled luxury and unchallenged control of US politics and wealth.
Final Grade: D+
We could spend all day trying to understand why the President was so hesitant to address racial disparity during his eight years in office. Maybe he believed- as many Americans once did- that it wasn’t actually there, or just a thing of the past. Maybe he felt too close to the issue. Or that it wasn’t his place to comment.
I honestly don’t know.
What I do know is that while the president was lecturing the class of 2013 on why they had “no excuses”, young black men across the country were being gunned down without cause. When an innocent black man was executed in Georgia, Obama did nothing to stop it. During the rash of protests and riots that gripped cities across the US, Obama consistently seemed to come down on the side of order over justice.
The president stepped up deportations of undocumented immigrants, often ignoring the fact that many were attempting to escape violence in their home countries. While consistently asking for support from the Hispanic-American community, Obama repeatedly failed to deliver on his promises of immigration reform. All in all the country is increasingly fractured and Obama’s inaction has not only not helped but actively hurt the efforts of those seeking a multicultural society.
Final Grade: D-
At the tail end of 2011, Obama- still in his first term- okayed the now-infamous National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA.
While a yearly budget for the US military, the NDAA also contained provisions for specific actions the military can take- including the “indefinite detention of suspected terrorists, including American citizens.”
Quite literally erases due process for anyone suspected of terrorist activity, and need we remind you of how broad the definition is for “suspected terrorism?” It’s not just for fringe-guys like me- if you’ve bought too many flashlights, bottles of drain cleaner, or have the geniuses at the TSA make a typo on their “no-fly list.”
Even following eight years of the Bush Administration and their host of attacks on civil liberties, the NDAA made the Patriot Act look tame by comparison.
When pressed about his decision, the President stated “my administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention of American citizens without trial.”
His administration. I somehow doubt that Trump’s (hell, even Clinton’s) would have shown the same restraint. But when it comes to civil liberties, the President’s promises don’t carry much weight.
Guantanamo Bay- which the president has repeatedly promised to close from day one– remains open. Edward Snowden continues to live in exile while the NSA, still operates with shameless disregard for 4th Amendment rights. Their insidious data-gather techniques will likewise be handed over to Trump and his administration. Obama’s administration saw the introduction of Rapiscan machines in airports- an expansion, rather than curtailing, of Bush-era paranoia.
Hell, even Obama seems to be aware of what he’ll be shortly turning over to Trump. Perhaps that’s his reason for his last-second commuting of the sentence of Chelsea Manning, an imprisoned whistle blower who may face even worse persecution by the Trump administration. While Manning’s release in May is to be celebrated, the president’s last-ditch attempts at tidying up his legacy are not.
And don’t even get me started on the drones.
Final Grade: F
While Obama’s election was greeted with international celebration, much of the goodwill he managed to generate has long-since evaporated. While the world at large continues to view the US in a positive light, it’s undeniable that things could be better. Obama’s US was painfully slow to act in the Syrian civil war- and while not diving into another Middle Eastern conflict is understandable, the lack of solutions (especially non-military solutions) is simply not forgivable.
There’s been a similar issue in Palestine.
It should be telling that this administration has repeatedly pledged its unconditional support for Israel and yet gets criticized for its “turbulent relationship.” In spite of the Administration’s attempts (“attempts” being a way of saying “stern lectures”), the Obama administration committed 30 Billion dollars of aid to the apartheid state.
Looking back over the past eight years, it would seem that the president’s only bold move was to finally normalize relations with Cuba, ending a ridiculous embargo. How long that will last, however, remains to be seen.
Final Grade: D-
Let’s be clear here. The Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” was an achievement. It marked one of the most critical milestones in American public services as the United States finally joined the rest of the world in offering some form of public healthcare.
The passing of the ACA was remarkable. The ACA itself… not so much.
Don’t get me wrong, there are excellent and much-needed provisions of the law. The requirement of insurance companies to disregard pre-existing conditions, the extension of healthcare to millions of citizens, these are good things. But the ACA is not universal healthcare. It’s not even close. The best it could be called is a sort of subsidized public healthcare. While there are regulations to make healthcare more affordable to some, the simple reality of the situation is that folks are now forced to pay for something they couldn’t afford to begin with. To twist the scalpel even further, the ACA requires folks (myself included) to buy insurance. The fees I pay every month aren’t taxes which are being used towards someone else’s care, they’re going straight to the pockets of millionaire CEOs.
That’s not exactly the universal healthcare we so desperately need- but then again, it was never designed to be. Obama himself stated that while “…he supports the idea of universal health care [he] does not think a single-payer government system is feasible.”
That lack of boldness may come back to bite the President as the Republican-controlled congress gears up to dismantle the most defining feature of his legacy. One can only wonder that if the President had aimed higher and dreamed bigger, his opponents wouldn’t have such as easy time taking it apart.
Final Grade: C+
The president’s environmental record, while not without broken promises and more than a few of his signature compromises, is nevertheless pretty positive. Funding for national parks has increased, fuel and energy-efficiency standards have risen, and investment in renewable energy has seen significant improvement. Although he seemed to waffle on the Standing Rock protests, for the time being at least, the Dakota Access Pipeline has been halted. Here, at the very least, Obama’s legacy may actually stand a chance against being undone by Trump and his ilk.
Final Grade: B
Overall Grade: D
For a man who spoke so much about audacity and hope, I’m struggling to recall what exactly it was folks were supposed to be so audaciously hoping for. What was that vision?
A cosmopolitan liberal paradise? A Scandinavian welfare state? A return to the assured comfort of the Clinton-era? A newer New Deal?
I can’t for the life of me seem to remember, and the more I think about it, the more I wonder if there wasn’t one at all. If all that pretty rhetoric wasn’t a way of offering a softer, gentler version of the same policies, the same weary ideals as always.
The president’s defenders- hell, maybe even some of his opponents- may accuse me of being too harsh. “He had a mess to begin with. He had a hostile congress to contend with. He had so much on his plate.”
All of that is true. But it doesn’t really matter to me.
I honestly don’t mind it when folks fail in the pursuit of some grand and glorious dream. That’s life right there. But asking too little will always be unforgivable. Even if you succeed, folks will be wondering what could have been if only you have asked for more.
That’s ultimately the downfall of Obama. Not the crises that faced the nation and the world, not the complexity of the political arena, not the capricious nature of public opinion. It’s guts, pure and simple. The willingness to burn out in a fiery wreck, content with the knowledge that even the flames will be seen for generations.
We didn’t get that from Obama. We got compromise. We got feasibility. Attainability. Passability.
And a D is passing. Barely.
All images retrieved from Tumblr, WordPress, and Reddit, fair use.