Note: I’ll probably be tinkering with this post over the next several days (mostly, adding new thoughts and new points and details). After all, it’s difficult to include everything significant that transpired (or didn’t transpire) in seven years of a presidency.
Associated Press photo
President Barack Obama is shown above in Washington, D.C., on December 10. Salon.com writer Walker Bragman has deemed Obama “the first liberal (not progressive) Democrat to be president in years,” and that’s probably an apt short summary of the Obama years, if by that Bragman means that Obama has espoused liberal ideals but has done little to nothing to move the nation forward to ensure greater socioeconomic equity and greater opportunity for all (which is progressivism).
In November 2008, when I went to my polling place, it was going to be Barack Obama or independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader* whose oval I would blacken with my ballpoint pen on my paper ballot to be scanned.
In the end, I voted for Barack Obama. He would win my state of California and all of its electoral votes anyway, and I was happy to be one of the millions of American voters who had the opportunity, for the first time in the nation’s history, to vote for a presidential candidate who is not a (full) white man. That was long past due.
I strongly had supported Obama over Billary Clinton in the primary. I’d donated hundreds of dollars to his campaign to help him knock Billary out of the primary, which he did.
But I didn’t support Obama over Billary because he’s half-white and half-black. I supported him over her because I’d believed his ubiquitous presidential campaign promises of “hope” and “change.” I viewed him as the most progressive yet still viable presidential candidate (as I view Bernie Sanders now). That is why I supported him in the 2008 Democratic primary and why I voted for him in November 2008.
I believe in actually holding an elected official to his or her campaign promises, and so when Obama spectacularly squandered his huge amount of political capital in 2009 and 2010 by trying to sing “Kumbaya” with the Repugnican Tea Party traitors in Congress who never were going to cooperate with him in the first place because he’s a Democrat and because he’s half-black, I was incredibly disappointed.
In 2009 and 2010, when both houses of Congress were in the Democrats’ control, Obama could have accomplished a lot more than he actually did. He pushed “bipartisanship,” which always had been a non-starter, instead of pushing a progressive agenda.
And in 2009 and 2010 getting “Obamacare” pushed through Congress took all of the oxygen in the room, and, in the end, “Obamacare,” supposedly Obama’s “signature” “achievement,” apparently contained nothing that the lobbyists for the wealth-care industry didn’t want it to contain. (Indeed, “Obamacare’s” individual mandate requires everyone to have health insurance; what mostly-for-profit industry wouldn’t love such a requirement?**)
Then, in November 2010, the Dems lost control of the House of Representatives, and then, in November 2014, they lost control of the Senate (and lost even more seats in the House).
There are at least a few reasons for those losses, including the incredibly shitty “leadership” of Democratic National Committee head Debbie Wasserman Schultz, but I still believe that had Obama pushed the progressive agenda that he at least indirectly had promised with his “hope” and “change” slogans, the Democrats would have kept the House and the Senate.
Indeed, it primarily was Obama’s dithering in 2009 and 2010 that lost the Dems the House in 2010, I believe, thus crippling any progressive agenda for the remainder of Obama’s two terms, since the Repugnican Tea Party traitors in Congress have held on to the House since January 2011.
Since January 2011, with the House controlled by the Repugnican Tea Party traitors and the White House controlled by Obama, we’ve had nothing but even more gridlock, and since both houses of Congress fell to Repugnican Tea Party control after the election of November 2014, Obama was guaranteed a final two years of more whimper than bang.
I give Obama faint praise for being the first U.S. president to jump on board with same-sex marriage in 2012, although that was overdue and was coming sooner or later anyway. And as with Billary Clinton, it did take Obama a long time to “evolve” on the issue, even though the U.S. Supreme Court this past June finally ruled that same-sex marriage is a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Something is a constitutional right or it is not; the recognition of a constitutional right might be denied and delayed for even generations, but nonetheless it remains a constitutional right, and further, constitutional rights are not up for a vote or even for a public-opinion poll. Again, same-sex marriage inherently was a constitutional right long before the foot-dragging U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled that it is, so yes, Obama fairly led from behind on that issue; history led Obama more than Obama led history.
(That said, I can’t imagine that Obama’s having been the first president to voice his support for same-sex marriage wasn’t a significant factor in the U.S. Supreme Court finally following suit three years later. Wikipedia notes that Obama’s second inaugural address in January 2013 marked “the first time that a president mentioned gay rights or the word ‘gay’ in an inaugural address.”)
I applaud Obama for his work in opening up Cuba after decades. It’s beyond ridiculous that a Latin American nation 90 miles away from the United States should remain locked in a perpetual cold war with the U.S., which is what the right-wing traitors have wanted.
However, as I wrote a year ago, Cubans have much more to lose in closer ties with the United States than vice-versa. (As I wrote, “would it benefit most Cubans for American corporations to muscle back into the nation and turn most Cubans into wage slaves, like most Americans are? … Are Cubans really just itching for such wonderful imported American ‘freedoms’ as crushing student-loan debt, wage slavery and bankruptcy from insane health-care costs?”)
Obama’s other notable accomplishments include seating our first Latina or Latino U.S. Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor, in 2009, and, with the seating of Elena Kagan in 2010, Obama gave us the first Supreme Court with three female justices (we need at least one or two more of them).
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 also was an accomplishment, even if it again seems that history led and that our politicians finally caught up. Ditto for the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010. (And it’s hard to say that the abolishment of something hateful and unconstitutional that never should have been instituted in the first place is an “accomplishment,” but we’ll call it one, I suppose.)
Obama hasn’t been able to accomplish enough on climate change, in no small part because his dithering in 2009 and 2010 lost the Democrats control of Congress. And with “Democrats” like the former Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, Big Oil, with its Big Money to politicians who sell us out to them, combatting climate change remains a political mountain to overcome.
But/and on that note, Obama was stunningly ineffectual in confronting British Petroleum when its underwater oil well belched an estimated 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico over almost three months in 2010. It was his first huge test of his campaign promises of environmental protection, and he failed miserably.
Perhaps at least in part because of his failure to deal with the BP oil disaster effectively, Obama did veto the Keystone XL oil pipeline earlier this year, in what Wikipedia calls “his first major veto.” That would be in the “plus” column of Obama’s environmental record, but overall, has Obama done enough in combatting climate change and otherwise protecting the environment? Of course not.
Profound income inequality persists under Obama. It’s yet another critical national problem that became fairly insoluble after the Dems lost control of Congress in the election of 2010, and it’s ironic that the nation’s first (half-)black president has done so little to improve the lot of black Americans (who, for the most part, support him steadfastly nonetheless, apparently more out of identity politics than for his actual accomplishments for them).
Obama hasn’t done a lot more for black Americans for many reasons, that I can tell. One, he’s never wanted to come off as an “angry” black man, knowing that he couldn’t have won the presidency had he done so. (I can’t say that that has been his fault, but that that has been the cards that he has been dealt in this still-racist nation.) Two, Obama was raised by his white mother and her side of the family, so his experience growing up was different than has been the experience of most black Americans. (That’s not some sort of a slam; it’s just the truth as far as I can discern it.) And three, again, after the Dems lost the House in the election of 2010, Obama’s ability to do much for black Americans and other Americans in need was seriously weakened anyway.
On foreign policy, which could be its own blog post — and I think that a heavy focus on foreign policy too often is just a distraction from our disastrous domestic policies — I need only point out, I think (aside from my earlier remarks on Cuba), that while 9/11 happened on the unelected “President” George W. Bush’s watch, the United States has not sustained a large terrorist attack from abroad under Obama’s watch.
So desperate have been the uber-hypocritical Repugnican Tea Party traitors to try to claim that Obama hasn’t kept us safe from the Big Bad Terrorists that they have focused on the four Americans killed in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012, while they wholly ignore the fact that almost 3,000 Americans died on 9/11 and that more than 4,000 of our troops died pointlessly in the unelected, treasonous Bush regime’s illegal, immoral, unjust, unprovoked and wholly bogus Vietraq War.
Those 7,000 or so deaths on George W. Bush’s watch are nothing, you see, but those four deaths in Benghazi on Obama’s watch are everything. (Indeed, racism is behind this; a white, right-wing president is responsible for thousands of preventable deaths of Americans — almost 2,000 Americans, disproportionately black Americans, died in Hurricane Katrina in 2005, so we can add them also to the body count under George W. Bush — and he is excused, yet four deaths under a black president is an inexcusable travesty!)
Obama also received less public praise than George W. Bush would have received had 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden been exterminated by Bush when he still occupied the White House instead of by Obama in 2011. Don’t get me wrong; the whole bin Laden extermination affair remains fishy (pun intended), as bin Laden would have been more valuable alive than dead, and the supposed disposal of his body in the ocean was unnecessary and, dare I say, weird and therefore suspect.
The Middle East remains a mess, of course, and while I always have opposed Obama’s use of killer drones, and the use of killer drones in general (and the United States’ over-militarization in general), the bloodshed in the Middle East on Obama’s watch has been much, much less than it was on George W. Bush’s.
(If you say that Well, 9/11!, then I say that On August 6, 2001, while he was on vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Bush had been given a presidential daily briefing titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” Um, yeah. [Similarly, there had been plenty of warning that Hurricane Katrina might hit land and kill scores of people. Bush in effect had been issued a presidential daily briefing titled “Katrina Determined to Strike in US,” but he ignored that warning, too. After all, on the day that Katrina made landfall, he was too busy celebrating John McCainosaurus’ 69th birthday in Arizona.)
I acknowledge, of course, that the president of the United States of America can do only so much, that much is beyond his (or her) control, such as congressional gridlock and the separation of powers (which would include a center-right U.S. Supreme Court that has done such things as pick George W. Bush as president even though Al Gore had won the presidential election of 2000 and proclaim that corporations have the First Amendment right to make unlimited monetary contributions to political campaigns [corporations are not people and therefore don’t have First Amendment rights that even actual people don’t even have].)
But given Obama’s limitations of the presidency, I still don’t see that he much tried to deliver very substantially upon his promises of “hope” and “change,” and that would be his fault. He has had some restrictions, we must acknowledge, but has he maximized what he has been able to do around those restrictions? Methinks not.
And yes, of course Obama has been head and shoulders (and torso and legs) above the unelected George W. Bush, but I refuse to allow Bush II to have set the bar for the presidency that low; besides, he never legitimately was elected anyway, so, although death and destruction (including the collapse of the nation’s economy) were the result of his having stolen the 2000 presidential election, I don’t really even count Bush. He never should have happened in the first fucking place.
An aggregate of historians’ (and political scientists’ and political pundits’) rankings of the U.S. presidents puts President Obama at No. 17 out of 43. (Obama is called No. 44, but Grover Cleveland had two non-consecutive terms as president, and thus is called our 22nd and our 24th president, so we’ve actually had only 43 presidents.) Obama ranks in the top half, but for “hope” and “change” I expected much better. (George W. Bush, if you were wondering, ranks at No. 34, in the bottom 10, where he belongs, although I’d put him lower. Ronald Reagan ranks two notches above Obama, with which I disagree, and Bill Clinton ranks three notches below Obama.)
Obama’s race has never mattered to me. While history probably will most remark that he was our first non-all-white president, to me his presidency mostly has represented squandered opportunity; to me he mostly has been, at best, a caretaker in chief. I came to that conclusion no later than the close of 2010, when the Democrats lost the House.
And that is why I could not bring myself to vote for Obama again in November 2012. (I voted instead for the Green Party presidential candidate, which is something that I’d done before and something that I would do again; I owe the Democratic Party nothing.) I’d felt quite punk’d by those ubiquitous promises of “hope” and “change,” and to continue to vote for politicians who don’t follow through on their campaign promises is only to contribute to even more such broken campaign promises. If there is no penalty, how will it stop?
That and I knew that in November 2012 Obama was going to win California and all of its electoral votes anyway. (Yes, many Americans, ignorant of how their own nation and government function, don’t understand the Electoral College, under which if you live in a solidly blue or red state, as I do, your vote for president pretty much doesn’t count; we need a popular vote for the presidency, just as we have for the governorships, for the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate and for every other elected office in the nation.)
I still believe that Obama, although overall he has been a rather disappointing, rather lackluster president, more of a caretaking president than a groundbreaking president, has made a better president than Repugnican Lite Billary Clinton would have, and because my principles haven’t changed — among which, I don’t support Democrats in name only, as that doesn’t solve the persistent problem of Democrats in name only — I cannot and will not support DINO Billary Clinton in any way.
(Again, if she wins the 2016 Democratic Party presidential nomination, she’ll win all of California’s electoral votes in November 2016 anyway, regardless of whether I vote for her or not, so save your misinformed, dead-wrong assertion that if I don’t vote for DINO Billary I have helped whomever the Repugnican Tea Party presidential candidate will be.)
So Barack Obama goes out in his final year not with a bang, but with a whimper. Already we’re looking ahead of him, with incessant media coverage of Donald Trump and to a lesser degree Billary Clinton.
I began with words from Salon.com’s Walker Bragman and I’ll end with more of his wise words:
… If Hillary gets the nomination, and is elected, she will inadequately address the problems this country faces, [problems] that are angering people, by negotiating from the center/right and then moving right as a compromise, to give us mere half-measures or quarter measures. I fear, given her New Democrat background, that she will likely use social programs and financial reform as bargaining chips.
I strongly believe that Hillary will kill the momentum that has been generated over the last eight years by Barack Obama, the first liberal (not progressive) Democrat to be president in years – and that will do more damage to the Democratic brand than four years of a Republican president would do to the country.
I am not saying that four years of a Republican would not be worse for the country than four years of Hillary in the immediate; I am saying that four years of Hillary will do more long-term damage by prolonging the Democratic realignment. [Absolutely agreed.]
Americans want real change – and they’re looking to the Democrats to provide it. But if we only put a Band-Aid on issues like the wealth gap and financial reform, which is essentially Hillary’s plan, Americans will not be satisfied. As much as politically minded people remind us that change is slow, what Hillary offers is too slow. Her kind of change is weakness.
If the New Deal taught us anything, it’s that unprecedented sweeping government action can happen quickly. FDR achieved significant reforms within the first hundred days of his presidency. Hillary’s supporters have not learned from Obama’s biggest blunder: negotiating from the middle with opponents on the far right. These people insist that we have to just keep making slow progress because all we can hope for are small gains.
They point to the weakness of the Democratic Party since the 1970s as evidence of their position. However, this is a common misunderstanding of history and the lesson of the Democrats’ decline from the 1970s to the 2000s. …
FDR is listed as the second-best president on that aggregate of presidential rankings that I mentioned (he’s just behind Abraham Lincoln). Again, Bill Clinton is ranked at No. 20. We don’t need another President Clinton.
We need another FDR, and the closest that we have to that is Bernie Sanders.
*I had voted for Nader when he ran as the Green Party presidential candidate in November 2000, something that I’ve never regretted, and it’s not my fault that Americans just allowed BushCheneyCorp to steal the 2000 presidential election. They should have been rioting in the streets over that treasonously, blatantly stolen election, but they did not. And, of course, Team Gore should have fought much, much harder than it did instead of wanting to appear to be above the fray.
**My general stance on health care is that it is a human right and that no one should have to pay for it (or, minimally, that it should be free of cost to those whose annual income falls below a certain amount) and that health care never should be allowed to be delivered on a for-profit basis. “Obamacare” did nothing, to my knowledge, to solve the overarching problem of health care having fallen victim to profiteering, to greed — and thus having become wealth care.