Obama’s Presidential Legacy: Complicated and Imperfect
by John Albright on Friday, June 10th, 2016
Let’s be frank: it’s exceptionally difficult to speculate on a president’s legacy in the midst of his incumbency — the presidential legacy often presents itself in hindsight. Take Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, two presidents who were very divisive in office but are now widely respected for their presidential and post-presidential accomplishments. Thus, the legacy of president Barack Obama is still speculative, but the precursors of his legacy have emerged in the realm of what he has promised to accomplish… and what he has actually accomplished.
If any of you remember Obama’s speech at a California fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee in late June of 2015, you will likely recall his anomalously frank assessment of his successes in office. He said, “I am frustrated, and you have every right to be frustrated because Congress doesn’t work the way it should. Issues are left untended. Folks are more interested in scoring political points than getting things done… And so I said… if, in fact, you are dissatisfied that every few months we have a mass shooting in this country, killing innocent people, then I need you to mobilize and organize a constituency that says this is not normal and we are going to change it.” This quotation, above all, typifies the overly cautious approach that I feel defines Obama’s presidency.
Obama seems to employ an almost defeatist modus operandi in which he complains about the harsh political realities of Washington rather than focusing on building a sustainable American future. And with this defeatism, of course, comes his seemingly incontrovertible view of Washington’s unwavering corruption. However, the previous quotation insinuates that Obama has a self-diagnosed inability to change Washington and to ameliorate the corrupted political dynamic. He has decided that Washington has hit its rock-bottom, yet he continues to make assertions such as “we are going to change it” while yielding no palpable change. Obama’s seven years in office have taught us that the political corruption, budget tribulations, and diplomatic turmoil that vex and accumulate in Washington are beyond the control of anyone who attempts to solve them.
You can’t speak of Obama’s presidential accomplishments without discussing his Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in which he introduced commercial provisions to remove trade obstructions and to defend the labor and environmental interests of the 12 Pacific Rim countries involved. The TPP was an environmental and economic masterstroke that could easily enhance Obama’s legacy and epitomize his diplomatic aptitude and prowess.
You also can’t discuss Obama’s legacy without considering his creation of 8.3 million new jobs and his institution of the Affordable Care Act. But while he did create these new jobs and enforce the affordability of healthcare, he also let the federal debt double during his tenure. To put this amount into perspective, our past 43 presidents accumulated a total of $10 trillion in debt; Obama has accumulated the same amount of debt. He will end his tenure with the federal debt ceiling at approximately $20 trillion. Despite his reforms in healthcare and improvements in employment, he has massively broadened the already paralyzing federal debt ceiling.
So, the question remains: did he accomplish all that he promised? Obama rooted his campaign in change, unification, and resolution. Overall, I see astronomical hypocrisy in Obama’s campaign promises and presidential accomplishments. He expanded the debt ceiling substantially yet founded his campaign on the belief that he himself held the unique ability to resolve the corruption in Washington and to mitigate the problems that victimized his predecessors. This hypocrisy continues; his orchestration of the Affordable Care Act, an act overtly founded upon the idea of affordability, was combated by the cost of attaining this affordability — a cost that yielded a profound rise in our debt ceiling. As previously mentioned, Obama also rooted his campaign in the idea of unification, but passing healthcare reform provoked immense distrust among the Republican party, driving them from the center farther right.
Obama promised change and brought it in the form of socialized healthcare, in the form of violating public trust, in the form of abusing the private sector, and in the form of gradually rooting out American traditions and constitutional values.
So, how would I define Obama’s legacy? Objectively, I would say that his actions contradicted the very foundations of his campaign: change, unification, and responsibility. Subjectively, I would assert that with his deceptive assurance and incompetence in addressing the problems that he himself diagnosed, Obama expressed a transparent inability to fulfill his stated goals. However, his yet to be determined legacy inevitably lies in the hands of the people.
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