Of course it is still too early to know with certainty what President Obama’s legacy will be. What historians will come to say about this man and the advisers he chose to surround himself with, or how the policies he advocated for, or implemented will be viewed 10, 20 or 50 years hence. If nothing else is understood, it should be recognized that how a President is viewed in the immediacy of his office might be obscured by the emotions of the day. Whether they will stand the test of time will ultimately be determined by how the nation moves forward once he is gone.
Take for example, George Washington, elected through massive popular support he is viewed as the father of our nation, not so much for what he did as President, but for what he didn’t do. Given the choices before him, he might have established a monarchy as some wanted, or he may have made the office of President a life long office as other encouraged. Instead he set the example of limited office that held until Franklin Delano Roosevelt chose not to follow tradition.
Thomas Jefferson, an advocate for limited central government, came to office and almost immediately expanded the powers of the Executive. He had the vision and foresight to see the value of the Louisiana Purchase and set the nation on a westward expansion to access the vast resources of the Great Plains and the West. His history also reflects the scandal of his likely affair with one of his slaves, Sally Hemmings, although scholastic history seemed to miss that point when I was in school.
Abraham Lincoln, whose election lead to the secession of the eleven states that formed the Confederate States of America, is also the man who saved the union through the four years of his first term. Despite incompetent Generals, graft and corruption, Lincoln held the Northern and Western states together as it fought to restore federal control. During the war the Republican controlled Union established the 13th Amendment ending slavery in the United States.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in attempting to end the Great Depression massively expanded the role of the federal government, created Social Security, brought electricity to most of rural America, and secured America’s position as a world leader at the end of World War II, through a robust industrial base.
Then we have the Presidents whose administrations were plagued by scandal, like Ulysses S. Grant, probably the best Union General of the Civil War, during his two administrations the nation saw the Credit Mobilier and Whisky Rink Scandals. Warren G. Harding, had the Tea Pot Dome Scandal, and of course we have Richard M. Nixon, whose quest for power led to the Watergate break-in and attempted cover-ups, ultimately to resulting his resignation.
So what do we know about the acts of President Obama, and his administration that will set the tone for his legacy?
The President swept into office with clear and overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate based on the economic collapse of 2008. For the first two years of his administration he was effectively “bullet proof.” Anything he and Democratic Party wanted to do they could. Choosing to force legislation down the throats of the vanquished Republican Party; the administration focused on the healthcare industry, leaving the economic recovery to the Federal Reserve to manage.
Great promises were made about affordable care, and of course the touchstone issues of abortion and reproductive care were mandated even for those with religious objection. What wasn’t covered in the debate was how rich these programs would make the insurance companies who could now count on mandated coverage and federal payments. It is almost amusing to see the elites that are now affected by the mandates complaining about what it is costing them.
While playing to the wants of the diehard party faithful, he encouraged class and racial division within the country, while abuse of power indicators came from the IRS and the Department of Justice. I believe these were key contributions to the loss of the Democratic majority in the house after only two years. In the 2010 election the Republicans picked up 63 seats in the house, gaining the majority, and six seats in the Senate, eliminating the filibuster proof majority the Democrats had enjoyed.
Acting on his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan he began the withdrawal of US forces without a clear understanding of the follow-on stability requirements and agreement from the host nation on the US role. We are seeing now the results of those decisions. With the same sense of fulfilling a promise he is removing forces from Afghanistan, but this time the withdrawal and exit strategy is being delayed due to a lack of end game, and perhaps the lessons of the Iraq withdrawal.
Within his first year in office President Obama was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace by the Norwegian Nobel committee. The question we should consider today is has the President fundamentally changed the international dynamic and opened the dialogue that leads to resolution of conflict and peace? We see, based on Administration acts, that Islamic terrorism has grown significantly and that the threat to western (European and American) interests has grown with that threat. Most recently we’ve been forced to close our Embassy in Yemen, as Muslim extremists take control of that country.
In 2011 and 2012 we saw the administration support the overthrow of the Egyptian government, as well as Libya, in each case supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. When the US Embassy and Ambassador were attached in Benghazi the initial administration reaction was to blame a little seen YouTube video, effectively blaming the west for these attacks. I believe that storyline was soon discredited, but it set the stage for the administration and a President who is determined to make this a secular issue, rather than condemn the Islamic groups that encourage the radicalization and autocracies against Jews, Christians, and non-compliant Muslims.
Over the past four years, when the President did not have a strong Congressional majority we have seen an administration that does not understand compromise or seek middle ground. This in turn drives the Congressional opposition to become polarized and adversarial. The one great advantage of the bully pulpit is the ability to constantly be in the news. The President has used this pulpit not to find unity but to condemn the opposition. Again this plays to the party faithful, and matches the Democratic talking points, but does it show leadership within the constitutional definition of the United States? Does it build a brighter future for the country?
I don’t pretend to know what the next two years will bring, but don’t see how this President will move to a position that encourages the historical American values, places faith in the middle class, and supports its resurgence, or works within in the construct of a government designed to balance the needs of the nation while protecting the freedom of the individual and encouraging free enterprise.