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Tuesday, January 3, 2017


The blame here goes mostly to Obama's naivety and, as with his pledge to cure partisan rancor. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The blame here goes mostly to Obama's naivety and, as with his pledge to cure partisan rancor. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)


President Obama, as a candidate, had an appeal that transcended ideology and reached far past his party's base. He won over people across the spectrum by promising to fix some of the country's dysfunctions: partisan gridlock and warfare, special-interest domination of policymaking, racial strife and perpetual war.
Judging Obama on his own terms, against his goal of improving these troubled areas, he has failed.
"In the face of war," Obama told the crowd gathered in Springfield for his presidential campaign launch in 2007, "you believe there can be peace. In the face of despair, you believe there can be hope. In the face of a politics that's shut you out, that's told you to settle, that's divided us for too long, you believe we can be one people."
This speech is a good benchmark against which to measure Obama's tenure. When he returned to Springfield last year, he admitted to one failure:
"One of my few regrets," Obama said, "is my inability to reduce the polarization and meanness in our politics."
Obama isn't solely to blame here. Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell and congressional leaders before them saw political advantage in obstruction and partisan warfare. Party leaders scrapped old norms, inviting dysfunction on Capitol Hill in the forms of filibustered judges, nuclear options, the abolition of Senate rules, debt-ceiling showdowns and the failure to appropriate money properly to government functions.
But Obama was complicit in and exacerbated most of these problems rather than doing anything to help. As a senator, he filibustered Samuel Alito's Supreme Court nomination and voted against John Roberts even while admitting Roberts was qualified. Sen. Obama also voted against lifting the debt ceiling.
As president, he broke as many norms as the partisans he scolded.

He made a recess appointment of Donald Berwick to spare his party the embarrassment of defending the man. He made himself a super-legislator, unilaterally rewriting laws he had signed, such as Obamacare, and passing into law bills that Congress had rejected, such as greenhouse-gas curbs.
Toss in Obama's trash-talking style and refusal to learn from political losses, which really meant a refusal to listen to voters who opposed his party and voted for Republicans, and you see how his presidency widened and deepened the partisan abyss.
Obama also failed to wrest power from special interests, one of his central promises in 2008. Instead, he handed more power to lobbyists and big business. The drug lobby he campaigned against actually wrote the Obamacare legislation together with the hospital industry, and this helped make the law as bad as it is. The revolving door spun as fast as ever, with more than 100 lobbyists landing gigs in the administration, and untold dozens of Obama appointees cashing out to K Street or Wall Street.
Obama's Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner administered the bailouts with an eye towards propping up the biggest Wall Street banks. Obama ran for re-election on the bailout of General Motors. In an iconic moment, his Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner cashed out to run the health-insurance lobby and was replaced by Andy Slavitt, former executive at United Health.
The insiders now have a stronger voice in government, and five of the six wealthiest counties in America are within commuting distance of the U.S. Capitol. Outsiders feel even more excluded from power, as the success of Bernie Sanders and President-elect Trump showed.
Obama also failed to improve race relations. Indeed, as with other areas he sought to change, he made them worse. Many of his voters hoped that the first black president would defuse racial tensions. Symptoms of heightened racial tension are everywhere: neighborhoods burning in Baltimore, police fearing to get out of their squad cars, black mothers (on false evidence provided by activists whom Obama encouraged) more afraid of the police than of criminals.
Our 2016 election showed a country with unhealthier race relations. Donald Trump's apparent ambivalence toward white supremacists didn't seem to hurt him in opinion polls. In his victory are signs that white people increasingly see themselves as an oppressed class of hyphenated Americans. Identity politics has taken over politics.
The blame here goes mostly to Obama's naivety and, as with his pledge to cure partisan rancor, his overestimation of his own abilities to fix the stubbornest problems.
He has certainly not carried us from war to peace either. An Islamic caliphate has sprung up, thanks to Obama's penchant for fighting and running (see Libya). Terrorism isn't fading away, and the U.S. is at war in as many countries as it was on his first day in power in 2009.
Obama promise to be a healer was central to his appeal. But he did not replace war with peace on Capitol Hill, in our cities, in our rural counties or around the globe. This litany of failure does not even touch the many areas that were not on Obama's agenda, but should have been. This only describes some of the ways in which the 44th president failed on his own terms. It will take many historians entirely to catalog the damage he has done.

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