Looking Back on the Obama Administration.

“America is a better, stronger place than when we started,” President Barack Obama declared in mid-January 2017.  He pointed in particular to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the triumph of marriage equality through the action of state governments and the federal courts, and the Paris climate agreement.[1]  Moreover, the president had sponsored a bail-out of the car industry and passed an $800 billion stimulus bill.[2]  Over the course of Obama’s two terms, unemployment fell from 10 percent to 4.7 percent as the economy created 11.3 million jobs.  (That’s 1.4 million jobs a year.)  He left office with an approval rating of 55 percent, while eorge W. Bush had a 33 percent approval rating.[3]

In foreign policy, President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, pulled out American troops from Iraq, resisted pressure for full-on U.S. intervention in the Syrian civil war (even when Bashar al-Assad was accused of having used chemical weapons).

Not everyone agreed, even when they liked the man and his accomplishments.  President Obama’s decision to slight recovery from the “Great Recession” in favor of creating a costly new entitlement for the poor doomed the country to prolonged economic stagnation.  His reliance upon executive orders, instead of legislation that could not be passed through a Republican Senate, means that many of his achievements can be rolled-back.

Race relations deteriorated during the Obama administration, for reasons that had little or nothing to do with President Obama.  Many controversial incidents of police violence (Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, etc.) cast a harsh light on race relations.  This led some critics to complain that Obama had adopted too moderate a stance.  Infelicitously, the out-going president claimed that people who voted for Donald Trump rejected “people who [don’t] look like them.”  Some took this as a veiled charge of racism.[4]

The popular referendum on the Obama Administration seems harshly negative.  In the 2016 election, the Republicans won the Presidency (through the Electoral College, rather than through the popular vote.)  They also won 63 seats in the House of Representatives, 10 seats in the Senate, and a dozen state governorships.  This continued a three-election trend.

In explaining the Democratic defeat in the 2016 election, liberal observers lamented the rising tide of authoritarian populism that had brought Donald Trump to the White House.[5]  They also lauded the economic situation which existed at the end of the Obama administration as a gift to the Trump administration.  None of this did Hillary Clinton any good.

Other observers seemed to feel relief at the end of eight years of what they regarded as self-righteousness on the part of President Obama.  “If you didn’t agree [with him], you were on the wrong side of history,” wrote one conservative critic[6]  A liberal author agreed that the president’s “tendency toward high-minded superiority” put off many people.

There’s a difference between the “Bully Pulpit” and the “Bully’s Pulpit.”

[1] “Obama’s farewell: ‘Yes, we did’,” The Week, 20 January 2017, p. 5; “Obama’s legacy: Hope, change, and disappointment,” The Week, 20 January 2017, p. 16.

[2] Having bailed-out the car industry, President Obama went on to campaign against greenhouse gases.  Paul Krugman, currently a scourge of Republican “serious people,” then criticized the Obama stimulus pl n as half as large as was needed and spread over two years instead of front-loaded into one.

[3] The invasion of Iraq and all that followed; Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans; the “Deepwater Horizon” oil drilling blow-out.

[4] “Obama’s farewell: ‘Yes, we did’,” The Week, 20 January 2017, p. 5.

[5] “Obama’s farewell: ‘Yes, we did’,” The Week, 20 January 2017, p. 5.

[6] “Obama’s farewell: ‘Yes, we did’,” The Week, 20 January 2017, p. 5.

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