Last week in a farewell address, President Barack Obama attempted to define his legacy. That’s to be expected. Every president tries to work the refs, but the facts ultimately count for more than political spin.
Many Americans will recall Obama’s administration as one that began with high hopes and ended in widespread disappointment. He was a consequential president, but not a transformative one. His policy “successes,” such as they are, may serve as an example of how not to govern. Obama too often failed to build consensus or bridge divides. As a result, his policy agenda may soon be rolled back with much of the public glad for the change.
When Obama came into office, the economy was suffering a severe recession. His response was a stimulus program that failed to stimulate and provided almost daily reminders of government waste. National debt skyrocketed.
He then tacked on an onslaught of regulations that stifled job creation. Typically, severe recessions are followed by strong recoveries. Obama defied that trend with one of the most lackluster recoveries in modern history. His regulatory obsession with income inequality served only to increase the gap between the nation’s politically connected upper echelons and millions of middle-class families who experienced higher prices and restricted income growth thanks to Obama’s policies.
That alone explains the subsequent rise of President-elect Donald Trump. So does Obama’s health care reform, which increased the number of people technically covered by insurance without necessarily increasing access to treatment due to associated high costs and regulations. For many Americans who previously had good insurance, the law only drove up insurance rates and reduced benefits. The public has consistently rejected the Affordable Care Act. Its repeal appears imminent.
In the area of foreign policy, Obama has been a disaster. He committed the United States to a climate change agreement that will stifle U.S. economic growth in exchange for … nothing; countries like China are effectively exempted. The Iran nuclear deal is expected to increase the likelihood of nuclear weapons in the hands of hostile regimes and terrorist organizations. Obama’s passive response to foreign threats has made the Middle East less stable than ever, alienated allies, fueled the growth of ISIS, and encouraged terrorist attacks inside the U.S.
For many Americans, Obama’s “achievements” either provided no meaningful benefit or produced only pain, not gain.
Not everything associated with Obama’s presidency was bad, although the high points don’t outnumber the negatives.
To his credit, Obama conducted himself with far more dignity than the last Democratic president. Obama’s devotion to his wife and daughters was obvious and commendable.
As the first black president, Obama’s election was historic and worth noting. Despite Obama’s many policy disagreements with conservatives, his election validated the conservative argument that the United States is truly a land of opportunity no matter what one’s racial background or socioeconomic status. One of the great disappointments of this administration is that Obama’s leadership did not reduce racial conflict, and may have even fueled increased tensions.
His personal conduct aside, however, Obama’s presidency will be remembered far more for what might have been than what was.
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