The Obama Legacy: FDR, JFK, LBJ…BO?

There is plenty of room at the top because the highest positions are hardest to fill. Organizations are not skill pyramids, the best and brightest aren’t necessarily at top with descending rank and ability below. As CEO, Principal, or President you want “a visionary leader”, but what does that mean? For me, I don’t necessarily want a professor, I’ll take a bear of slightly above average brains, but one who is optimistic, has a good vision, can clarify through the mess, and can identify and manage talent. In other words, give me Reagan over Obama.

by Tim Donaldson
by Tim Donaldson

Leaders aren’t made from scratch, we don’t mix adjectives in a bowl, bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, and then have a leader–we have to pick an actual person. And then that person, as leader, gets power, and the powerful anywhere don’t lack ass kissing “advisors” and yes men. So hopefully the leader is someone humble enough at their core to not be changed too much by all of that.

I am not sure that Barack Obama has been that kind of leader. Over the next year you will probably see 100 pieces written trying to sum up the Obama legacy, so I thought I would jump out early and give mine.

It is not that I think Obama has been all that bad, historically speaking. The lesson I draw from 7 years of Obama is: limits. What a government can do is limited. The political battles we have these days are really all from the 40 yard line to the other 40 yard line anymore. As George Will says “Americans are conservative, they want to conserve the New Deal.” Within that space, what I see is that the left depends on the golden eggs of capitalism. We can’t have 3 times as many people on the social safety net while tax revenues drop, as we found ourselves doing under Obama. The real estate market floundered for years, and then once the government stopped helping it, it then got better. Ditto for unemployment.

On environment and energy the President did little, but wanted to do a lot. I am sure he will try to go out with a bang. US energy production boomed despite of him, and the prices we all pay at the pump crashed (healthy for consumers and the economy as a whole) despite of him. Like Clinton, Obama’s personal popularity lacked coattails, it did not help the brand. In the statehouses and in Congress, 2010 was huge, because census year elections lead to gerrymandering and reverberate for a decade.

As a person, well, we all struggle to know even ourselves, let alone others. People are a mirage of contradictions and it can be hard to get any closer to understanding anyone the more you try. I think he is a decent good man, perhaps a little initially prone to megalomania. He wrote two autobiographies before he had really done much in life, but they were very good books. He was a little loud about comparing himself to Lincoln a little too quickly, and he got the Nobel Peace Prize before he left that hospital, which was definitely in Hawaii. (One sentence to offend all).

One of the things I liked most about those memoirs was how well he could articulate the conservative perspective, do it justice with fairness. As President, I didn’t see much of that, and I wonder if much of the country, aware of the “clinging to God, guns, and religion” comment, felt dismissed. Of course, the political right never came to terms with the defeat, built up the reassuring nonsense that they were booted for not being conservative enough, and from day one just wished him to fail. So the Republican Party dug its own grave on his watch, for whatever that is worth.

The President did a notably lousy job working with Congress, having spent it all on health care. He played the powerless professor on gun control, a role I can’t picture any other President playing. I didn’t like his State of the Union browbeating of Chief Justice Roberts, but it seemed to pay off. The content of his presidency on race relations was poor, the racially charged police incidents seemed to get worse, not better, but still the fact of America having twice elected a black President is a big historic plus.

The three times I have been in Washington, DC during his tenure I have found the city vibe to match what I think of his team: just cold, bad, raw Chicago power politics. More Rahm Emanuel than Ted Sorenson, more Lois Lerner than Clark Kent.

Obama by all rights should have lost in 2012, and was lucky to draw a once in a lifetime bad nominee in Mitt Romney (not bad as a person or even potential President, but soooo bad as a candidate).

Foreign policy was something he didn’t really want to do. Left never really comfortable with the reality of evil. No one knows what to do with Putin

Obamacare is here to stay, and is probably in sum a good thing. Health care is a very challenging, complicated topic, in many ways we get the worst of socialism and the worst of capitalism in that market, but if that were an easy problem to solve America would have solved it long ago. I don’t think the right’s anti Obamacare preaching reached anyone outside the choir, and people get that the Affordable Care Act grew from conservative think tanks and was really Governor Romney’s only accomplishment. No one believes for a second that there is any actual intent to replace after the repeal, and the 16,500 votes or whatever that Congress has taken to do so are amateurish.

And so the Democrats hopes and dreams have ended once again in Medicaid, food stamps, and dull lectures about solar panels. Lucky for them the Republicans have gone in search of the supported gathered by the mid 1800s Know Nothing party.

Obama himself once joked that he would build his library next to George W Bush’s and his statue would point that way and say “blame him!” That about sums it up. As does James Carville’s comment on the attempted underwear bomber, when he said he was so proud to have Barack Obama in the White House because “at least we didn’t invade Sri Lanka over this!”


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