Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Critical Look At The Obama Presidency

As he was leaving office, Molly Ivins criticized Bill Clinton by, among other things noting we had a right to expect him to keep his fly zipped.  But the more substantial part of her assessment of his presidency was 

I have spent more time and space on defending Bill Clinton than I care to think about.  If left to my own devices, I'd spend all my time pointing out that he's weaker than bus-station chili. But the man is so constantly subjected to such hideous and unfair abuse that I wind up standing up for him on the general principle that some fairness should be applied. Besides, no one but a fool or a Republican ever took him for a liberal.

As an added bonus, at the link, read what Molly Ivins had to say about Max Frankel of the stinking old drab - oh, sorry, the Great Gray Lady said about why they pursued the White Water story, initiating the sandbagging of Hillary Clinton which has resulted in Donald Trump. 

Anyway, this vidio is a discussion of why and how another weak-by-choice Democratic president, Barack Obama failed largely because he chose to be a weak president.  It's a good list by people who certainly know, starting with Congressman Keith Ellison.  I agree with virtually everything that was said, I wouldn't have said it so politely. 

For my part, I think in Barack Obama we got a president who would never, no matter what, transgress the boundaries of his class, the prep-school, Ivy League, high-income professional class.  

I, at no time, ever had the sense that he really cared about the lives of poor people, of the oppressed working class that his administration helped cement farther into that role, even as he and his economic team spent political capital lavishly on bailing out the big banks and financial institutions.   I think it was, largely, a matter of class for Barack Obama as can be seen in the biographies and CVs of those he hired to fill positions.  His secretary of Education, like him, never set foot in a public school as a student and had no stake in them.  They chose to pursue education policies that were more appropriate to a prep-school lacrosse league than to one of our most important institutions which has the responsibility to educate all comers, no matter what ability, so many of those in most need concentrated in school districts which would never win a Race to the Top.   I never had the impression that Barack Obama ever had any interest in the welfare of those who would inevitably lose that race.  

Another thing which I concluded during the first year of his presidency as he kept extending his hand to Republicans, even when he didn't need them, watering down essential programs of economic development to try to entice such hypocrites as Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to vote for them, they would spit in his face.   His clear and ruling emotional need for the approval of Republicans was one of the most dispiriting things about him.  I concluded early in his administration that he thought their approval mattered entirely more than that of his supporters, who he took for granted.  His refusal to play hard politics with even members of the Democratic Party and such quislings as Joe Lieberman and Kent Conrad and others who were instrumental in weakening the Health Care bill early doomed his legacy.   If he had insisted on a government option in that bill, it would be wildly popular instead of the far less than great law it is, it would probably have made it far harder for Republicans to use it as a weapon against him.  But it would, no doubt, have upset people he knew from school or their friends or their families.  

Barack Obama's place in history will be based on his race, it won't be based on his actual accomplishment in the presidency, most of which will be overturned.  If a future Democratic congress and president revive health care, I doubt they will look at Obamacare as more than lessons learned in what to not do. Other than being the president who "got bin Ladin" it's hard to think of any strong action he took.   He squandered what the American People gave him in his first election through his decision to appoint champions of the wealthy and, let's not forget, the poisonous Rahm Emmanuel who bears quite a large share of the blame for what happened.   It wasn't enough.  No one, no matter how handsome, charismatic, charming and intellectually brilliant as he is, should run for the Democratic nomination if they don't intend to be a strong president.  We've had two who fit that description, both of them let us down.   Government is too important to make it a popularity contest. We should never make this mistake again. 

If Hillary Clinton had won the presidency and there was noise about putting him on the Supreme Court, as it is rumored he wanted, I would have been entirely opposed to it.  He has no history that would indicate he has the makings of a great Supreme Court justice and, after the horrible courts we've suffered under, nothing other than great and bold people are needed for the job.   He's certainly smart enough, everything he decided would be pinned down in precedents and previous rulings and writings of prominent law school faculty.  I doubt it would be informed by the real conditions that poor people live under, of the inequality they face, of the rigged game which is both our constitution and the real and sordid history of the judiciary have created.   

I might wish Barack Obama a long and happy life as a private citizen, I don't expect he'll surprise us by competing with Jimmy Carter for the title of Best Ex-President In American History.   

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