I was in Washington DC eight years ago when Barack Obama was elected. The atmosphere was intoxicating as people went out on the streets in celebrations, drunk with a sense of victory, chanting ‘Yes, we can.’ The whole world celebrated as a new kindle of hope was supposed to enter the White House. Perhaps that is why Obama received a Nobel Prize for doing nothing, or rather, for not being George W. Bush. But, were people right to celebrate? In retrospect, how did Obama fare in his two terms?
According to Politifact, Obama made no less than 500 promises while campaigning. By the end of his term, he delivered 45 percent of them. Lest you think this is a low figure, consider that the Republican leadership in Congress delivered only 35 percent of their promises. For a politician, to succeed in keeping almost half of his promises, it is probably as high as any supporter could hope for. His success in pushing his agenda is particularly impressive considering the stubborn Congress he had to deal with for the last six years. Perhaps that is why his approval rating is flattering for the first time in his presidency.
A politician is not only judged by delivering on his promises, but also by what he leaves behind. The United States economy is now stable. The $787 billion stimulus seems to have worked. When Obama was forced to bailout the American automobile industry, he did so successfully. Moreover, his terms were far better for the public purse than Bush’s plan with the banks a few years earlier. Unemployment is on the decline, but the national debt is on the rise. America, it seems, keeps on mortgaging its future for living the good life in the present.
One cannot blame Obama for the mounting debt the country has incurred. He has not done anything any of his immediate predecessors had not done; on the other hand, he certainly did not try to curb the beast, or mitigate the huge gamble the United States is wagering against its own future. After all, someone will have to pay this debt eventually, especially if the economy does not expand. If this generation will not live within its own means, future generations will probably have to deal with the problem in the years to come.
An American historian once said that great presidents are rare. Most are mediocre at best, and are remembered for one or two things they have done. This is why the public remembers George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and FDR; but few can name the other presidents such as Martin van Buren, John Tyler, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce and the rest of the lot. So, is Obama great?
Domestically he was a good caretaker. He may even be remembered for Obamacare (if it survives the next presidency), even though the plan has suffered in recent months with price hikes, and fewer health insurance companies willing to participate in it. Gas prices are not terribly high, and the dollar is still a global currency. Immigrants are still knocking on America’s doorstep, as they would not have done had they thought the country had no future.
On the international level, the United States has lost ground. In the Middle East, the American footprint has faded. American troops are no longer in Iraq in large numbers, but the region is not stable to say the least. Gone are the days when secretaries of states came to the region and the ground trembled wherever they treaded. Recently, Obama expressed that his swan song will be promoting peace in the Middle East. The chances for that happening in the next three months are next to nil. Hell will probably freeze over before that happens.
Obama did not cope well with the Arab spring. American foreign policy stuttered, as the commander in chief was torn between a desire to see democracy spread on the one hand, and to support old and new allies on the other. Take Libya as an example. Muammar Gaddafi finally succumbed to US pressure, and paid his dues for the Lockerbie bombing. He tried to be a good boy with the West, albeit he remained a dictator at home. But when the going became tough, Obama turned his back on him and left him hanging by an angry mob, bombing some of his cities from the air to boot. Now, the rest of the world will know that even if you follow American dictates, it will not back you in time of need.
Even in South America, the United States lost ground. One of the hallmarks of American foreign policy is the ‘War on Drugs,’ and the international drug control regime it has sponsored since The Hague International Opium Convention of 1912. And yet, a puny country like Uruguay dared to legalize marijuana in 2013 in direct conflict with the official American policy. This would have been inconceivable a decade ago.
And back home again, Obama may very well have been a good economic caretaker, but something is awfully wrong with the country. Racial tensions are high. The high hopes of reconciliation between blacks and whites under the leadership of a half-white president have deteriorated into riots, and the Black Lives Matter movement. The American public is obviously unhappy. So much so that it even considered, for a while, voting for a Socialist president. Who would have imagined this turn of events after the fall of the Berlin Wall? This is certainly not a sign of strength, or a strong belief in capitalism and the American dream.
Even worse, the public’s distaste for politically correctness has propelled a candidate who could be best described as a buffoon, whose only redeeming quality is that he says whatever is on his mind. At least he can. Most Americans I know feel they cannot, because they have to constantly ‘check their privileges.’ Though Obama may not be personally responsible for this phenomenon, during his term in office, freedom of speech is on the decline. A pity. It has always been my favorite right.
And finally, under Obama, the current election cycle took place; an unpopular Clinton against a scary Trump. If these are the only two options he left behind him, something is amiss. Neither candidate promised much as a legacy for his term in office, or perhaps the results on Tuesday will be so terrible that his legacy will shine brightly.