|Obama's Presidency Sputters to an End|
By Timothy H. Lee
Thursday, January 12 2017
Barack Obama's tumultuous presidency has now come and gone, which merits assessment of his performance and likely place in history.
Eight years ago, Obama's raison d'être was "Hope and Change." So how did that all turn out? How much hope did his presidency offer? After nearly a decade in office, what change did he bring?
According to the American public he was elected to serve, a grim response arrived this week in the form of a comprehensive Gallup public opinion survey.
As it did eight years ago as the Bush Administration concluded, Gallup asked respondents whether the nation gained ground or lost ground on nineteen separate policy domains. In what must surely come as a jarring corrective to any Obama loyalist, Americans believe that we lost ground under Obama on fully fourteen of those nineteen measures, held steady on one and gained ground on only five.
In descending degree of severity, the American electorate believes that we've regressed under Obama in terms of the federal debt, crime, income inequality, race relations, the situation in Iraq, terrorism, America's position in the world, immigration, the situation in Afghanistan, taxes, national defense, education, the situation for blacks and trade relations. Only in the situation for gays and lesbians, energy, climate change and by a slight margin the economy do Americans believe we've gained ground. Notably, we've treaded water on healthcare, which was Obama's signature focus.
"At the moment," Gallup summarized, "Americans are more negative than positive on the progress made on the majority of issues tested."
That's hardly the "hope and change" that Obama promised, and quantifiable realities support Americans' negative assessment.
Perhaps most alarmingly, Obama stands alone as the worst deficit spender in U.S. history, and it's not even close. The man who once labeled Bush's comparatively tiny deficits "unpatriotic" averaged deficits of approximately $900 billion during his presidency, compared to Bush's $250 billion average. The largest deficit in U.S. history prior to 2009 was $450 billion, but Obama oversaw four consecutive deficits over $1 trillion. Over his eight years, Obama added as much federal debt as every one of his predecessors combined.
On that measure alone, Obama instantly enters discussion of the worst presidents in U.S. history.
And to what end? In terms of economic performance, for the first time in American history we've gone an entire decade without reaching even 3% growth. The current cyclical expansion, our 12th since World War II, is the weakest of those 12. During that 70-year period we've averaged 3.3% growth each year, but Obama never even reached that mark, let alone surpassed it.
The nation's unemployment rate also festered above 8% for the longest stretch since recordkeeping began, and median U.S. incomes actually declined several years into the cyclical recovery, which was unprecedented.
Obama and his defenders routinely credit him with ending the last recession and preventing another Great Depression, but the facts simply don't support that claim. The U.S. economy actually bottomed out and began its V-shaped bounceback before Obama entered office, contracting 8.2% in the fourth quarter of 2008 before improving to 5.4% contraction in the first quarter of 2009 and 0.5% contraction in the second quarter of that year. By June of 2009, just four months after Obama entered office and long before any of his economic policies took effect, the recession had already officially ended.
Thus, it's simply not true that Obama ended the last recession. What Obama did do was preside over the most sluggish cyclical recovery in U.S. history.
In terms of notable legislation, ObamaCare will stand alone as Obama's signature act. Years later, 27 million Americans remain uninsured, premiums continue to skyrocket and the law has remained unpopular with the American public. Indeed, Obama's false promise that, "If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan" will go down as his most notable rhetorical moment.
In foreign policy, there is not a single significant theater of the world where America stands stronger today than it did on January 20, 2009. In 2008, Obama labeled himself a "citizen of the world" before a Berlin audience, but today Brexit and other nationalist tendencies have spread like wildfire in rejecting the sort of globalism that Obama holds dear. His most notable foreign policy pronouncement came when he declared a "red line" against chemical weapon use in Syria, only to abandon it a short time later while hundreds of thousands were slaughtered. A Russia to whom Obama promised "flexibility" on an open microphone in 2012 continues to openly mock his impotence. Appeasement of enemies like Iran and Cuba bore no fruit, but maltreatment of allies like Israel and Poland undermined our global standing.
Politically, Obama promised unity but brought record levels of polarization. He became the first president to win reelection with fewer popular and electoral votes than his initial election. Whereas Obama openly hoped to "make government cool again" when he entered office, trust in government proceeded to reach record lows while distrust in the federal government reached record highs.
Most humiliatingly and symbolically, Obama's mismanagement led to record Republican success at the federal, state and local levels. Today, the GOP holds more federal and state legislative seats than any time since the 1920s.
Indeed, no reality better summarizes Obama's presidency than the fact that his despised antithesis will take the oath of office to succeed him. As commentator Larry Elder observed, "Obama's legacy is Donald Trump."
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