On January 10, 2017 Barack Obama gave his farewell address to the nation. As I watched it, I started reminiscing about when I first voted for him in 2008 and the joy I felt when he won. The sight of seeing a black first family walking out to Stevie Wonder's famous and well-known 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered' song was something I didn't know I'd ever see. As a fan of rap music, every time I've heard the Tupac Shakur song 'Changes' since 2008 all I could do is laugh. There's a line when Shakur says "we ain't ready to see a black president." Clearly in 2008 we were and in 2012, we doubled down. Were we prepared for what would happen next I wonder? I'd say no.
Barack Obama's Presidency was great, especially when compared to past Presidents like George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and I'd say even Bill Clinton. His Presidency will look especially great when compared to whatever comes down the pipe with Donald Trump. I'd say though that Obama made one critical mistake. He made a lot of policy mistakes that I'll get into down below, and he had successes...I'll write about those too. However I'd say none of his policy missteps are as bad as his one critical mistake. He could've made all the mistakes he did during his Presidency, but if he had done this one thing then Democrats would not only be better off - but the Republican Party would not be in the undeserving position of extreme power they're in now. To read what that is though, we have to first go over his successes and failures.
Something else, this is my personal list. I didn't want to include everything, just some of the things that stood out to me.
- Obama's Executive Decision on Immigration. Even though the Supreme Court blocked it in June, it was a legitimate and moderately strong executive action that would have positively impacted over 4 million undocumented immigrants. There were things it did not do that could've made it even stronger, but it did grant legal reprieve to undocumented parents of American-born children who were citizens for at least 5 years among other things. Most importantly, it was executive action on an issue that activists had been fighting for already for years.
- Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines. After protests in both cases, the Obama administration blocked the construction of a couple pipelines. In the case of Keystone XL, Obama said that the benefit to Americans was "over-hyped" and he said the pipeline would not serve the best interests of America. The situation with the Dakota Access pipeline is a little trickier though. Back in early December, the Obama administration halted the construction of the pipeline at least on paper. There have been reports that construction has continued though because the company knows they have a favorable President coming into office. So this story likely isn't over.
- The Auto Industry Bailout. The bailout of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler was a good thing (unlike the bailout of Wall Street which we talk about below under our list of failures). The auto industry has been revitalized and as of 2009, the number of manufacturing jobs increased by 256,000. Dealerships and parts stores added another 225,000 jobs as well. GM and Chrysler are now profitable companies again, but still not quite as profitable as they were pre-crisis. What's even better is that the U.S. Treasury department actually made a $2.4 billion profit when the market was high in 2014 after it sold its last remaining shares of Ally Financial...the financing arm of General Motors.
- The Markets Hit An All-Time High. The Obama years were a great time to be an investor, the markets performed better under Obama than possibly any other President of the past century! Barack Obama has not been given credit for the market's performance in any way, shape or form. The Republicans have been silent as mice - seems strange as the market's performance has been seen as a barometer of a President's economic success in the past (for right or wrong). We all know what that's about though.
- 1,300+ Pardons and Commutations as of December 2016. Not only did Obama blow out the previously-held record on Presidential pardons, most of the people pardoned were convicted on drug charges. He has used that power more liberally than any other President before him and he should be given credit for that. Now on the overall issue of criminal justice, I would've liked to have seen Obama move quicker on this issue. I'll get to some of my problems down below, but this has definitely been a breathe of fresh air. Notable mention: Obama was the first sitting President to visit a prison as he began publicly pushing for criminal justice reform.
- Reversed the Bush Administration's Torture Policy. In his first 100 days, Obama reversed a horrible policy enabled by the Bush administration. He signed an executive order forcing all interrogations to follow the "non-coercive" methods lined out in the Army Field Manual.
- The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). This was one of Obama's most recognized accomplishments and it'll likely be one of the first things the new right-wing government guts - which I'm telling you will turn into a disaster. The A.C.A. wouldn't have been the healthcare bill I would've pushed for, especially with a veto-proof majority at the time in Congress. Looking at what's about to happen to it, I think this notion that we should only push for half-loaves needs to be ended. We should've fought for single-payer or at least the public option while we had the opportunity. Lowering the bar on healthcare really didn't do didley-squat in the long-term scheme of things. It's successes should be respected however. 2/3rd's of those now covered are non-white and the numbers of those covered could be higher if so many Blacks didn't live in red states that refused medicaid expansion because they wanted to be professional dicks. The number of Americans uninsured plummeted from 18% in 2014 to 11.4% by the end of 2015. As if 2016, over 20 million people have been helped by the A.C.A.
- The Iran Nuclear Deal. I was a major supporter of the Iran nuclear deal. Much of Obama's foreign policy is problematic and I'll get to that down below, but one can tell that Iran was the country where he drew his personal line. When one considers the refugee crisis, a direct result of American interventionism in the Middle East, that there isn't more support for this within the American government (mostly on the Right) is literal insanity. The future of the Iran deal doesn't look good, but whatever happens next cannot ever be blamed on Obama.
- The Warming of Relations with Cuba. Another one of my personal favorites of the Obama Administration like the Iran deal that is now under threat as the Trump regime comes into power. Obama changed decades of American policy that goes back to the Cold War. Fidel Castro is now dead, so continuing to maintain a pointless policy is just a sign of America wanting to make dick moves. Foreign investment is now being allowed in Cuba and commercial air traffic has also been restored between the United States and Cuba. Much like with the Iran deal and Obamacare, this very positive development may not last long.
- Ended Federal Ban on Embryonic Stem Cell Research. An accomplishment that has gone under the radar, but from a scientific and medical point of view - it was a success that he should be recognized for. Stem cell research can lead to groundbreaking discoveries that could find cures to everything from diabetes to cancer. Stem cells have the ability to change the lives of millions of people due to their ability to self-renew, self-repair and differentiate into other cells types. For all science nerds and geeks, this is something you should be happy about.
- Over 15 million Jobs Created. Not as much as Reagan and Clinton, but still a strong number and could've been better with a more favorable political climate and if Obama has pushed in other areas such as green technology. It's definitely better than Bush Jr's numbers and I'm calling it now, but it'll be better than Trump's too.
This is by no means a complete list and others might take one of mine off and add something else that they think is more important. These are just 11 things that I felt he did that he should be remembered for. It doesn't mean it's the only things he did worth mentioning. Now onto the list of failures, some of these things I believe were done not out of spite or hatred, but purely for political posturing. Certain things people may have heard of, while others not so much.
- Over 2.5 million People Deported Under Obama - the Most In History. Not only that, but Obama deported more people than all Presidents of the 20th century combined! While one can say that Trump will be worse if he has his way (Trump wants to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants), Obama has set a terrible precedent regardless.
- Pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (T.P.P.). Outside of everything Obama has done that I personally consider a failure, this one is one of the biggest things I've had a problem with. Obama pushed the TPP knowing that free trade deals like NAFTA have historically hurt the American middle class more than it's helped. Much like other free trade deals, the TPP attempts to set the rules of the global economy to favor multinational corporations trampling over national sovereignty and democracy. The TPP, among many problems, allows foreign companies to circumvent national courts and legally violate laws that can range from environmental protections to food safety regulations. The TPP would see the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs, this is after we've already lost 5 million manufacturing jobs between 1997-2004. Donald Trump ran partly against free trade deals like the TPP, and he's claimed he's not going to honor the deal. So we'll see what happens. Pushing this deal was definitely not a good look for Obama and we have to be real about that.
- The Wall Street Bailout. This one is up there too with failure #2. This list is in no particular order in terms of best to worst or anything, but if I ordered this list in that way then this would be in the Top 3. The bailout was a federal response to the chaos of the subprime mortgage crisis, a crisis that caused the 2007 banking crisis, the 2008 financial crisis and the Great Recession. Another element of this crisis that people tend to either forget about or gloss over is the role that racism played in the predatory lending that led to the crisis in the first place. Predatory lending is when loans are given out with unreasonable interest rates, repayment requirements and fees. It is when large financial institutions take advantage of their customers intentionally. According to the American Sociological Review, predatory lending aimed at racially-segregated non-white communities led to mass foreclosures that directly fueled the Housing Crisis. More can be written about this, but for these predatory financial institutions to be bailed out after causing this problem is ridiculous. It's something that will be remembered and talked about for a very long time.
- The Cover-up of Bush Era Crimes & Conspiracies such as Torture and Ties to the Saudi Royal Family. This one is multi-faceted because Barack Obama has not only helped cover up Bush war crimes abroad, but also the Bush families highly problematic relationship with the Saudi Royal Family...a relationship exposed in the also covered-up news story of the release of 29 pages from the 9/11 investigation that have been held back from the public for over a decade. The Obama administration has also buried evidence of war crimes by the Bush administration due to the torture of detainees at black sites like the one at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba which is a blatant violation of international law. Obama notoriously said "we need to look forward, not backwards" on several occasions when asked whether or not he'd launch a federal investigation into the Bush administration's illegal torture program. Now to the average American, that sounds absolutely ridiculous. There is an argument that can be made that members of the Bush administration are war criminals. Barack Obama has been all but silent on this issue and has essentially covered up some of the biggest acts of state violence in recent American history...and you see how they thanked him right! Democrats just never learn.
- Rampant & Widespread Constitutional Violations of African-American Human and Civil Rights. Another issue where apologists will look to blame other people. Now yes, this problem predates Obama. I don't blame Obama FOR the problem, I blame him for ignoring the issue for years until Black people started turning up all over the country. Black people had to launch a national movement and expose the hatred of millions of Americans who hate Black uprisings before this issue was acknowledged. What's worse, when criminality was exposed in the Ferguson and Baltimore DOJ reports...where were the arrests? How do you have multiple exposures of mass criminality and people aren't being arrested en masse? One thing has become crystal clear during the Obama years, there are constitutional violations on a large scale occurring on a regular basis across America and apparently the President can't do anything about it. There's no such thing as political pressure or the bully pulpit when it comes to crimes against Blacks apparently.
- Supporting Rahm Emanuel After the Exposure of the LaQuan McDonald Cover-up and Homan Square. This is in line with what I wrote above, but I think is slightly more insidious because this isn't something you can blame on American history pre-Obama. This isn't the doing of the right-wing obstructionist Congress either, this is all Obama. Back in January of 2016, Barack Obama's Chief of Staff gave a ringing endorsement of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and stated that Obama still had confidence in the Mayor saying "the city looks great" in reference to the city of Chicago. Now this is after the exposure of both the Gitmo-styled Homan Square black site (which everyone still ignores) and the notorious cover-up of the release of the extra-judicial murder of LaQuan McDonald by the Emanuel office because he was running for re-election. This was before the Chicago DOJ report was released which further exposed constitutional violations within the Chicago Police Department. So for Obama's Chief of Staff to say something so asinine and tone deaf says wonders. Obama has not distanced himself from Rahm Emanuel in any way, shape or form, and by some accounts, still maintains a lasting political friendship with the man. To say Obama's continued support for Rahm is problematic is understating the obvious - it's bewildering and I'd say controversial even. For a man who has gotten so much support from the Black community as Barack Obama has, to maintain a political alliegence with a man at the center of state violence against black people in your own backyard is despicable.
- The Crackdown on Whistleblowers. Much in line with Failure #4, this also exposes how hard the Obama administration fought to prevent the exposure of American cronyism and illegality. The way Obama used the Espionage Act to silence the exposure of corruption was unprecedented. It was used to go after a CIA officer who publicly revealed an intelligence operative involved in torture. The disturbing pattern is that the Obama administration never acted on the whistleblown information - the perpetuators of the crimes always go free. What is perfectly clear is that Barack Obama has actively worked to cover up the human rights abuses and war crimes done during the War on Terror under George W. Bush. What's even more damaging to how this makes Obama look is when one compares the slap on the wrist that General David Petraeus got versus operatives on the lower end of the national security spectrum than he is. Petraeus leaked classified information to his mistress and biographer, but that hasn't stopped him from going on lucrative speaking tours and he even continued to advise Barack Obama after his was exposed that he leaked classified information. The message is clear, if you're a low-level operative leaking information that makes America look bad then the Obama administration is throwing the book at you.
- Gave Israel $38 Billion. Over the next decade, the state of Israel will be the beneficiary of the largest military aid package in U.S. history. Obama made sure he got this done before the next President took office, despite the fact that the next President was always going to be favorable to Israel. So this once again shows Obama's often annoying willingness to be the good guy while everyone spits in his face. The rift between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu has been very clear and obvious. So much so that during the Iranian deal negotiations, Israel actively spoke against it and Netanyahu was even invited by the Republican Congress to speak while the negotiating process was ongoing. A speech that many Democrats participated in and attended. To call that disrespectful and grounds to at least assault someone with accusations of treason is a understatement. This money is also being given while we knowingly allow the Israeli government to build settlements on Palestinian land and after their human rights violating bombing of Gaza in 2014.
- NATO Intervention in Libya and the Toppling of Muammar Gaddafi To Prevent the Development of a Pan-African Gold Dinar. According to The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, behind-closed-doors Barack Obama admits that Libya failed and calls it a "shit show." The Atlantic has a very good article about this debacle. Obama says he made the mistake of not planning for the day after the fall of Gaddafi as one of the reasons the operation has turned into a major blunder. However Libya represents the 3rd time in ten years that America has instituted a policy of regime change, just for it to turn into an epic disaster (4 if you include Syria). Libya has turned into a major front for ISIS now, thanks entirely to the 2011 NATO intervention. People want to say it was still a good idea and blame the blowback on the after effects when in reality...it was always a bad idea. The entire thing was a bad idea and he doesn't want to admit that. We know why you toppled Gaddafi Obama, and it has nothing to do with some real or unreal slights Gaddafi made against his people. We support Israel, we support Saudi Arabia, we are mostly dead silent on genocides in Africa and pretend millions haven't died in the Congo. Gaddafi killing a handful of his people is not a reason why you do what you did. Back in 2009, two years before the NATO intervetion, Muammar Gaddafi was made Chairman of the African Union and called for the creation of a United States of Africa! He was going to get off of the European-backed currency he had and develop an independent currency based on the gold dinar. One of the emails leaked that was on Hillary Clinton's server was an email blatantly stating this! Libya wasn't just a disaster, it was a colonial, racist, anti-black disaster that turned an upstart developing country into a stone age hell hole...because they didn't want to go down with the global economic ship using the white man's money. If a white President had done this, Black people would be screaming from the rooftops. For apologists in the Black community to be silent on this is shameful.
- Illegal Drone Campaign. Barack Obama waged the War on Terror without actually calling it such and his drone campaign (among other things) proves it. Obama used targeted airstrikes 10 times more than George W. Bush and approved strikes in 7 different countries. Under Obama, the War on Terror was quietly expanded more than anyone thought it ever would when he took office. This is the same guy who won the Nobel Peace Prize, talk about an award that will forever be tarnished. The vast majority of these strikes were done without an official declaration of war. The Intercept wrote a powerful series of reports on this issue called The Drone Papers. It's based on secret documents they obtained about America's assassination program under Obama.
- Appointing Debbie-Wasserman Shultz Head of the DNC. When Tim Kaine stepped down as DNC chairman in 2011 to run for Senate, Obama tapped Wasserman-Shultz as his replacement. A decision I wonder now if he wishes he could take back. Shultz has become the embodiment of corruption and favoratism within the Democratic Party. She not help grow the DNC, she's actually has hurt it more than it's ever been. The Democrats have continuously refused to implement a 50-state strategy and under Obama have continued this policy of focusing on a handful of races in certain key states. This creates financing gaps where you have some regions of America where local and state Democrats are virtually ignored. Most notoriously Shultz became the figure at the center of the party conspiracy to silence Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic primary. It's not Obama's biggest failure, but needless to say it definitely didn't help the Party prepare for a force like Trump.
If I were to grade Obama's Presidency based on recent Presidents and the one coming after him, even with the list of failures, I'd give him an A-. However if we're judging him based purely on what he did versus what he campaigned on in 2008, then my honest feeling is a solid C-. I think there were good things to take out of the Obama Presidency, and I didn't even get into how beautiful and dignified the First Family has always been. I think he could've done more with a favorable Congress, even a Congress that was willing to work with him on some things. To have an entire branch of government committed to seeing the other branch fail is NOT a sign of a functioning government. However some of those bad things have been REALLY bad and not remotely progressive.
This brings me to Obama's gravest mistake - his willingness to reach across the isle and compromise!
It sounded great in 2008, noble even. However I don't think Obama realized how committed the Republicans would be to seeing him fail as President. I think he had a somewhat naive idea that things were going to work the way they work in movies. He should never have been so willing to be so compromising. That was a fatal flaw. Seeing that Trump has been sworn into office proves how flawed of an agenda that was and it plagued his entire Presidency.
Obama should've thrown down the gauntlet the moment he got into office...which is what Trump is going to do because Republicans always define the narrative, because Democrats allow them to. Obama had two years with a veto proof majority to get a ton of stuff done. He appointed an epic disaster to head the DNC and the rest is history. Outside of the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012, Democrats have been losing since 2010.
What's done is done, but we have to acknowledge the good and the bad. We have to figure out where we went wrong if we're going to survive in the future. If the Democratic Party is going to survive, it must understand this. If it fails to, we might be looking at a failed democracy in a generation...if not sooner.
So long Obama, I enjoyed living under your Presidency and I will always remember it. I will think of it often as I survive the Trump regime.