Obama’s Lack of a Legacy

This is when a president’s legacy becomes a central focus.

Barack Obama has been positioning his post-presidential role and trying to frame his legacy. This becomes much more important for the fact that Obama supported Hillary Clinton in her candidacy as the official representative of his continuing legacy. Instead, his party has faced one of the greatest losses and public shamings in living memory.

Many others have discussed the issue of how Obama will be remembered. There are those who think he will be seen as one of the worst presidents. There is an argument for this, as even many of his supporters have been severely disappointed by his weak and ineffective presidency. And no doubt the other party winning with such a pathetic and hated candidate does feel like a powerful rebuke. But it goes far beyond the loss of power by the Democratic Party in Washington and across the country.

It’s true, for example, that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has turned out badly and will make it all the more difficult for future politicians to push for genuine reform. Most Americans wanted healthcare reform that was further to the left, but instead they got yet another corporatist policy that didn’t solve the problem and for many people made it worse. This was a major reason for why most eligible voters, including partisan Democrats, couldn’t get all that excited about yet another corporatist, i.e., Clinton.

Yet I doubt Obama’s presidency will be recorded in history books as a failure. He simply wasn’t all that memorable of a president.

His signature ‘achievement’ was the ACA. But it was based on and inspired by healthcare reforms that had been pushed and implemented by both parties going back to the middle of last century. In the long term, Obama won’t get much credit or blame for the ACA. It’s not that significant by itself, just another half-assed corporatist policy. The only significance it might have is if, in its failure, future politicians are forced to remedy it with effective policies that actually ensure and make accessible healthcare for all Americans.

Even his being the first black president won’t necessarily be all that important to those looking back from a century or two in the future. Give it enough time with a few more non-white presidents and later generations won’t fully understand why it was ever a big deal. It will likely just be a footnote in the history books.

Compare this to JFK, the first Catholic president. JFK being remembered fondly by most Americans has nothing to do with his Catholicism, despite a Catholic president having been unimaginable before that time. It is hard for young people today to grasp that Catholics were once one of the most hated and feared groups in the Anglo-American world and were one of the main targets of the Second Klan.

When a norm has been shattered and a new norm established, it stops seeming all that unusual to following generations. A new normal makes nearly incomprehensible what came before. When an event passes far enough out of living memory, the world that gave it meaning can be seen as foreign and strange.

Besides, as legacies of black leaders go, Obama’s presidency will always be overshadowed by the greater legacy of Martin Luther King, jr. All that Obama succeeded in showing is that a black president doesn’t really change anything. He had no more genuine concern about poor, disenfranchised blacks than did George W. Bush. Class politics trumps all else because class privileges and class disadvantages go across racial divides. This is something MLK understood and Obama did not. Obama represents everything that MLK fought against.

The reality is that Obama was a mediocre president. He had two terms to prove his worth. But all that he proved was that he was solidly entrenched within the Democratic establishment and the political elite, that he was yet another neoliberal and neocon as all presidents have been for decades. This is emphasized by his having continued so many of his Republican predecessor’s policies on war and economics, demonstrating that the two parties in recent history have been more alike than different.

Not even his failures were all that unique and impressive. He is just another professional politician, a typical example of an all too familiar variety of political elite. In the end, he represented his party, his cronies, his class, and his corporate donors more than he ever represented the American public.

At most, his administration will be remembered as the end of an era. His legacy will be that of the last president who attempted to maintain a failing status quo, at a time when the American public was demanding change. As an individual and in his presidency, though, he isn’t that important. He won’t be remembered as either a great president or a horrible president. In his legacy, he won’t even be considered a major representative of this era now coming to an end.

The best that Obama can hope for is that Trump’s presidency will be so undeniably bad that people will feel nostalgia for Obama’s mediocrity. Maybe over time that nostalgia will make the details of his presidency so fuzzy that all of the failures and lost opportunities will be forgotten. But hoping that the next administration will lead to even worse results is not an inspiring way to end a presidency.

50 thoughts on “Obama’s Lack of a Legacy

  1. I wonder what motivates presidents, those aspiring to the presidency, and other professional politicians.

    Do people like Obama and Clinton not care how they will be remembered? Is a legacy of greatness simply irrelevant to them? Instead, are they simply focused on the immediacy of wealth and power, agendas and interests? Is the game of politics itself, the euphoric high of competition all that matters?

    Both Obama and Clinton can retire in immense comfort while maintaining much influence in the world. They lack any sense of outrage and urgency that would propel them toward greatness or even simply basic moral goodness.

    There seems to be little incentive in politics for anyone who gains power to do anything outside the status quo of the entrenched establishment. And anyone who did want to challenge the system simply wouldn’t be elected at all or else not last long. Politicians either learn to play the game or they are shut out entirely.

    No one gets to the height of power held by professional politicians without having already sold their soul to the Devil. Not in this kind of political system, at least. When you can have the benefits and privileges of immense power, what can a legacy offer you that would be worth sacrificing that power and all that goes with it?

    • Money and power is why they want the Presidency.

      Apparently, we need someone to point this one out.

      Let me respond to the question in a way that you may not be happy with. It goes without saying that as we fight to end all forms of discrimination, as we fight to bring more and more women into the political process, Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans — all of that is enormously important, and count me in as somebody who wants to see that happen.

      But it’s not good enough to say, “Hey, I’m a Latina, vote for me.” That is not good enough. I have to know whether that Latina is going to stand up with the working class of this country, and is going to take on big money interests.

      One of the struggles that we’re going to have right now, we lay on the table of the Democratic Party, is it’s not good enough to me to say, “Okay, well we’ve got X number of African Americans over here, we’ve got Y number of Latinos, we have Z number of women. We are a diverse party, a diverse nation.” Not good enough. We need that diversity, that goes without saying. That is accepted. Right now, we’ve made some progress in getting women into politics — I think we got 20 women in the Senate now. We need 50 women in the Senate. We need more African Americans.

      But, but, here is my point, and this is where there is going to be division within the Democratic Party. It is not good enough for someone to say, “I’m a woman! Vote for me!” No, that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry. In other words, one of the struggles that you’re going to be seeing in the Democratic Party is whether we go beyond identity politics. I think it’s a step forward in America if you have an African-American head or CEO of some major corporation.

      But you know what? If that guy is going to be shipping jobs out of this country and exploiting his workers, it doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot if he’s black or white or Latino. And some people may not agree with me, but that is the fight we’re going to have right now in the Democratic Party. The working class of this country is being decimated. That’s why Donald Trump won. …

      We need candidates — black and white and Latino and gay and male — we need all of that. But we need all of those candidates and public officials to have the guts to stand up to the oligarchy. That is the fight of today.

      – Bernie Sanders, November 20 2016

      Full video:

    • It’s hard for me to believe that even someone like Obama believes that empty rhetoric. But I could be wrong.

      Maybe when someone repeats the same bullshit over and over they end up fooling themselves. I have heard that theory before, that a con man has to first con himself.

      I don’t know. Listening to him, it doesn’t sound convincing. When someone believes what they’re saying, you usually can hear it in their voice.

      • For me, what made him so cringey during Clinton is that it was blatantly fake and politiking, since we all know that he dosen’t personally like Clinton. Their 2008 fight was a bitter one and teh way Clinton treated him was appalling. And now suddenly Clinton is the best thing since sliced bread? Lol okay

        • So, who does he think he was fooling? The partisan Democrats don’t need to be fooled. They’ll vote Democrat no matter what. As for everyone else, I doubt such empty rhetoric was all that compelling and inspiring. What is the point?

  2. Obama says what he wants now. He just wants to leave the POTUS and cash in at this point.

    I don’t think he cares. He’s going to be a rich man very soon.

    The fact that he condemned Sanders, a man that sounded like him in 2008 means nothing to him.

  3. How much do you think the dislike and people being out off by Hillary is sexism? Not in the sense that people don’t like female candidates, but in the sense that if she had the same personality and demeanor but had a penis instead of a vagina people would be less put off by her personality?

    • I don’t know. Offhand, I can’t think of a major male politician with her personality. So, I’m not sure how to make a comparison. She has the kind of personality more typical of Republican politicians, brash and arrogant. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have more easygoing personalities, which seems more like the typical Democratic personality of politicians.

      • Re: brash and arrogant

        I think Clinton comes from a generation when women felt like they had to be, well, hyper-masculine in a way, to make it. That might explain why she is so closed off and more arrogant and “hard” than most male politicians even. From what I hear she’s not a people person but in private she’s an alright person. Politically though it seems she’s built up a lot of walls to help herself make it yet ironically those walls put off people

        • There could be reasons for why she is the way she is. And it could relate to what she thought was necessary to succeed as a woman.

          Then again, it isn’t like she is the only person in politics who is brash and arrogant. Trump no doubt is that way. Bush jr was sort of that way, at least some of the arrogance, although he played it off with a pretense of affable stupidity and frat boy juvenility.

          On the other extreme, there are the bland and boring politicians which are quite common among Democrats. Most of the failed Democratic presidential candidates have lacked charisma. Compared to that latter type, Hillary comes off as being more personable.

          There is one particular thing that seemed a bit off to me about Hillary. It’s her laugh. I can’t think of any other politician who laughs as much as she does and at such odd moments. I’m not sure what that is about.

  4. I think Obama’s legacy talk sounds really self centered and personally it’s pretty off putting.

    I wonder if Obama chiding black voters about not voting for hillary being a personal insult to him hurt Hillary with black voters

    Asked my friend what his friends thought of Obama and he was like “at first we were excited but now he’s just another politician. Also why the fuck was he silent on dapl.”

    • It seems he was banking on Hillary winning. That would have let him off the hook. Then everything would be on her shoulders. Now he will be remembered as being the Democratic president during the time Democrats lost power across the country, a political rebuke and public shaming that will forever taint his legacy.

      He took it personally and, to an extent, he should take it personally. His presidency was a failure in many ways and many who voted for him came away disappointed and demoralized. He has to take a large portion of the blame. With major popular support inspired by a populist message of hope and change, he had a rare opportunity to make important reforms to our political system but chose to defend the status quo instead.

  5. Also, it seems she is a strong “thinker” on the Myers Briggs scale, and probably introverted, while her husband and Barack are extroverted feelers.

    • If she is an introvert, that is a weakness for an aspiring president these days. An introvert would have had a better chance of being elected in the past. In recent history, all of the most popular presidents with the largest support and victories were highly extraverted.

    • It is strange our obsession with work. Until recent history, most humans never looked to work as a source of meaning, purpose, and character-building.

      For most of human existence, work only served the purpose of basic survival such as getting food and building shelter. But beyond that, few people would have sought out work just to preoccupy themselves.

      Humans in the past spent most of their time relaxing, socializing, spending quality time with family and friends, contributing to their communities, etc. Besides, those past societies had little notion of work that was separate from everyday life. Most people for most of human existence never officially had a ‘job’.

      Why have we lost this basic sense of our own humanity, our own human worth beyond work?

    • Democrats fear-monger about the prospect of Trump turning the US authoritarian. And they do this as one of their last acts of power while they still control the government. So, is this the lesser evil I’ve heard so much about? Jesus
      Fucking Christ! These people aren’t even trying to pretend that they have a shred of morality and human decency.

  6. The Hillary campaign said “for every blue collar white rust belter we lost we’ll gain two suburban republican ones”

    For such a smart person. I swear the clintons and their campaign have worse political ability than the chipmunk on my porch.

    Warranted or not Hillary is basically radioactive to republicans. Not to mention republicans are more likely than democrats to fall in line for a candidate they don’t necessarily like.

    Republicans who weren’t willing to vote trump generally voted Johnson, McMullin or stayed home.

    I think any other candidate even Biden would’ve attracted from republican crossover voters honestly. I have no clue why Clinton who knows how much republicans despise her thought republicans would cross over to her because of trump.

    We already know that the campaign colluded with the media to prop up trump because they thought he’d be easy to beat. Like what the fuck, it seems the liberal bubble really does see a different reality.

    • Republicans who crossed over to support Clinton were mostly upper class neocons. There were some moderate Republicans who may have voted Clinton because they feared Trump, but they were a tiny percentage. There was never going to be a mass exodus of Republicans heading over to rally behind a Democrat pushing pathetic identity politics.

      • Here in the mid atlantic The republicans I know who hated trump mostly voted Johnson or stayed home. The states where Evan McMillan was on the ballot got Evan a lot of votes; he got over 20% of the vote in Utah. Mormons don’t like trump but they hate Hillary too. There was also a lot of signs that Bernie running could’ve potentially flipped Utah blue

        • The right Democratic candidate would draw many Republicans. That is what Bill Clinton was able to do. But as a Southern Blue Dog Democrat, he had a lot of crossover appeal. If Bill Clinton at his prime had been the Democratic candidate this election, he would have finished Trump off like a cat with a mouse and he would have done it with a smile on his face. Even with the anti-establishment mood, I doubt he would have had much trouble winning since he knew how to appeal to populist class politics.

  7. Obama is worried about Russia allegedly interfering in our political election process because the Russians allegedly exposed the fraud committed by Hillary and the DNC in the our election process. Really? You can’t make this shit up.

    • My Republican parents voted Gary Johnson. They didn’t want to vote Trump. But there wasn’t a chance in hell that they’d vote for Clinton.

      That was here in Iowa. Trump lost Iowa in the primaries and then won it in the election. Trump isn’t the typical kind of candidate Iowans tend to vote for. It’s just Clinton had become so intensely disliked by the time voting day rolled around.

      Even more Democratic and liberal eastern Iowa mostly went to Trump. I think that is because so many typically Democratic-voting union members decided to go Republican this time around, the same people who gladly voted for Obama.

  8. You gotta imagine how Obama feels right now. His precious legacy…Is gonna always be seen in relation to the rise of Trump. That’s gotta bug the shit outta him.

    I wonder, if he’s also doing the weird Russia shit and trying to undermine progressives or anyone who might show him up (hence, anti-Ellison, anti-Bernie, etc) because he knows that next to progressives, his weak-sauceness truly shows. The Russia shit is so establishment liberals like him can still keep blaming others to save their image in comparison. But it can’t go on can it?

    • My suspicion is that Obama is simply feeling pissy right now. He knows that there is no way he is going to come out of this with a positive legacy. And so he wants to make sure no one else is going to be happy either. He is going to do his best to sabotage anyone who might make him look bad. He is also setting up stumbling blocks for Trump, just to fuck with him because he can.

  9. If you look at right-side Obama’s facial expressions it’s like he dosen’t believe his own shit. Seriously. Several times you can see the “do I really have to do this” expressions

    • I wondered the same thing about Sanders. I could be wrong, but I doubt his intention was to be a sheepdog for Clinton. Still, it can’t be denied that is what Clinton expected of him and she somehow forced him to comply.

      Sanders could not have been excited nor did he convince many of his supporters to vote for Clinton. His heart wasn’t in it at that point. How could it be after he had detailed all of the damning reasons not to vote for her?

      I always wonder about backroom deals, including sometimes bribes and blackmail. In Obama’s case, he was too far lodged up the sphincter of power to attempt to separate himself from the Clinton campaign. But in Sanders case, I assume more was going on than we were seeing.

      Then again, I often get that sense. With the recent obsession about hacks and Russia, it seems like a geopolitical narrative is being set up. The purpose might be either to manipulate public opinion in preparation for some planned government action or to send a message to Putin. Or it could be something else entirely. Whatever it is, we don’t have the context to understand the agendas being played out.

      US politics has come to feel like endless secrecy, propaganda, and manipulation. All we the public get is politics as spectacle with politicians on television playing their scripted role. There is no way for democracy to function under these conditions.

      It’s tiresome and depressing.

      • Sanders promised to endorse the winner if he lost so he kept his promise.

        Yeah, if you look st sanders and Clinton his entire body language was “do I really have to do this?”

        His wife appears rly begged him not to endorse Clinton lol.

        Either way, it seems like the public isn’t all that stupid, since it looks like they saw through the fakeness and could tell that the endorsements were just politicking. I mean it’s just obvious unless you don’t pick up social signals or are ignorant of Obama and sanders past relations with Clinton

        • I don’t buy that. It couldn’t explain why he bent over to let her fuck him up the ass. There was an implied agreement. What the Clinton campaign did was immoral and anti-democratic to an extreme degree. It betrayed and nullified any agreement they had made. There is no way he would have submitted to her if she didn’t have some power over him, whether bribe or threat.

        • This is what bothers me. The DNC under Clinton control had decided to nominate Hillary from the beginning. It was also agreed, as shown in leaks, that they were willing to go to great lengths to achieve this end (no matter how corrupt and anti-democratic).

          Clinton cheated and stole the nomination. She colluded with the DNC against Sanders, she bought off superdelegates before the campaigns even began, she used mainstream media to spin news reporting in her favor, and there was some highly suspicious activities in the primaries/caucuses with some statistically improbable results.

          Clinton knows she didn’t honestly win the nomination. Sanders knows this as well. Everyone with a half a brain cell knows this. She didn’t win the nomination. She simply used her power and influence to take it.

          The various leaks proved beyond any doubt that Clinton is dishonest and corrupt. The decades-long political record of her and her husband show them involved in endless scandals that goes far beyond mere right-wing smears. She has demonstrated in this election and long before that she will do anything to gain and maintain power.

          Sanders had plenty of evidence to prove the nomination process had been rigged and so he could have effectively challenged Clinton’s nomination. So, why would Sanders submit? It makes no rational sense in the slightest, unless it is assumed that she held something over him.

  10. What I also find disturbing among partisan Democrats as well is that they don’t tolerate any criticism of Obama.

    To them any criticism whatsoever is racism, or some other bogeyman. That Obama largely served Wall Street does not register as legitimate criticism to them.

    • In the mainstream, politics has become nothing more than rhetoric, image, personality, and spectacle. Actual substance is irrelevant. It’s not what a politician does that matters. It’s about the ideological branding of campaigns and group identity of parties.

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