Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Obama Legacy - the First Twitter President

Don Quixote (Picasso) - Wikipedia
President Obama was an idealist which is a good thing.  It was also a bad thing.

The Obama administration is winding down and people are wondering what his legacy will be.   It is too soon to tell what history's take on his Presidency will be, but I am inclined to think that overall, he will be remembered much as Roosevelt was, for taking the country from the pits of a recession/depression and putting America back on its feet again.  Trump has no where to go except down.

Of course, Republicans will spend the next four years (or at least two, if the Democrats have their way) unwinding much of the Obama legacy - or at least trying to.  Already there is waffling about how to undo Obamacare as well as much of the other changes he has wrought.   Sadly, most of the changes he has made through policy, Presidential edict, and through regulatory agencies, will be quickly undone. 

Unfortunately, I think one legacy that he will leave behind is that he was, in effect, the first Twitter President.  Yes, Obama has a Twitter account, and no doubt it is managed by the Office of Communications at the White House, as opposed to being tweeted directly by Obama at 3AM while he is sitting on the toilet, like someone else we all know.

But that is not what I am talking about - the actual Twitter account.   What I mean is how he tried to respond to events in real-time, even when, as President, he should have let smaller issues be resolved by local authorities before stepping in to act.

For example, I was a little disappointed when he invited people to have a beer at the White House in response to an arrest of a black Harvard professor by a white police officer.  This was early on the Obama administration, and it was not a good sign that the President of the United States was intervening in what was a local issue in Boston.  That situation should have been resolved by the courts in that city and State (as indeed it eventually was). If anyone should have stepped in to address racial tensions, it should have been the Mayor of Boston or the Governor or Massachusetts, not the President of the United States.  Obama escalated that entire situation too early - and blew it out of proportion.

That incident, so early in his Presidency, left me with a bad feeling that Obama was meddling too much in our daily lives and being "un-Presidential" by trying to be the rescuer-in-chief.   He apparently was a fan of Cervantes.   And over the eight years of his Presidency, it seems he tried a little to hard to make things fair, to try to fix things that he probably should have left alone.   And at the same time, he failed to act in areas where he should have.

For example, recently it was reported that President Obama claims he would have won re-election for a third term, if it was permissible.   This is another one of those times, you sigh and say, "Oh, Barry, we do love you, but do you have to say shit like this?"   You see, this comment of his is wrong on a number of levels.

First of all, it plays to the paranoid theories of the far-right, who truly believe that Obama wants to anoint himself "President-for-Life".   That's bad enough.   Second, it highlights how he failed to really campaign for Hillary in States where the black vote failed to materialize (Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania) that would have turned the election in her favor.   It is these sort of off-the-cuff remarks that do remind us of the new Orange President.

The transgender bathroom thing also seemed like an issue that a President should let be resolved in the courts and State legislatures before weighing in.  Not only did this seem like a very trivial issue for a President to get involved in, it also was an example of governing by decree - something his paranoid opponents accused him of doing on a regular basis.  The problem with this decree was that it didn't help the Democrats win elections.  It reinforced the notion that the Democratic Party had a "we know what's best for you" attitude and was living in isolated bubbles on the East and West coasts.

Was it the right thing to do?   Did his motivations come from the heart?  No doubt with regard to the latter, but just because there is injustice in the world doesn't mean that every injustice needs to be addressed.   Rather than tilt at windmills, one should choose their battles wisely and figure out what can be accomplished rather than what should happen in an ideal worldPolitics is the art of the possible.

Of course, there are some conspiracy theorists who think that the Democrats intentionally lost the election, figuring that four years of a disastrous Trump Presidency would bring America to its senses.   It is a long-shot theory, and even if true, a risky proposition.   Suppose the next four years see economic success (which, like economic failure, might have less to do with who is in the White House than with organic conditions and natural events)?  If so, we might see Trump re-elected.

No, I don't believe the Democrats were smart enough to intentionally lose by such a thin margin.  They screwed this up themselves, first by letting the Bernie Show run on so long (and apparently into syndication) and second by not campaigning hard enough for Hillary - and Obama was the worst offender in this regard, sitting on the fence for too long, dividing his support between a non-Democrat (Sanders) and Clinton.

Sadly, our foreign policy was hobbled by a similar idealism.   When the "Arab Spring" uprisings occurred, the Obama administration viewed this as a chance to show the United States' support for Democracy in the Middle East.  However, he should have learned from George Bush and the examples of Iraq and Afghanistan - people in the Middle East are not interested in Democracy, but religion and tribalism.   Given the choice to vote, they will vote for the guy who promises to take away their vote.

Our experience in Syria is a case in point.  We tried to fund the "opposition" to President Assad, only to find the opposition was mostly ISIS.   Few "Rebels" were actually looking to overthrow the Syrian regime and replace it with a democracy.  Even if we were to physically invade the country, overthrow the government, and install a new one, democracy would not flourish - as the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan illustrate.

So, as we floundered with a Middle-Eastern policy, Russia steps in.  The net result is that Assad will stay in power, and those who opposed him will be brutally suppressed if not annihilated. And Russia has a new friend - and new influence - in the Middle East. Our policy didn't change much, but in fact made things worse.

This is what happens when you let idealism dictate policy.   Yes, it is fine to be an idealist, but a better idea to be a realist, too.  And that is where perhaps Bill Clinton succeeded where Obama failed - in tempering idealism with realism, compromising with Congress, and getting legislation enacted - such as the Welfare Reform bill which changed lifetime welfare into "Temporary Assistance to Needy Families" - with a maximum five year cutoff. 

Of course both sides of the equation claim the other was intransigent during the Obama years.   Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan hardly offered any olive branches to the White House - which hardly returned the favor.

But all of this aside, I still think Obama's legacy will be considered a positive one - and much of it will end up surviving the next four years, largely intact.