Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Failures of Barack Obama

Is it too soon for history to judge the last President?

Barack Obama is retired now, for the most part, and the legacy of his eight years as President is becoming a little clearer with each passing day.   I think it will be remembered as a mixed legacy.  He tried to do the right thing, he thought, but often the end results were less than optimal.  Of course, it didn't help that for six of the eight years he had in office, he had an intransigent GOP-dominated Congress thwarting his every move - and even court nominees.

I think Obama made a lot of blatant mistakes, however - mostly trying to appeal to an ideology rather than being pragmatic and compromising.   "Politics is the art of the possible" Otto von Bismark once said (hmmm....).   And often Obama settled for what he thought was right, rather than what could have gotten done.

Anyway, here is a short list, in no particular order, of things I think Obama got wrong:

1.  Clock Boy: You may not remember this, but back in 2015, a young Muslim boy brought a disassembled alarm clock to school in a pencil case.   I happen to own a similar pencil case and similar alarm clock and readily recognized the components.  Others have similarly reconstructed his "clock" as well.   He claimed to have "made" it, but in fact, he simply disassembled a standard large-display alarm clock and put the components in a pencil box, and brought it to school.  The kid was hardly a genius.

Nevertheless, the media seized upon this incident.   He was asked to put the clock away, and after the alarm went off, a teacher became alarmed (sorry about the pun) and sent him to the principal, perhaps thinking it was some sort of bomb.   The media cried "racism" and "Islamophobia" and the whole thing got blown (again, sorry) out of proportion.

Ordinarily, this should have been a local matter, but Obama thought he had better step in and fix things, inviting the boy and his family to the White House and inspecting the supposed "invention" and calling it neat.   The family threatened to move overseas, and briefly did - only to realize that "freedom" in many Arab countries is somewhat illusory.

Why was this a mistake on Obama's part?  It illustrates his instinct to inject himself - and the presidency - into local and trivial matters, in order to make points with people.   If he had stepped back and thought about it, he would have realized that this kid did not "invent" anything, any more than I did when I disassembled my Mother's vacuum cleaner when I was six years old.   Taking things apart and stuffing them in a pencil case is not creating.   But Obama would later be famous for being quoted (out of context) "You didn't create that!" - which was a bit of irony.

Obama getting involved in this local issue is almost as embarrassing as Trump weighing in on every event of the day (as reported by Fox 'n Friends) with his poorly-worded tweets.   In a word, unpresidential.

2.  The Beer Summit:  Once again, Obama injected himself and the presidency into what should have been a local matter.   A black man was arrested by the Police in murky circumstances.  A black professor was trying to break in to his own home, as he lost the key or something.   Neighbors called the police (as you would hope they would do, seeing two people busting down the door on your home) and the professor was arrested.  When the dust settled and it turned out he owned the house, of course he was let go.  But the media ran with it and cried "racism" because that sells clicks and eyeballs, of course.

It would have blown over, but Obama decided that this was a presidential matter and invited both the arresting officer and the professor to the White House for a "beer summit" to patch things up.   This appalled me as much as the "clock boy" incident.  A president should be presidential, and not inject himself into every local issue that makes headlines on Yahoo or CNN.

I am not sure the "beer summit" solved anything, either.  It just made Obama look foolish and reactionary.

3.  Obamacare:   Obamacare is the reason I retired early.   I had two choices to make.  I could keep working, but make sure my income was below $69,900 a year, so I would not lose my Obamacare subsidy.  If I went a dollar over this amount, I would have to pay a whopping $24,000 in premiums.

Or.... I could retire and get free health care - courtesy of Uncle Sugar and your tax dollars.   If I kept working, making, say $50,000 a year, the ratio of my income to expenses would be about 1:1 - and I would have lost half my subsidy.   It made more sense to simply stop working.

And it worked.  In the past, my Federal income tax bill was usually in the low five figures.  Today, it is about $575 a year.   Thanks Obama!

Oh, but wait, someone has to pay for this and that someone is you.  Moreover, the cost of Obamacare keeps rising exponentially.   Originally, it was about $12,000 a year - still a staggering amount and nearly double what I was paying before.  But every year, it has gone up by healthy double-digit percentages.   Today, without the subsidy, I simply could not afford health insurance.    And I am hardly poor - but need to make myself look poor to afford health insurance.

It is a crazy game.  Someone is making an awful lot of money in this deal, but no one seems concerned about this.  Is the the doctors?  The hospitals?  The pharmaceutical companies? The insurance companies?  Who?  All are crying poverty, but my doctor has a new Porsche, and the hospital keeps adding new wings.   All that money is going somewhere -  to the medical-industrial complex.   We have created a monster, fueled by cash.  Obamacare tells the medical industry, "just send us the bill" and so they do.

The problem is, the system cannot be sustained for long.   Eventually, the GOP will dismantle it, piece by piece.   I may have to go back to work, or I may be on Medicare by then.   Or maybe I will be on WalMart Care when they take over.  Who knows?

Obamacare was a rushed job, and it has problems with it.  And the GOP wants it to fail, so there is no incentive to fix it - only to sabotage it.

I think a less ambitious plan would have been a better choice.   Dramatic overhauls of laws are never a good thing - they always have unintended consequences.

4.  Arab Spring:   Despite the cries of "Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi!" by the far-right, it is not clear that there was any sort of conspiracy or coverup of what transpired in that Libyan city.    Rather it was just gross incompetence and wishful thinking at work.

Granted, Obama inherited two wars that were not of his making.  And he managed to nurture both along for eight years and hand them to the next President.   It seems now that our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan will be as permanent as Israeli "occupation" of the West Bank.  It is the new status quo.

The problem with Iraq is that it fueled revolutionary fervor across the Middle East.  If brutal dictators like Saddam Hussein could be overthrown, what about Muammar Gaddafi or Hosni Mubarak?  And in short order, those dictators were overthrown and the end result was chaos.   We were content to sit by and let these leaders fall, but were not willing to step in to help with the cleanup.

It is, in a way, similar to our failure to help Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union.  In the power vacuum that ensued, Oligarchs took power and the king of them all, is now king of Russia - forever.   A creature of our own making - or our own inaction.

5.  Hillary and Trump:   There was no love lost between Hillary and Obama.   And while she did serve as Secretary of State for Obama, it doesn't seem that Obama really went all-out to insure that she would win the election.   Obama waffled in his support for Hillary, keeping his options open if Bernie (who is not even a Democrat!) won the nomination.

As a result, support for Hillary was tepid.   Turnout among black voters was, well, mild to say the least.   And with a little help from Russia's Internet Research Agency, it was possible to get people to think negative things about "Killary" in the black community.

I think too late, Obama realized that his lack of vibrant support for Hillary could cause her to lose the election.   And perhaps this was his payback to her.    All I know is, Obama is partially responsible for Donald Trump being president today.

6.  Rule By Executive Order:   Frustrated by a Congress that was unwilling to act or compromise, Obama issued a lot of executive orders to try to get things done.  This came across as dictatorial in nature, and also further eroded our government structure by putting more and more power into the presidency.

But the big problem with executive orders is that they can be undone with the stoke of a pen, by the next executive - as we are now seeing.  And since so many orders were issued in the waning days of his administration, they could be overturned by Congress as well.  It is a shitty way to do business, really.

For example, Obama vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline.   Of course, the pipeline was rapidly completed within a year of him leaving office.   Was anything accomplished here, really?   I mean, other than delay and additional cost added to a project.

* * * 

I think Obama had his heart in the right place - or he thought he did, anyway.  A lot of liberals feel this way - that they want what is right for "the people" and anyone who sees things otherwise is just plain evil.  Moreover, they feel their way will persevere in the end, because they are right, and righteousness always prevails.   Oddly enough, Republicans feel the same way about their ideas.

The problem with the Obama administration was that it was too far to the left - too far for most of the American people.   As a result, in the mid-term elections, the Democrats lost their hold on Congress, and then struggled for six years with a President who was outnumbered by the legislative branch.   We can expect to see the same thing happen this fall.

Radical change is never a good idea.   And maybe that is why our system has these mid-term elections, to act as a brake on radical change.   Maybe the best thing about the Obama administration was that he was not able to accomplish all that he wanted to.

And maybe, too, this will be the best thing about the Trump administration as well.