Now that the Presidential transition is upon us, a time to reflect on President Obama’s term in office bears mentioning. This is not an examination of his accomplishments or failures but, rather, a critical look at his overall term eight years after being elected the first black President in our nation’s history. The facts speak for themselves, but facts are always open to interpretation.
As an executive, there can be no argument that Barack Obama was vastly different from any of his predecessors. This is not a particular shock to anyone. George W. Bush was very much a delegating sort of executive and fiercely loyal to his advisors. This sometimes served him well but, more often than not, was a source of cannon fodder for his critics. Obama was nothing like George W. Bush in that regard, and that’s just for starters. Where Obama diverged from his predecessors was his desire to be in near constant control of his surroundings. Indeed, a President who is “asleep at the switch” is a danger to himself and others, but Obama’s management style was that of a “micromanager.” Perhaps this is owed to his days as a community organizer in Chicago, where day-to-day minutia is often managed by the very person doing the organizing. After all, a leopard can’t change his spots, so it was foolish for anyone to believe Obama would change his habits. His near obsessive use of a prepared statements and reading from teleprompters was evidence of President who possessed a near-pathological desire to control everything, for good or ill.
Still, Obama’s greatest single failing in his presidency was his greatest asset on the campaign trail; his seeming stoic, “rise above it” attitude. For a Presidential nominee this is a wonderful trait because it allowed him to shrug off attacks and accusations which would demolish the confidence of other candidates. That same attitude does not do so well in the Oval Office, where the ability to empathize with everyday Americans was something he attempted to do, but his cool demeanor was nearly Vulcan-like at times, and turned off much of the electorate, as well as gave his opponents ammunition to pick him apart and find the various weaknesses in his armor. Much to Obama’s credit, there was actually precious little which he lost his temper over publicly – he was usually quite even-keeled at both press conferences and public appearances. There was, however, one area where his emotions boiled to the surface – the issue of race.
There is one thing which I have told people time and again; when Barack Obama was elected, America was ready for a “Black President.” The real problem was that America wasn’t ready for a Black President who advocated for Black America. Some would argue he “acted black,” but the question then becomes “what is the definition of ‘acting black?’” In Obama’s case, racial issues in America were something he was hoping our nation could move past with his election; that the era of racism in America was coming to an end. Instead, several factors came into play which so polarized the nation along racial lines, President Obama simply could not overcome reality, no matter how amount of vision with which he was endowed.
One of the great problems for Obama when it came to race was, again, the very stoicism which served him so well in other areas. When black men such as Trayvon Martin were killed by either police officers and white citizens, Obama was quick to condemn systemic racism within law enforcement agencies such as the one in Ferguson, Missouri, and even unleashed the Justice Department to investigate possible Civil Rights violations. The problem was when confronted with irrefutable evidence of self defense on the part of police, as was the case in Baltimore, or malicious intent admitted by some of the cop killers, or even political negligence for political gain’s sake, Obama remained silent in almost disturbing fashion. It was as though he simply couldn’t come to grips with the possibility that both sides were guilty of bad choices. Yes, the Justice Department’s 9th inning decision to hit the Chicago PD with charges of cultural racial bias may have been well founded and based in legitimate investigation results, but the case of the murders of Georgia officers Nicholas Smarr and Jody Smith by a black male with an extensive record, and subsequent social media threats made against the families of the slain officers by both supporters of the murderer and self-proclaimed “activists,” combined with President Obama’s rather muted response to this tragedy, did little to help his legacy as a “transformational President.” If anything, his desire for justice of the black community, however well-intentioned, may have suffered from severe tunnel-vision, and thus damaged his chances of a legacy behind his initial historical achievement from an electoral standpoint. Indeed, even White House reporters admitted to various news organizations that the President seemed to have “checked out” for a while, and some even wondered if the President had felt betrayed by the very nation which elected him.
President Obama’s term in office will likely go down as mediocre rather than transformational. The Republicans in Congress have already taken highly aggressive moves to roll back Obama’s legislative initiatives, and there seems to be no indication that incoming President Donald Trump will be anything more than a rubber stamp with a very loud mouth. Yes, Obama was the President who ordered the operation which ended the life of Osama Bin Laden, and he did take a tough line with Russia over the Syrian chemical weapons crisis, but he also presided over gaffe-laden jobs programs, an economic recovery which took far longer than expected, and was cited by Politifact.com for the 2014 “Lie of the Year” when he said “if you like your doctor, you can keep him,” when speaking about the Affordable Care Act, a claim which later proved impossible. Yes, his aggressive tack against police brutality towards black Americans, particularly males, was historic in its intensity, but his political style also polarized the electorate as never before. While the Republican Party was complicit in many a legislative crisis, it was Obama’s own stoic approach, bordering on the appearance of complete hubris, which may have, fair or not, cemented his legacy not as an unifier or transformer, but as a party apparatchik and “front man” for the likes of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.
Time will tell what Obama’s real legacy is, but it is very clear that a Donald Trump presidency, if he chooses to avoid the excesses of Andrew Jackson and Warren Harding, could be the true transformer America has wanted, for better or for worse.