President Obama can still deliver a scripted speech like few others. And he delivered the final one of his presidency this week in Chicago, cheered on by adoring fans and staff members and assorted sycophants.
His oration was self-congratulatory through-and-through, as though he has presided over an age of unprecedented prosperity, racial harmony, and world peace.
The president ended with a variation on the phrase that helped him get elected eight years ago. This time, instead of ‘Yes, We Can,’ it was ‘Yes, We Did.’ But did what, exactly?
Mr. Obama absolutely, positively deserves credit for helping stabilize the economy, which was careering out of control when he took the wheel. As he has incessantly intoned, it was ‘the deepest recession since The Great Depression.’ Barack Obama also carried himself with grace and dignity, serving as a positive role model for everyone, not just minorities.
But the president was in charge when much of the world spiraled into chaos, largely due to Islamic-based terrorism. His stubborn decision to pull out of Iraq left a vacuum that was filled by bad guys, really bad guys, while inaction in Syria led to a bloodbath and a refugee crisis. Meanwhile, the jihad exploded, literally, around the globe.
Yet in his farewell address, which of course ran far longer than that of any previous president, Mr. Obama employed the word ‘Islam’ precisely once, namely when he denounced ‘violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam.’ When it comes to terrorism, President Obama seems to believe he is a theologian, able to decide who is a true Muslim, who is not.
Mr. Obama boasts about his two signature achievements, one on the home front and the other abroad. Here in the USA, his health care bill did much good for some people. That’s true of any legislation – there are always winners and losers. In this case, the losers were millions of people who saw their deductibles and premiums soar, their health care choices decline. ObamaCare is in critical condition and will soon be euthanized by the Trump administration.
The jury is still out on President Obama’s cherished Iran nuke deal, but it is truly bizarre that he and John Kerry put so much faith in the mullahs who foment and fund terror. They seem to trust Iran more than Israel, a democratic nation where a gay person or a woman can actually lead a normal life. The administration’s recent abstention of that anti-Israel vote at the UN was one final slap in the face.
The most distressing thing about President Obama’s tenure has been the lost opportunities. Americans of all races and religions wanted to believe he could help unite the country, that his politics would be as moderate as his demeanor. But the president, steeped in the left-wing ideology of Chicago and Cambridge, inevitably veered towards progressivism, alienating half the country in the process.
He also displayed a condescension that is often found in the halls of Ivy League universities. As presidential historian Jon Meacham put it on The Factor this week, President Obama ‘has given off the sense that if only the American people were commensurate with his brilliance, things would be better.’
When things went wrong, as they do in any administration, the President was slow to accept responsibility, quick to point fingers at recalcitrant Republicans or Fox News or talk radio or implicit racism. Even in this week’s speech, Mr. Obama could not resist bringing up ‘the effects of slavery and Jim Crow.’ No one says those effects no longer exist, but it is not Jim Crow laws that have destroyed our inner cities. The blame goes to lousy schools, broken families, and irresponsible men, things the president addressed far too infrequently.
We are left with so many questions about President Obama’s tenure. Why did he seem so dismissive of cops, instinctively siding against them? Why did he push income redistribution instead of growth? More symbolically, why did he sit down for interviews with clowns like GloZell Green and a radio host known as ‘The Pimp With The Limp?’ Yes, the leader of the free world gave an interview to a man who proudly calls himself ‘pimp!’ Even worse, why did Mr. Obama host leaders of the hate group Black Lives Matter at the White House, not to mention crotch-grabbing ‘entertainers?’ Did he really have to strive so hard to be hip?
President Obama will always be an historic figure, largely because of his race. And he will always be beloved by a large swath of Americans, many of whom will sorely miss his humor and style. No president will ever glide down the steps of Air Force One with the same studied aplomb. But there were so many squandered opportunities over the past eight years.
In sum, the man who promised ‘hope and change’ provided too little hope for too few people, and the change was often in the wrong direction. He spent so much time and money on ‘climate change,’ neglecting the actual change that could have improved improve the lives of American workers.
So the man who worried so much about his legacy is leaving behind a shattered Democratic Party, blood in the streets of American cities, chaos overseas, and … President Donald J. Trump.
Yes, Barack Hussein Obama could have been a champion for the vast majority of Americans. Instead, to borrow from ‘On The Waterfront,’ he will be remembered as merely a contender. It could have been better, so much better.
As his successor might say: Sad!