Obama wasted the space. If Hillary wins, she will too.
Democrats, liberals, leftists face a reckoning in considering the Obama presidency this election eve. Most of course like him personally, especially compared with his threatened replacements, seeing him as the kind of guy we feel proud to identify as President to our children.
But after eight years, the world is ready to explode, Trump is in a serious bid for the White House and American values seem more in doubt than ever.
Meanwhile Hillary seems - at least to many voters - to be offering a third Obama term.
In 2008, remember? We were "the people we were waiting for."
Many of us heard from Obama a democratic, egalitarian vision toward which he would "move the polls, not watch the polls."
Then he won the strongest national Democratic mandate since 1964 in vote share and control of Congress.
But after election of course, he did little to rally his public, disappearing into an 'inside' Washington game. The presidency is a political job. The most important tool a President has is the "bully pulpit."
The man didn't deign to go on national TV to address the American people. It's old-fashioned, but what took its place? Kibitzing on late-night talk shows? Interviews with the Atlantic
and Vanity Fair
? These could never replace addressing, involving, rousing the broad public (or at least the supportive side of it) as a national community.
Once elected, Obama failed to make the case - so he, sadly, wasted the space.
While Democrats had their majority, retreat was the first order of battle. Perpetually "tacking to the center," Obama continually reinforced by acquiescence the corporate assumptions dominating American life, ever weakening the side he seemed at first to be on.
A liberal vision was weakly, rarely, uncertainly articulated and - surprise! - it lost ground, his mandate reversed, never to return, with Republican congressional victories in 2010, creating his permanent excuse for meager accomplishment.
Obama campaigned for reelection in 2012 with no real plans beyond keeping his job, which Bernie Sanders understood publicly, urging a primary challenge he was then unwilling to undertake himself.
The strongest point Obama keeps raising in his favor is that after he was elected in a financial crisis, a weak recovery followed. This is as fraudulent as Trump. There's an economic cycle: Recessions give rise to recoveries, recoveries to recessions. Eventual weak recovery is not primarily a Presidential achievement.
What America faces today with Trump is without question at least in part a response to Obama’s abject failure to use the inspirational leadership qualities for which he was elected, once he was elected after basing a winning campaign on “hope and change.” .
Beyond political leadership, the Obama administration's profoundest failure is the Middle East, also an issue of leadership, as the U.S. sacrifices its moral standing, bringing chaos and the promise of much more, among other things for the first time since World War Two saying clearly:
Authoritarian aggressors can do whatever they like.
In most cases, we're actually on the wrong side, falsifying what most Americans believe in while alienating Arab millions whose support we need.
When some of us studied history, the Spanish Civil War was taught as the quintessential failure of democratic leadership. U.S. refusal to sell arms to or aid the democratic Spanish government against a coup backed by German and Italian dictatorships presaged World War Two and the Holocaust. The U.S. embargoed both sides as if elected governments and usurpers were equivalent (Sounds like Egypt?).
Nothing resembles the Spanish Civil War (Remember Guernica?) as the Syrian war that's killed half a million and destabilized even Europe.
Obama seemed to understand in his books and first campaign that the world needed an America that stands for something. But American policy has never been more counter to our professed values than today under our black Eisenhower, ironically known for courageously acknowledging past American "mistakes" while committing horrific new ones in the Middle East.
Obama knows Saudi Arabia is a dictatorship he's uncomfortable with as an ally. When Bush was president, Obama called on "so-called allies" Egypt and Arabia to "stop oppressing their own people."
Yet we still actively support and supply Saudi Arabia day after day with arms and intelligence to crush a native Yemeni insurrection, killing thousands of civilians. We are really doing this.
Obamas in Saudi Arabia
First Lady Michelle Obama, her head uncovered, joined President Obama at the Erqa royal palace in Riyadh on January 27, 2015, when they met with the kingdom’s new ruler, King Salman. President Obama stayed overnight in Riyadh that day but without First Lady Michelle Obama, who made waves on a previous visit to the Wahhabist-ruled kingdom when she did not cover her hair – and was ignored by some of the host dignitaries in a receiving line. | Photo: State Department | Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, King Salman, Saudi Arabia, Women Rights, Equal Rights, Headless,
In Egypt, where Obama's words inspired revolution, we bankroll the military dictatorship that overthrew democracy. After the 2013 coup, Obama's representatives rushed to Cairo to say we wouldn't "take sides" between Egypt's elected government and military thugs destroying it.
In Israel/Palestine, after eight years of emblematically weak "two-state" lip service, Obama supercharged the billions we borrow to fund Israel's military, proving we don't mean what we say, making perpetual West Bank occupation cheaper and helping incent ever more Israelis to settle on Arab land.
Obama allows: "There are times when our security interests conflict with our concern over human rights." This glib formulation ignores how our amorality shapes the world in which 'security interests' have meaning.
In Syria we are letting Russia crush the uprising against dictatorship we inspired in a way we never would have during the Cold War. Stopping mass murder by dictatorships is not in Obama's ever-sophisticated view a "national security interest of the United States" so we're not going to.
But ISIL is a lunatic reaction to bad governance in the Arab world. By exclusively targeting it rather than the world's worst government, we aid the latter, which strengthens the worldview that motivates the former.
Obama is leaving us a world where the worst can happen and the only superpower does nothing. This is not a record liberals, leftists or Democrats should defend or continue.
Note to Hillary: Liberal Democrats, America and an aspirationally civilized world can't afford a third Obama term either, no matter how nice, smart and hip the man seems, and it shouldn't be left to Republicans and maniacs to recognize this.