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Saturday, December 10, 2016
Assessing the Obama Legacy -- Against His Own Mileposts
In his 2016 State of
the Union address, President Obama summarized his achievements. That same
night, the White House issued a press release touting Obama's accomplishments.
Now that he will be
leaving, how well did these initiatives listed in the press release actually
historic Paris climate agreement."
The accord was never
submitted to Congress as a treaty. It will be ignored by President-elect Trump.
Iran nuclear deal."
was another effort to circumvent the treaty-ratifying authority of Congress. It has
green-lighted Iranian aggression, and it probably ensured nuclear
proliferation. Iran's violations will cause the new Trump administration to
either scrap the accord or send it to Congress for certain rejection.
presidential nominee Hillary Clinton came out against this failed initiative. It has little
support in Congress or among the public. Opposition to the TTP helped fuel the
The recent Miami
celebration of the death of Fidel Castro, and Trump's victory in Florida, are
testimonies to the one-sided deal's unpopularity. The United States
got little in return for the Castro brothers' propaganda coup.
ISIL" and "dismantling al Qaeda."
We are at last making
some progress against some of these "jayvee" teams, as Obama once
described the Islamic State. Neither group has been dismantled or destroyed.
Despite the death of Osama bin Laden, the widespread reach of radical Islam
into Europe and the United States remains largely unchecked.
missions in Afghanistan and Iraq."
The Afghan war rages
precipitous withdrawal of all U.S. peacekeepers in 2011 from a quiet Iraq
helped sow chaos in the rest of the Middle East. We are now sending more troops
back into Iraq.
This was an
eight-year broken promise. The detention center still houses dangerous
the Asia-Pacific region."
The anemic "Asia
Pivot" failed.The Philippines is now openly pro-Russian and pro-Chinese. Traditional
allies such Japan, Taiwan and South Korea are terrified that the U.S is no
longer a reliable guarantor of their autonomy.
Central American development."
promise of a free-market, democratic Latin America is moribund. Dictatorships
in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua remain impoverished bullies. All have been
appeased by the U.S.
Russian interference in the recent election. If true, it is proof that there
is no such thing as "cybersecurity." The WikiLeaks releases, the
hacked Clinton emails and the Edward Snowden disclosures confirm that the Obama
administration was the least cybersecure presidency in history.
Open Government Partnership."
The NSA scandal, the
hounding of Associated Press journalists, some of the WikiLeaks troves and the
corruption at the IRS all reveal that the Obama administration was one of
the least transparent presidencies in memory.
Obama's Department of
Veteran Affairs was mired in scandal, and some of its nightmarish VA hospitals
were awash in disease and unnecessary deaths. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric
Shinseki was forced to resign amid controversy. Former Homeland Security
Secretary Janet Napolitano apologized for issuing an offensive report falsely
concluding that returning war vets were liable to join right-wing terrorist
The 2016 presidential
campaign was among the nastiest on record.WikiLeaks revealed unprecedented collusion
between journalists and the Clinton campaign. Earlier, Obama had been the
first president in U.S. history to refuse public campaign money. He was also
the largest fundraiser of private cash and the greatest collector of Wall
Street money in the history or presidential campaigns.
Riots followed the
recent presidential election. Democrats, without merit, joined failed Green
Party candidate Jill Stein's recount in key swing states they lost. Progressives are
berating the constitutionally guaranteed Electoral College. State electors
are being subject to intimidation campaigns.
Lethal attacks on
police are soaring.
immigrant and refugee integration and citizenship awareness."
The southern U.S.
border is largely unenforced. Immigration law is deliberately ignored. The president's
refugee policy was unpopular and proved a disaster, as illustrated by the
Boston Marathon bombings, the San Bernardino attack, the Orlando nightclub
shooting and the recent Ohio State University terrorist violence.
Note what Obama's
staff omitted: his doubling of the U.S. debt in eight years, the unworkable and
soon-to-be-repealed Affordable Care Act, seven years of anemic economic
growth, record labor nonparticipation, failed policy resets abroad, and a
Middle East in ruins.
Why, then, has the
president's previously sinking popularity suddenly rebounded in 2016?
from our collective television screens, replaced by unpopular candidates
Clinton and Trump, who slung mud at each other and stole the limelight.
As a result, Obama
discovered that the abstract idea of a lame-duck Obama was more popular than
the cold reality of eight-year President Obama.
He wisely adjusted by
rarely being heard from or seen for much of 2016.
So Obama now departs amid
the ruin of the Democratic Party into a lucrative post-presidency: detached and
without a legacy.
Victor Davis Hanson
is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.
His latest book is The
Savior Generals from BloomsburyBooks. You can reach him by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Washington Examiner Sunday
Reflection: When Jimmy Carter Is your best-case scenario, you're in trouble
Glenn Harlan Reynolds
on the right have been comparing President
Obama with Jimmy Carter for a while now: The rise from nowhere via
inexplicable press adulation, the smarmy moralizing, the excessive faith in his
own abilities, the tendency of everything he touches to turn to crap -- all
seem eerily reminiscent of the Carter presidency.
But now it's people
on the left who are saying the same thing. Trouble is, at this point a Carter
rerun is probably a best-case scenario.
Alterman writes: "Ask yourself if the following story does not sound like
another president we could name. The gregarious Massachusetts pol, House
Speaker Tip O'Neill, could hardly have been more eager to work with a
Democratic president after eight years of Nixon and Ford.
"But when they
first met, and O'Neill attempted to advise Carter about which members of
Congress might need some special pleading, or even the assorted political favor
or two with regard to certain issues, to O'Neill's open-jawed amazement, Carter
replied, 'No, I'll describe the problem in a rational way to the American
people. I'm sure they'll realize I'm right.' The red-nosed Irishman later said he
'could have slugged' Carter over this lethal combination of arrogance and
naivete, but it would soon become Carter's calling card."
But it's worse than
that. I see Alterman's point, but we've reached the point where this sort of
comparison works more as a defense of Obama than a critique.
First, Obama doesn't
rely on rational description to persuade the American people, but rather on
his -- now seemingly shrunken -- oratorical skills, without regard to
And, second, rather
than pushing a program he thought was rational over the objections of the
Democratic congressional leadership, Obama virtually outsourced the stimulus
and health care legislation to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, producing a
misshapen mass of special-interest giveways that did little for the economy or
for health, and that created massive public indignation. Obama here was like
Carter without the engineer's rationality, or force of personality.
Obama is worse in
another way. Though Carter had a mean streak, he was not prone to divide and
name-call in the way that Obama has done. From his remarks about bitter clingers
to his administration's increasing willingness to call any criticism racist, Obama's
administration has been far more divisive than Carter's.
Likewise, the Obama
administration has shown a thuggish streak, involving everything from
"jokes" about Internal Revenue Service audits to the recent National
Labor Relations Board attack on Boeing's factory move from a unionized plant in
Washington state to a plant in South Carolina where workers had voted to go
nonunion, that was not so pronounced under Carter. Call it the difference
between Plains and Chicago.
Carter looked hapless
in the face of high energy prices, but Obama actually seems pleased: He
announced early on that his policies would necessarily cause electricity prices
to "skyrocket," and his recent town-hall response to a man who
complained about the cost of his commute was a suggestion that the man trade
his car in and buy a hybrid.
To Carter, higher
energy prices were an insoluble problem; to Obama, they're a tool to encourage
Americans to live more constrained lives -- and perhaps to buy a Chevy Volt
from the bailed-out General Motors.
Meanwhile, on foreign
policy -- another Carter weak point -- Obama also looks worse. Carter blew it
with Iran, encouraging the Iranian armed forces to stay in their barracks,
while Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's radical Islamists (whom Carter thought of
as "reformers") took power, and then approved the ill-conceived
hostage rescue mission that ended with ignominious failure in the desert.
Obama, by contrast, could only wish for such success.
At the moment, Obama
is involved in three wars, and in two of them he is losing. (The third,
ironically, is the war he ran against, in Iraq, where things seem to be going
to have turned into (at best) a stalemate, with drone attacks of the sort Obama
the candidate criticized being our chief weapon. Libya, a war that Obama
started at the behest of the "lady hawks" in his Cabinet (Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, and Special
Assistant Samantha Power), has been a half-hearted, run-by-committee affair
that has mostly served as a reminder that NATO can't do very much without the United
States firmly in charge.
In Egypt, where Obama
supported the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak (a reliable, if unappetizing, U.S. client)
by a different bunch of reformers, polls now show the United States is disliked
by three-quarters, while a similar number look favorably on the fundamentalist
In Syria, where there
is a popular revolt against a genuine U.S. enemy, the Obama administration has
been conspicuous by its absence. Apparently, Syria's reformers don't pass the
Then, of course,
there is the economy. Carter had big government, but Obama has brought us
monstrous government, running up bigger deficits in the first half of his first
term than Bush did in eight years and increasing the national debt by more than
The stimulus, which
was touted as a way of keeping unemployment below 8 percent, couldn't even keep
it out of double digits, and even now 8 percent looks pretty good by
comparison with what we've got.
But while all that
spending didn't stabilize unemployment as promised, it did destabilize
America's credit rating. As bad as things were under Carter, the United States
wasn't at risk of a credit downgrade, as it is now.
Plus, inflation is
beginning to ramp up, as gas and grocery prices skyrocket. Some worry that the
inflation rates of the Carter era will look mild by comparison with what's
coming down the pike.
And that's the
lesson: Up to now, comparisons with Carter were a tool of Obama's critics.
From now on, they're likely to be a tool of his defenders. Because as bad as
Carter was, Obama is shaping up to be worse. Much worse.
Reflection contributor Glenn Harlan Reynolds is founder and editor of
Instapundit.com blog and a law professor at the University of Tennessee in