Saturday, December 10, 2016

Assessing the Obama Legacy -- Against His Own Mileposts

By Victor Davis Hanson

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 work out?

"Securing the historic Paris climate agreement."

The accord was never submitted to Congress as a treaty. It will be ignored by President-elect Trump.

"Achieving the Iran nuclear deal."

That "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.

"Securing the Trans-Pacific Partnership."

Even Democratic 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 Trump victory.

"Reopening Cuba."

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.

"Destroying 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.

"Ending combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq."

The Afghan war rages on. The 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.

"Closing Guantanamo Bay."

This was an eight-year broken promise. The detention center still houses dangerous terrorists.

"Rebalancing to 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.

"Supporting Central American development."

The once-achievable 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.

"Strengthening cybersecurity."

Democrats claimed 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.

"Growing the 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.

"Honoring our nation's veterans."

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 groups.

"Making sure our politics reflect America's best."

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.

"Protecting voting rights."

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.

"Strengthening policing."

Lethal attacks on police are soaring.

"Promoting 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?

Obama disappeared 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

Washington Examiner
Sunday Reflection: When Jimmy Carter Is your best-case scenario, you're in trouble

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds

People 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.

Democrat Eric 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 substance.

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 comparatively well).

Afghanistan appears 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 Muslim Brotherhood.

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 test.

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 50 percent.

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.

Examiner Sunday Reflection contributor Glenn Harlan Reynolds is founder and editor of blog and a law professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.