PIQUERO: Obama was ineffective but merits veneration
Opinions Column: The Principled Millennial
In the spirit of the inaugural season and the inauguration of a new president, I believe it is prudent to shine a light on the incumbent President Barack Obama and provide my analysis of how his legacy should be viewed in a historical and cultural context. Despite my differing political opinion on his oftentimes cut-throat liberal policy positions, there is a large part of me that has tremendous respect and admiration for our country’s first black commander-in-chief.
The personal and professional hurdles Obama had to overcome must have been staggering, and for that he deserves nothing but our highest esteem and deference. The movement he created was one of the most legendary and historic feats in American history and he managed to mobilize over 65 million Americans in both 2008 and 2012, easily disposing of both Republican challengers. The personal image Obama cultivated for himself paid off in dividends both politically and socially. His cool demeanor, relatable persona and captivating oratory has led to an overwhelmingly positive perception that accounts for the impressively high approval rating of about 57 percent. This ranks him as the second highest approval rating of any departing President in U.S. history, squarely next to John F. Kennedy, who had a whopping 70 percent approval rating.
It is not a matter of argument whether President (and candidate) Obama had the political skills necessary for the job. What is more contentious is how to squarely peg his legacy. To some, Obama is an almost transcendent figure who through adversity and determination overcame all odds and became a successful and generation-defining president. To others, Obama represented more of the same for Washington: Scandals, government inaction and unwillingness to compromise. All the tenants of a run-of-the-mill establishment politician with grandstanding rhetoric but no change to back up the talk.
My opinion of Obama generally falls under the perception of the latter category. Although I respect his Obama’s sacrifices — both publicly and privately — which naturally come with the job of commander-in-chief of the United States, I think that Obama did not deliver the “change” he campaigned on for eight years and, in turn, let down a lot of his core supporters. It should be noted before I continue into my litany of criticisms of the president that I fully understand the counterarguments that could be made in regards to Obama’s job performance. Congress was historically disruptive. He came into office in a time of great peril for our nation both economically and politically. His true agenda was never allowed to be fully implemented. Although all valid in their own right, I believe the negative attributes of Obama’s term far outweigh these counterarguments.
One question to ask when judging the legacy of a president is: What substantial change or direction did the nation take during their term? The answer for the Obama years is, unfortunately, a dangerously winding spiral downwards. Economically, our country is growing at snail-like speed. According to Bloomberg, although Obama experienced mostly positive economic growth during his Presidency, “at 2.1 percent, it is the fourth-lowest growth rate of any president’s and below the postwar average of 2.9 percent.” Despite record corporate profits and a booming stock market fueled by a technological boom, most of this newfound wealth has been funneling upwards, not downwards thus increasing the income gap and furthering the issue of income inequality which plagues the lives of the poorest Americans and enhances the lives of the richest.
Foreign-policy has been another area where the president has made many far-reaching and oftentimes damaging errors. The capitulation to Iran in which the Obama administration brokered a deal to halt the production of Iranian nuclear-grade weaponry while simultaneously preventing the use of American inspections into those programs comes to mind as a major failure. Obama’s — and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s — relentless pursuit of the democratization of the Middle-East has only exacerbated sectarian conflict, emboldened terrorists, propped-up autocratic governments and destabilized a region already incredibly fragile. Places like Libya, Syria and Yemen have all deteriorated significantly under his administration.
Socially and culturally, the U.S. has arguably never been more divided the way it is now since the Civil War. The 2016 election opened these rifts that were created under the Obama terms. Neighbor against neighbor. Brother against brother. Countrymen against countrymen. It is an ugly development with even uglier repercussions. The Obama administration’s failure to compromise on key policies and his firm reluctance to embrace differing views undoubtedly fermented this development. So much for bridging the political divide that he spoke so much about in 2009.
Although largely ineffective in his position, Obama still can captivate an audience like none other. He is a class act, a wonderful role-model and a decent, honorable man. For that he deserves our veneration, and a tip of my hat.
Michael Piquero is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science and history. His column, “The Principled Millennial,” runs on alternate Fridays.
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