President Barack Obama has given his farewell address to the nation after eight years at America’s helm. As I’ve said in the past, I truly like Obama as a person and there is no other living President that I’d rather have a beer with than Barack. He is intelligent, articulate, compassionate and has a great sense of humor. And I stand in awe of his family and his relationship with Michelle, which has been so loving and true through very difficult times as they endured years of vilification and racist attacks from hateful conservatives.
All of that said, my assessment of Obama’s tenure as POTUS is mixed, and I cringe when I hear supporters trying to elevate his status to one of America’s greatest leaders. The highest praise I have for Obama is that he had the strength to accomplish what he did in office in the face of a hostile, obstructionist Republican congress. Getting the Affordable Care Act passed, his success in keeping the economy growing consistently, his dedication to dealing with climate change and his positive steps toward normalizing relations with Cuba are wonderful accomplishments, especially when you consider the ceaseless opposition of Obama-deranged congress-people.
The biggest disappointment I’ve experienced with Obama revolves around his early promise of “change.” When Barack first campaigned for the presidency in 2007-08, his rallying cry was “change,” and many of his speeches reminded us of the myriad failures of the two-term Bush administration, from 9/11 to the invasion of Iraq to an economy in the tank. Myself and other progressives were inspired by this rhetoric, believing that the Senator from Illinois meant that he was going change course from the horrid policies of George Bush and take us in a new direction. Unfortunately, this did not happen in some very important areas.
The undemocratic, unconstitutional security state set up by the Bush administration after 9/11 remains intact under Obama. The Patriot Act, Homeland Security and other excuses for invading privacy in the name of fighting terrorism continue to hum along undeterred despite the revelations of criminality and overreach by Edward Snowden. And it is reprehensible that the Obama administration has cared far more about intelligence leaks and how to stop them than it has about the intelligence abuses revealed by the leaks. The drone program was expanded under Obama and he has authorized more secret military operations in countries around the globe than any of his predecessors.
While his rhetoric makes him sound like one of the common folk, his actions have often been aligned with the interests of corporate America over what’s best for the rest of us. Despite the devastating effects of the 2007-08 financial crisis on this country’s economy, Obama’s corporate friendly administration refused to bring criminal bankers to justice, and he failed to support any substantive measures to rein in Wall Street. And his support of the horrid Trans-Pacific Partnership has been inexcusable. This secretive multinational agreement is a disaster for the environment and workers, allowing corporations to put profits above all else.
There is more — the Obama administration’s lackluster response to the failed war on drugs, allowing hundreds of thousands of prisoners to rot in jails for non-violent drug-related offenses, his wrong-headed, weak-kneed support of public education, his deportation of more immigrants than any president in history — and it doesn’t paint a picture of the progressive reformer many of us had hoped for.
The question is whether Obama was a good guy who was simply overwhelmed by the entrenched Washington elites or that there is a darker side to the man than his public personae lets on. I want to believe it’s the former, but either way, this is not a president who I would rank among America’s greatest.