Looking back at the Obama years

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 22, 2017, 11:44 AM | comments: 0

I realized today that, in my adult life, there have only been three presidents: Obama, Bush and Clinton. The elder Bush was president in my first two years as a voter, but he was elected prior to my turning 18. Looking back at those presidents, I remember being both stunned that Clinton could pull off a balanced budget, the only one to do it in my lifetime, while pissing away his legacy by humping interns. I didn't vote for Bush, but Gore and Kerry were not particularly compelling alternatives either. I still think that Bush is fundamentally a good man, but his obsession with going to war with Iraq, on what turned out to be false pretenses, will forever overshadow his service. There are no winners to pick.

Which brings us to Barack Obama. He campaigned on the promise of hope and change. In my lifetime, I've been struck by our inability to move beyond race, because as a kid growing up in the inner-city as a white minority, it has appeared absurd that racism is still a thing. Yet, in high school and college, I learned that not only is it a thing, but it's a strikingly commonplace problem. Indeed, just the election of an African-American president implied that we were finally over it. I could not have been more wrong.

So let's just go to the race thing straight up. Obama being elected as the first black president is absolutely an achievement of historic proportions. And I don't believe that it's something that just anyone could have achieved. He truly had the right temperament and appeal to make that happen. At times, "preacher" Obama delivered on the promise to inspire. It was something that we sorely needed more of throughout his presidency, in my opinion.

I'm not going to go through eight years of policy and pick winners and losers, but it was, at best, a mixed bag. Presidents, by nature of the structure of our government, can set agendas and have striking social and foreign policy impact, but getting laws passed requires congress. We know how that went. A lot of people will defend that kind of impotence with "but Republicans," but I think truly transformational leadership figures out how to get beyond that, and that's what I was hoping for.

He did OK on foreign policy. Getting the regular inspections and access in Iran was a big deal, and banning the use of torture was the moral thing to do. On the other hand, he never did close the Guantanamo prison, where we hold people indefinitely without charging them. Few things are less American than that. He failed on the issue of domestic spying until the Snowden leaks, and even then, his corrective action was inadequate.

The bulk of the economic metrics show we're in a better place than we were in the recession, but the speed of the recovery hasn't been ideal or all encompassing. I'm not sure if that's really a problem that government can solve. Politicians in general fail to define the problems correctly (hint: it's not globalization or trade affecting jobs, it's automation). Personally, I'm in no position to complain at all. I've been steadily employed since 2009 and doing well, but a lot of that has to do with my profession (which is, ironically, partly responsible for the aforementioned automation).

The thing that a lot of people are looking at right now though, in light of the election of Trump, is the way a president applies humility and decorum to the office itself. There is a dignity required of the office, and every man who has occupied it in my lifetime has possessed those qualities, regardless of where they were on the political spectrum. The Obamas were a classy family, for sure. The man rarely got too riled up, and he respected the office and institution of government, as those did before him. For that, he will be sorely missed.


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