Evaluating Obama’s Presidency

Sure, it’s early to pass much reliable judgment on Obama’s presidency but I’m going to do it anyway. Obama was a young and relatively inexperienced political leader who, on balance, had a more successful presidency than not. A few books are already beginning to appear (Peter Baker’s Obama, Jonathan Chait’s Audacity) and many of the judgments coming from seasoned journalists and observers are positive. Obama made some mistakes and had his share of failures like any president.

But he was a gifted campaigner who promised hope and change through moderate political ideology. Obama was the darling of the liberal left and the bane of the conservative right. His most notable success was the Affordable Care Act which originated in conservative think tanks. It should have been a first-rate piece of social policy providing medical coverage for people who couldn’t afford it. But the rank polarization and competitive hate between the two parties meant that the nature of the Affordable Care Act would be distorted (calling it “socialized medicine”) and it would be subject to extreme ideological clashes.

The Affordable Care Act was flawed and needed fixing but it was fixable. Currently 20 million people have health insurance who would not have had it without the Affordable Care Act. Continued progress needs to be made on cost containment, financial incentives for health exchanges, and coverage that’s more attractive to young people but none of these represents a fatal blow and the acrimony and contentiousness surrounding them is testimony to the level of disgust each side as for the other.

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act have convinced the public (mostly by the incessant use of the term Obamacare) that the legislation is more extreme and damaging than it actually is. The fact that most polls show that the public approves of the Affordable Care Act, and the absolute failure of the Republicans to repeal and replace it, is testimony to the quality of the legislation.

Obama made progress in early childhood education programs, seeking sources of alternative energy, and helped make climate change an issue for serious consideration.

When it comes to foreign policy Obama looked around and saw messes everywhere. The Middle East, Israel-Palestine, radical Salafists, unstable countries with nuclear weapons (Pakistan, North Korea), religious extremist countries who wanted nuclear weapons (Iran), al Qaeda, ISIS, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are all potentially dangerous. There is something to be said for his cool demeanor and conclusion that an armed United States meddling in these problems would probably make matters worse. He used special operations and limited warfare strategically. He was not afraid to use the military (bin Laden) when necessary and clearly appropriate.

Obama did make a mistake with Bashar Assad. His statement about a “redline” was naïve and foolish and he stood on the sidelines while hundreds of thousands of Syrians were killed in the Civil War.

In the end, Obama was a diligent and elegant political leader who was knowledgeable and informed. He could be “cool” and therefore thought to be aloof but I prefer that to Trump’s exaggeration of threat. And we should not forget that his political enemies (e.g. Mitch McConnell) made it their life’s work to see the President of the United States failed. Mitch McConnell was so quick to announce that he was going to guarantee Obama’s failure, regardless of the issues, that I figured something other than policy had to be motivating McConnell. I’m just sayin’.


About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on August 4, 2017, in Communication and Conflict Resolution and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I agree with you that Barack Obama was a good president. But I seem to evaluate his presidency(?) on different criteria than you.

    Obama came into office as the economy was in a nose dive to who knows where. I give him credit for arresting that dive and for attempting to do more. But much more was very much needed, and it didn’t happen. The impact of that recession has been a huge negative to many millions of people. For a long time. So while I don’t blame Obama for the recession he came into, I am not so happy with the responses that he managed to accomplish.

    On the foreign policy stuff, I think President Obama was very good. I thought the Iraq war was a debacle from the beginning. I am very happy that he managed to get us mostly out of there and have no criticisms about that or about the things that happened afterwards. Like ISIS. I view that as a consequence of a unjustified war.

    I think I totally agree with you about Obama-care- the health insurance that I am now able to have, and do have, which was not available previously for people like me who have to use the individual market for insurance. A market that was, and still is, skewed by the numbers of people who get their health insurance through their employer, or through the government. I am very happy to call it Obama-care even if that started as some kind of insult.

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