A Peoples’ History of the Obama Presidency

Obama - Trump

As the Trump presidency grinds its misbegotten way through the last half of its first term, a pink haze of nostalgia burnishes the legacy of the president who preceded him — Barack Obama. Post-presidency, the voters have given him a 63% approval rating (Gallup, 2018), good enough and better than his average 48% rating while in office but behind the post-presidency ratings of other popular presidents like Kennedy (86%) and Reagan (72%). For donors jaded by the unfulfilled promises of past presidents, Obama’s failure to live up to campaign promises has little effect on his legacy. In healthcare, education, immigration, foreign policy and the plight of the “not so rich,” the Obama administration chose to reward the 1% who bankrolled him over the voters who elected him. Instead of mending a fraying social service system, wall to wall tax breaks aimed at the 1% grabbed most of the oxygen in his first 100 days. The sleights of hand kept coming — a healthcare bill that was little more than corporate welfare for the bottom-feeding private healthcare industry (aka Obama’s major donors), full-throated support for Israel’s war crimes, drone wars producing wastelands and massive civilian deaths in seven countries in the Mideast and Africa and a new kind of foreign policy that replaced diplomacy with perpetual war.

As the 2020 election approaches and democratic wannabees congregate, the question of Obama’s legacy takes center stage. With the corporate media playing the Obama card to the hilt — witness the Obama-revering Atlantic giving new meaning to hyperbole as it crowns him “more popular than Jesus,” (The Atlantic 5/23/2019), Obama is becoming a force to be reckoned with among Democratic hopefuls requiring a careful threading of the needle. When she was asked if she would “consider herself an heir to the Obama legacy, Kamala Harries replied “I have my own legacy.” Another candidate, Pete Buttigieg, in a backhand swipe at Obama, has harped on rejecting “the politics of the past.” And then there’s Corey Booker celebrating the “honest conversation” the Democrats are having about the past while still managing to get in a swipe or two — “Look he [Obama] is our statesman…He aint perfect…I’m sure he [would] tell you ‘I made some mistakes.’ With that masterful understatement Corey Booker permanently enshrined himself in the hall of hypocrites.

Honest appraisals of the Obama legacy are MIA in this crowd. The one question they’re afraid to ask: How could it end so badly and so few people notice for this man of many talents who convinced a fractured nation in 2007 that he could solve the woes of a people living through the economic devastation of the sub-prime mortgage disaster, the real-life consequences of a war based on lies, and growing economic inequality forcing millions of Americans to live on the brink of disaster while a tiny minority lived high on the hog.

As long and convoluted as this tale of eight years of disillusion and disappointment is, the signs of an administration committed to nothing beyond the aggrandizement of its major donors and its “special relationship” with Israel surfaced even before Inauguration Day. On December 27, 2008, Israel launched a murderous attack on the Gaza Strip being careful to end the attack before Obama took over.

Obama Israel

Following in the footsteps of all previous administrations and eager to reassure the Israelis that a murderous little war would never stand in the way of U.S. support of Israel’s war crimes, Obama’s senior advisor, David Axelrod, rushed to appear on Meet the Press to promise the new administration’s “plans to work closely with Israel. They are … [our] most important allies in the region.” After it was clear there would be no departure from business as usual with Israel, Axelrod made a tiny and meaningless concession to the Palestinians: “he [Obama] will carry out [his Mideast policy]in a way that will promote peace and he will work on it together with the Israelis and Palestinians.”

Feeling that the $3 billion in tax payer dollars the U.S. was forking over to Israel every year was a mite stingy, Obama in 2016 signed an agreement upping the total to $3.8 billion annually. He proceeded to appoint only the most vocal and longstanding Israeli cheerleaders to important positions in his administration. Heading the State Department, serving as ambassador to the U.N., and advising him on national security were the hawkish princesses Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power, and Susan Rice. Subscribing to the theory that you can never have too much of a good thing, Obama appointed Martin Indyk, former ambassador to Israel, ex-deputy director of AIPAC (the Israel lobby) and founder of the Israel-centric think tank Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the “honest broker” to lead the “peace” negotiations between Israel and Palestine in 2013-2014. Under Indyk’s “masterful” negotiating, the Obama peace process wound up with Israel invading Gaza for the second time in five years.

U.S. President Bush speaks as President-elect Obama looks over his shoulder in the Oval Office of the White House

Next on the president’s agenda was that inconvenient campaign promise to hold the Bush crew accountable for torture, warrantless wiretapping, rendition, suspension of habeas corpus and other “great crimes” which in the words of Georgetown law professor Jonathan Turley: “…if we don’t investigate this [Bush] administration for war crimes and illegality—particularly war crimes—someone else might. The fact is the rest of the world sees these as war crimes.”  Appearing to be in accord (his standard ploy when faced with actions he had no intention of taking), President Obama “broadly condemn[ed] some counterterrorism tactics of the Bush administration and its claim that the measures were justified under executive powers. [“Obama Reluctant to Look into Bush Programs” NY Times 1/11/2009].

Employing his usual M.O. — substituting rhetoric for action, Obama uncorked this whopper on This Week with George Stephanopoulos,“I don’t believe anyone is above the law. One the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backward…My instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing…When it comes to national security what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past.”

Fact: since becoming president in 2009, Obama has prosecuted more people as whistle-blowers under the 1917 Espionage Act than all former presidents combined. Ex-Washington Post Executive Editor, Leonard Downie, Jr. in his 2013 report, “The Obama Administration and the Press,” asserted: “The administration’s [Obama’s] war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration. In retrospect even President Bush for all the Darth Vadar-like manipulations of the press and public opinion during his tenure comes off smelling like a rose by comparison.“

Like every major piece of legislation… the law is not perfect.  We’ve had to make adjustments along the way…” [Obama speech on the passage of the ACA, 4/1/2014]

Welcome to healthcare, Obama-style. The ACA (aka Obamacare), the law that Obama staked his legacy on, was viewed in sharply contrasting ways by Obama minions and most healthcare experts: Obama’s propaganda machine hailed it as a new era in affordable universal health care, many healthcare experts deemed it corporate welfare for insurance companies and other sectors of the healthcare industry.

From campaign promises to its actual unfolding, the ACA is littered with false hopes, phony assurances and downright lies. The tale of the tape tells it all. In 2007, when Obama was still stumping for the democratic nomination, he appeared on a radio program and assured listeners “Senator Clinton’s plan for healthcare, my plan, John Edward’s plan are all similar in the sense that we set up a government plan alongside the private plans… And people can buy in.”

In 2008 candidate Obama pledged — “For those without health insurance I will establish a new public insurance program.”  The 2008 Obama-Biden campaign website contained the following message —“any American will have the opportunity to enroll in [a] new public plan.”  The assurances kept on coming after Obama was installed in the White House.  On March 26, 2009, “if you can’t obtain [health insurance] through a private plan, there is going to be a public plan available…” In a speech to the American Medical Association on June 15, 2009, he emphasized that there “needs to be a public option” in the health care bill. On, September 20, 2009, he stuck with his pledge that a public option “should be a part of this [health care bill].”

Ten days later the official Senate hustler-in-chief, Max Baucus, who also happened to be the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and Obama’s hatchet man, announced that there would be no public option in the ACA. How could this be? The Washington Post, had the answer, unmasking Baucus as the “leading recipient of Senate campaign contributions from the hospitals, insurers and other medical interest groups hoping to shape the [health care] legislation to their advantage.”  Baucus’ buddy-buddy relationship with Big Health goes back decades. In 2003, he sided with congressional Republicans and the Bush administration and rammed a bill through Congress that added prescription drug coverage to Medicare without passing a way to pay for it. In addition, the bill prohibited Medicare from negotiating drug prices (also prohibited in the ACA). Witness today’s out-of-control drug prices, a result of one senator and one president who put campaign loot above the needs of the American people, especially the poor. For Baucus, who amassed $5.5 million from healthcare honchos over his Senate career, it was all in a day’s work. His reward — an ambassadorship.

On December 22, 2009, Obama closed the case; “I didn’t campaign on the public option” [Washington Post]

Obama Healthcare (ACA)

It wasn’t long before a cabal of lying Senate Democrats jumped on the Obama express  speeding toward passage of the Affordable Care Act. First order of business — reassure the American people they really didn’t want to see the sausage being made. “Sometimes for people to say what’s really on their minds, it helps to do it outside the public eye.” [Thomas Carper (D) Senate Finance Committee]. Helping out Senate apologists for a crappy bill, big PHARMA’s senior VP had another reason for keeping the negotiations private — the public is too damn stupid: “The average person doesn’t understand our business model.”

While that might have been the biggest and cruelest lie in Obama’s lie factory, it was hardly the only one. Here’s candidate Obama bragging about his relentless pursuit of justice for the prisoners at Guantanamo — “As President, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions.”  [Obama 8/2/2007]

One of his earliest promises quickly wound up in the circular file. On January 21, 2009, Obama signed an executive order closing Guantanamo within one year and patted himself on the back: “This is me following through on not just a commitment I made during the campaign, but I think an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard.”

Shortly after that executive order was issued, the president’s Democratic cronies in control of the House Armed Services Committee prohibited opening a replacement facility in the US.

What followed was another in a series of Obama cave-ins. On May 23, 2013 in a speech at the National Defense University in Washington: “As president, I have tried to close Gitmo…before Congress [at the time Democrats controlled both chambers] imposed restrictions to effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries, or imprisoning them in the United States.” 

That wasn’t the way everyone remembered it. Jim Moran, one of three congressmen fighting to close Guantanamo, insisted that the White House “dropped the ball on closing the controversial military prison by failing to come up with a plan in time, refusing to help House Democrats who were fighting for its closure, and then abandoning the plan altogether and blaming Republicans.” [“How Obama Bungled the Guantanamo Closing,” Josh Rogin, The Daily Beast, 5/23/13]

Bottom line: Guantanamo is still open. What closed? The office that was leading the charge to close Guantanamo.

Another disappointment awaited. This time it was aimed at union members who felt the sting of Obama’s broken promises when he made the transition from Senator to nominee to president. It was a real “now you see it, now you don’t series of moments. Here’s Senator Obama appearing at an AFL-CIO Convention on July 25, 2005 — “At a time of such insecurity and vulnerability, there has never been a greater need for a strong labor movement to stand up for American workers.”

When Sen. Obama became candidate Obama, this folksy speech to union members heralded the coming of another betrayal:

“If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I’ll walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America. Because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner. [Spartansburg, SC, 2007]”

Obama got a chance to fulfill this promise in 2011, when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker used the state’s budget deficit to justify scrapping collective bargaining by public employees.  Thousands of public employees picketed the capital. Instead of putting on comfortable shoes and hopping on Air Force One, President Obama chose the more famiiar path of no-action platitudes: …What I’ve heard coming out of Wisconsin, where they’re just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally, seems like more of an assault on unions… I think everybody’s got to make some adjustments, but I think it’s also important to recognize that public employees make enormous contributions to our states and our citizens.”

Later, when press secretary Jay Carney was asked what happened to Obama’s Spartansburg pledge: “… he made his viewpoints known on the situation in Wisconsin, the need for people to come together… and sacrifice together.”

There you have it. A thumbnail sketch of Obama’s legacy —false promises, failed initiatives, the killing of hope, the dismissal of change, the institutionalizing of injustice and tyranny abroad and at home, and the abandonment of civilian protections against governmental malfeasance and overreach.

Obama Inauguration

What became of the president who on January 20, 2009, stood before 250,000 hopeful and joyous citizens and 38 million watching on television certain their time had come and proclaimed “On this day we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recrimination and worn out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.

It’s a question too few Democrats are asking.


For a more exhaustive examination of eight years of a failed Obama presidency, read SA’s Legacy: Obama’s & Ours

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