Obama’s Legacy: The Top Ten BY JEFFREY OPPENHEIM, M.D.
Obama’s Legacy: Top Ten
a first look back
BY JEFFREY OPPENHEIM, M.D.
At the conclusion of every Presidency, the process of absorbing and distilling the complexity of successes and failures begins. This is the means by which a legacy is created. In some cases, the process is quick, while in others it takes generations.
President Wilson’s reputation is still evolving. In the last year, his dedication to segregation has given cause for expunging his name from eponymous tributes. President Clinton, on the other hand, has been mostly forgiven for his transgressions and is now applauded for the economic successes of America during his administration. The legacies of these Presidents appear far different today than they did at the end of their administrations.
President Obama is already trying to drive the narrative for his legacy, and we should expect that he will be working on this in the years to come (and one can imagine a substantial book deal to be announced in the next year). While it may be premature to draw definitive conclusions about his legacy, the process needs to begin. I will intentionally omit an analysis of America’s economy as this is an aspect of the Presidential legacy that is mostly epiphenomenal.
So, here is a top 10 list (in no particular order) on Obama’s legacy.
The Affordable Care Act is certainly Obama’s most significant legislation. Although more Americans are now covered by “health insurance”, the costs are of this program are unsustainable and the quality of that coverage is poor. If Obamacare is repealed and replaced, the legacy of this program may be reduced to a footnote. However, Obama’s false promise that if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor, will likely be remembered for years. It’s hard to forget such a monumental lie.
On the other hand, history should, but most likely won’t, remember that Obamacare would never had been enacted had it not been for the illegal misconduct of two little know assistant federal prosecutors from Alaska, Joseph Bottini and James Goeke.
In the U.S. Senate at least 60 votes are required to stop or prevent a filibuster. In 2009, the Senate Democrats would have been one vote short of the 60 votes needed to block a Republican filibuster of Obamacare were it not for the electoral upset that dislodged Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska from his long held seat. The loss of Stevens’ Senatorial seat provided the critical vote necessary to pass Obamacare in 2009.
Stevens was convicted of 7 counts of bribery on October 27, 2008, just days before an election that he was expected to win. Not surprisingly, the conviction caused him to lose the election to Democrat Mark Begich and, thus, provided the Democrats with the 60 votes they needed to prevent a filibuster.
The problem was not only that the bribery charges were phony, but that the U.S. Prosecutors knew this and didn’t tell the defense lawyers. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Bottini and Goeke accused Senator Stevens of underpaying for renovations to his home. In reality, Stevens had likely overpaid for his home renovations, and the prosecutors knew this fact but withheld critical evidence from Stevens’ lawyers. The case against Stevens was thrown out when the prosecutors’ misconduct came to light, but it was too late to save his seat. Begich became the critical 60th vote that closed debate in the Senate and allowed Obamacare to become the law.
For their crime, Bottini and Goeke were charged with professional misconduct and suspended without pay for 40 and 15 days, respectively. However, this mild punishment was later reversed on a technicality. As a result of Bottini and Goeke’s misconduct, American history was changed and millions of Americans are now forced to either buy low quality health insurance or pay a fine to the government. Trump’s election was likely propelled by mass disapproval of Obamacare. Although the details of this crime probably won’t be remembered, the legacy may long endure.
Israel and Iran.
Critics from both the left and right agree that President Obama has had the most strained relationship with Israel in a generation. Some blame the right-wing orientation of Prime Minister Netanyahu. However, the consensus in Israel (in a 2010 poll in the Jerusalem Post) is that Obama is believed to be more pro-Palestinian by nature. His legacy as an anti-Israeli President will likely endure.
Some argue that Obama’s bias might emanate from his indoctrination by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who led Obama’s Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago (Wright argued that Zionism is based on “white racism” and claimed that Israel commits “ethnic cleansing” and crimes against humanity). Obama was also friends with Rashid Khalidi and the Arab American Action Network. Khalidi called Israel a racist state which commits apartheid. Perhaps these friends influenced his orientation.
Obama seems blind to seeing Israelis as victims. We know that when Obama gave his famous speech in Berlin in July 2008, he said he was committed to stopping terror networks which had struck in Madrid, Amman, London, Bali, Washington and NY, but he didn’t mention Israel. We also know that in his famous speech in Cairo in June 2009 he cited the pain of dislocation of some 600,000 Arabs during the 1948 war but didn’t mention the 900,000 Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries. His orientation certainly seemed evident at that point.
Obama’s biases are self-evident: In July 2009, Obama stated that he would “absolutely not” permit Israel to bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities. That same month he told American Jewish leaders that Israel needed “to engage in serious self-reflection” and that he wanted to put “Daylight” between America and Israel. In November 2009 and March 2010, Israel was berated by Obama for announcing plans to build housing units in Jerusalem. That month the Palestinian Authority celebrated Dalal Mughrabi, who led a terror campaign that killed 38, including 12 children and an American. The White House was silent about that attack and yet criticized Israel’s construction plans as an “affront” to the US.
In 2010, Israel intercepted a flotilla of activists breaking Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. Obama supported a security Council statement condemning Israel and then gave the Palestinians an extra $400 million. In May, 2010, Obama conveniently omitted the fact that Daniel Pearl was beheaded because he was an American Jew when he signed the Daniel Pearl Press Freedom Act. This week, Obama allowed passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, attacking Israeli settlements. This blatant attack was
only done after the Presidential election when the Democrats no longer needed Jewish
support (a period termed the “kill zone”). This list goes on.
The ultimate legacy issue will almost certainly rest upon Obama’s support for the Iranian nuclear deal. Against the backdrop of Israeli opposition, Obama agreed to release Iran from widespread economic sanctions in return for marginal assurances that their nuclear program would be postponed. But, here’s some facts that you might not know:
- The Iranian “deal” was never signed by the Iranians and is not “legally binding” according to the Obama Administration. Here is what Julia Frifield, from the State Department wrote on 11/19/15 to Rep. Pompeo (soon to be CIA Chief), ““The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is not a treaty or an executive agreement, and is not a signed document”.
- Congress never approved the “deal”. The Democrats blocked any vote because it would have been rejected.
- Last summer the Institute for Science and International Security learned that Iran’s AEOI tried to purchase tons of controlled carbon fiber to build advanced centrifuges AFTER the Implementation Day of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The Iranians are clearly planning to resume their nuclear bomb work. The evidence of overwhelming and so is common sense.
Hopefully, the Iran deal won’t lead to catastrophe. Time will tell. In the meanwhile, Obama’s legacy of being the least supportive US President on Israel is likely to endure.
One might be forgiven for forgetting that in the Presidential Debates of 2012 President Obama mocked Mitt Romney for stating that Russia represented the greatest geopolitical threat to America. Obama said to Romney, “The 1980’s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because…the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”
It took Obama 8 years to learn that he couldn’t trust the Russians. Here are a few notable events that have occurred on the 44th President’s watch:
- Russia hacked the DNC’s email.
- Russia invaded and annexed the Crimea and went to war with the Ukraine.
- Russia participated in the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians.
- Russia abrogated the 2000 landmark nuclear security agreement that would have destroyed dozens of tons of plutonium and these can now be used to make new nuclear bombs.
This deterioration in relations with Russia has been a decidedly dangerous change. Obama’s “reset” with Russia turned into a “tilt”, and his “open hand” has been met with a “closed fist”. Obama’s legacy with Russia has been Chamberland-like in its naïveté. Appeasement still doesn’t work with tyrants. History will likely blame Obama for being naïve and weak with Russia, leading to their hegemony and aggression.
Obama would like to be remembered as the guy who killed Bin Ladin (and you can be certain that he will mention this in his Farewell Address), we would be remiss if we didn’t recognize that he also raised the white flags in both Afghanistan and Iraq, signaling an opportunity for both the Taliban and ISIS to seize power. Those wars may have grown unpopular, but the job of the President is to keep America safe, not to respond to polls.
Obama’s first promise, to close Guantanamo Bay remains unfulfilled. His covert program to use drones to kill adversaries (rather than capture them and place them in Cuba) sounds tough, but the results have not ended the terror war. A weak terror policy has merely led to and endless series of terrorist actions at home, in Europe, and in the mid-east. On terrorism, Obama is unlikely to be remembered as a strong leader.
When Republicans change their minds about a policy, the term applied is that they “flip-flopped” on the issue. But when Democrats do the same thing it is said that their thoughts have “evolved”. For example,when Obama began his Presidency he opposed gay marriage. Then, his opinion “evolved” into support. However, it was the Supreme Court which ruled that gay marriage is legal, not the President. Therefore, the right to a gay marriage should not be a part of Obama’s legacy, but a virtue of the actions of the Supreme Court.
Obama came to office promising to break the gridlock of Washington, but he leaves only having made matters worse. While it could be argued that the responsibility for this is also in the hands of the Republicans in Congress, it was Obama’s behavior that was particularly gulling. Consider this commentary from Governor Jindal in March 2016:
“Mr. Obama likes to bemoan the increasing partisan divides across the country, as if he were merely a passive observer at best and a victim at worst. Uncharacteristically, the president is being too modest. He has created the very rancor he now rails against. Imagine how different things would be if Mr. Obama had pursued a stimulus bill that included targeted tax cuts and infrastructure spending balanced with gradual entitlement reforms–instead of a stimulus that merely dusted off congressional Democrats’ wish list of pork-barrel projects and ideological experiments.
Imagine if Mr. Obama had actually worked with Republicans in an open process to bring down health-care costs–instead of pushing through, on a partisan vote, the largest expansion of government-welfare programs in a generation. Or if he had listened to the message that voters sent in the first midterm election by putting Republicans in charge of Congress–instead of petulantly relying on executive orders, and using an eraser and whiteout on the Constitution, to shove the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies deeper into Americans’ lives. “
Obama may have bemoaned Washington gridlock, but the process only worsened during his reign and as a consequence of his anecdoche. His failure to break the gridlock should be part of his legacy.
The Supreme Court.
Obama might be remembered for being the President who was denied the ability to appoint a vacant seat on the Supreme Court. But he should really be remembered as the President who won the fewest percentage of Supreme Court cases argued (compared with all other recent Presidencies):
PRESIDENT PERCENT OF CASES WON
Obama’s dismal record isn’t attributable to the Republican appointees on the court. In 44 of the cases his Solicitor general argued, Obama did not get even a single vote in his favor (including from his liberal appointees, Kagan and Sotomayor.) These cases included a variety of subjects. For example, in United States v. Jones (2012), Obama claimed the power to attach a GPS device to a suspected drug dealer’s car and monitor his movements without a warrant. The entire Court agreed that this violated the Fourth Amendment. In Noel Canning v. National Labor Relations Board (2014), the court invalidated President Obama’s National Labor Relations Board “recess” appointments when the Senate was not in recess. The list goes on.
One might have thought that Obama, as a former Constitutional law professor, would have been able to make better reasoned arguments to the Supreme Court, but apparently not. His inability to win the government’s case represents the worst record in modern history and creates a lasting legacy of failure.
President Obama’s administration has expanded executive power beyond the pale. When his policies failed to make it through Congress, he merely imposed “laws” by executive action. When he disagreed with a law, he ignored it or made dubious claims of prosecutorial discretion.
From making sham “recess” appointments to waiving the 1996 welfare reform work requirement to implementing the Dream Act with the stroke of a pen, he has routinely bypassed Congress and violated the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution. Pointing to inaction and dysfunction in Congress, President Obama says, “Where they won’t act, I will.” (See Slattery and Kloster, UN News and World Reports 3/21/14)
In numerous instances, Obama violated the law of the ACA to accomplish his goals. For example, to bail out Massachusetts’s malfunctioning health-care exchange, President Obama and Governor Deval Patrick (before he left office) arranged for more than 300,000 state residents to receive temporary Medicaid coverage without any verification of eligibility, and for the state to get the most generous taxpayer-funded premium subsidies in the entire country. Then, in October 2014, the administration announced that it would not be enforcing the Obamacare’s “transparency in coverage” provisions, which require insurers to disclose data on enrollment, denied claims, and the costs to consumers for certain services. Numerous examples exist of Obama’s overreach or failure to enforce the law, as written.
Obama’s legacy for abusing Executive Power to create laws which don’t exist and his failure to enforce laws that did exist should certainly be remembered as a lasting part of his Presidency.
Obama came to office promising transparency but he quickly changed his tune. His Presidency was highly secretive and the public was granted limited access.
During his Presidency, Obama was reluctant to grant interviews to the newspapers that might ask difficult questions but quick to meet with softball hosts. Hence, we were entertained by humorous interludes with Anthony Bourdain, Zach Galifianakis, Jerry Seinfeld and Marc Maron, but the Washington Post was not granted an interview since 2009.
At the same time, Obama came down hard on anyone suspected of leaking information to the press. For example, the administration threatened to send the NY Times reported James Risen to jail for protecting confidential sources. An Associated Press investigation conducted in 2014 showed secrecy increased dramatically under Obama’s time in office. In 2013, the Obama administration censored or denied 244,675 FOIA requests, which amounts to about 36% of the FOIA applications the administration received. This rejection rate is higher than under any previous presidential administration.
At the EPA secrecy methods have repeatedly violated the “open Meetings law”. Loopholes were used to close more than 60% of meetings to the public. Rather than allow environmental lobbyists names from appearing on visitor logs, officials set up secret meetings in cafes, parks and townhouses, where they were immune from FOIA requests.
Ironically, a few years ago a group of Washington watchdogs went to the White House to give the president a “transparency” award, and the president refused to accept the award in public! The meeting wasn’t even listed on the president’s public schedule.
A long list of broken promises made about transparency can be viewed at POLITIFACT (http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/promises/obameter/subjects/transparency/).
On transparency, Obama’s legacy was an utter failure.
Being the USA’s first African-American President may endure as the most important part of Obama’s legacy. His election was a timeless achievement and Obama will remain a powerful role model for all minority groups. For generations of Americans, Obama will be remembered as proof that anyone can grow up to become President. Lacking the heritage of a political dynasty, personal wealth, or a “presidential” name, Obama created a movement that transformed the political process. His oratorical skills enabled him to succeed and inspire like very few men in American history.
Most Presidents have come to office on the coattails of fame, fortune or genealogy. In modern America only a few Presidents have done it on their own (Nixon and Clinton come to mind). Obama had to do this against a historical legacy of racism and segregation. That is an extraordinary accomplishment.
Unfortunately, Obama is leaving office in a country that seems to be less united than when he started. Perhaps it was unrealistic to expect that Obama’s success should have led to the end of America’s racial divide.
History may remember the silly “beer summit”, when Obama tried to appease Professor Gates, who had been arrested while breaking into his own home. While trying to personalize an act of perceived racism, Obama may have trivialized the issue for many. From the beer summit America descended to the nadir of indecency when police officers were shot in Ferguson and Baton Rouge. The BLM movement and its indictment of law enforcement have only further divided the country, and even served as a distraction during the 2016 election.
In a few generations history may look back at the Obama era with a completely different assessment than we can imagine today. Were these “the good old days” or merely a prelude to a greater or lesser era. We can’t really know and a lot will depend on the legacy of his successor. But, based on the facts as we know them today, Obama’s failures far outweigh his successes. As a man, Obama seems like a very likable guy. But when we look as his domestic and international results, it is easy to see that the results of his actions have weakened America and the democratic process.
-Jeffrey Oppenheim is a neurosurgeon and the former mayor of Montebello, New York