January 13, 2015

Obama's legacy: Historians take a first crack; so do I

President Barack Obama —
how much is he actually like
Supreme Court Associate Justice
Clarence Thomas
If Charles Pierce considers George W. Bush our "C+ Augustus," where does that leave Barack Obama, who is arguably a better president, but primarily due to that Bush phrase "the soft bigotry of low expectations"? Since Obama actually — deluded not-too-liberal of liberals and "projections" aside — "delivered" even less on what he actually promised or semi-promised than did C+, too, in terms of any "base" of support, just how should we rank Dear Leader?

Well, at New York Magazine, a coterie of professional historians, ranging from from quasi-reactionary to left-liberal, give it their shot. (Clickable links lead to full reviews of DL by each historian.)

A fair amount of more liberal to left-liberal ones appeared to have, like me, "seen through" Obama at least by 2010, if not during his 2008 campaign. As for that group, I have no idea how many of them still voted for him anyway, rather than voting Green or Socialist or whatever.

Anyway, here's a roundup of the few best insights from left of center:
"His contributions were sometimes remarkable, but Obama’s primary legacy is his destruction of political idealism for the foreseeable future. He proved an impressive steward of the traditions of his party since the 1970s. Where Obama differed was his brief but unforgettable achievement of a surprisingly large consensus around a belief — or delusion — that Americans rarely entertain. Put simply, it was that American politics could and must fundamentally change. The energies he conjured will not reappear soon and are less likely to do so because he summoned them for so ordinary and predictable a set of policies." – Samuel Moyn
Those of us semi-idealists who "saw through him" before the 2008 general election haven't had our semi-idealism destroyed, or ditto on full idealists like me, because we never invested it in him in the first place.

Other than that, Moyn is totally right on Obama being a "worthy" steward of neoliberalism. As for Obama's "consensus"? Maybe Obama never intended that fundamental change. Either that, or a point I've hammered into the dust is true here, too — Dear Leader thought the mellifluous dulcet tones of his voice (sarcasm alert) would work fundamental change all along.

What about Obamacare? This is not a bad observation:
“It might very well be insurance exchanges, rather than the expansion of coverage, that stands as the most significant aspect of the Affordable Care Act. That is especially the case if the exchanges work and therefore lay the foundations for privatizing or ‘“marketizing” Medicare and Medicaid. As much as some called him a socialist, he might well be remembered as someone who de-socialized public health care.” – Alexander Gourevitch
Gourevich? I'm not sure if he means that in a good or a bad sense. It could be in a bad sense, as he is a left-liberal type. If so, I'd totally agree. It's hard to tell from his whole set of responses, but, since he is some sort of left-liberal, I'm going to take it he means it in a bad sense.

I certainly look at O-care that way myself. Sometimes, the good is the enemy of the best, and I fear that is very much the case here — he wrecked political capital, per Moyn, for a non-fundamental change which he chose as his target all along.

Next, let's look more directly at the myth of The Great Communicator 2.0:
“Talk to us — tell us what he is aiming at, what our challenges are, especially abroad. He may be our mutest president.” – Mark Lilla

Indeed, whether deliberately Sphinx-like, or simply unable to move much beyond TelePrompTer 101 on a regular basis, the allegedly divine powers of Obama here were often not displayed.

That said, regular readers won't be surprised by my allegedly. Obama as Great Communicator 2.0 was a flop, a lie, and a social construct all three. As for political oratory, he's never been close to Reagan.

His legacy? One of the historians said that he currently puts Obama at the top edge of the bottom one-third of presidents, but thinks he will rise in the future, and into the bottom slice of the top one-third of presidents. See my take below the fold.

I totally agree with the first half of that, and totally reject, at least for my own self, an idea that he will appreciably rise.

With one caveat: If he does actually rise that much in the future, doorknob help the USofA because that means we will really have been shooting craps on choosing our presidents.

Rather, 25 years from now, I think historians may move him up a touch, to the bottom of the middle one-third of presidents. I doubt I'll move him that high, assuming I'm still around.

The "race" issue? Or super-ethnic, or whatever term we can find to replace biologically nonexistent "race"?

I think it is an important part of his legacy. I think it's one he tried to play coy with, like a mistress on the side.

And, I'm going to tackle it from that angle, and in some deliberately contrarian ways that transcend "Republican" and "Democrat."

Let's compare his rise, albeit by electoral politics rather than appointments, with one Clarence Thomas. And, it's going to be "compare" more than "contrast."

I noted above how Obama exemplifies the "soft bigotry of low expectations" in some ways, by following after Shrub Bush. So, too, does Clarence Thomas, by being a black Republican, about the only one in judicial circles, and thus a "token" (let's be honest) to replace Thurgood Marshall. (That said, Poppy Bush reportedly considered him for the William Brennan vacancy before the Marshall one months later.)

Would Clarence Thomas be on the Supreme Court if he were white? Most likely not.

Would Barack Obama be in the White House if he were white? Most likely not.

Both had relatively short career arcs before going to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and the US Senate, respectively. They were in those positions for relatively short times before reaching the quasi-pinnacle (Thomas isn't the Chief!) or pinnacle of their branches of government.

Snickering about Thomas' low ranking from the American Bar Association aside, they're both relatively smart. Thomas may not be as articulate as Obama, but, we've already seen what I think about that.

While I don't think that future analysts of the Supreme Court will move Thomas up a lot, I don't think that future presidential historians will move up Obama a lot more.

As for that bottom one-third ranking?

Ignoring William Henry Harrison and Garfield as having too short of terms to judge, I would definitely put Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Grant, Harding, Nixon, and George W. Bush below him. That's nine "definites" of 42. I would consider putting Jackson, Tyler, Polk and Reagan below him, for various reasons. I would consider not doing that, too.

I can't think of any other presidents that I would be likely to put below him. Grover Cleveland's second term a possible. So is Calvin Coolidge. And, that's it.

So, at best, he ranks at the top of the bottom tier. Yep.

These rankings are on a mix of my agreement or not with their political philosophy, their actual actions and how they helped or hurt the country, and their success in achieving the goals that were part of their campaign. (For example, James Polk provoked war with Mexico; I'll agree with "Spotty" Lincoln and other political critics of him. But, he was wildly successful in achieving his "agenda," albeit at the cost of a political personality so bad that he antagonized people in his own party, including emissaries like Nicholas Trist.)


Frederick Froth said...

Hi, I am from Australia.
Regardless if Obama has been a success or not please check out these three related references, which, among other things, point out that the human culture (such as it was) is in ruins and that it is effectively ungovernable.


Myth busting essays on "religion" science & culture

Gadfly said...

Your links are posted, but I don't think we need any more like them. None of them seem to have any close relevance.