As the Obama era draws to a long awaited close, it’s appropriate to look back on the past eight years and contemplate the legacy of Barack Obama. For those seeking to put a positive spin on President Obama’s seemingly endless administration, I’m reminded of Mr. Chow’s standard of excellence from the “Hangover” movies: “Did you die?” No, I didn’t die during Obama’s tenure, but by any other standard his administration will probably be judged a failure by history.
Mr. Obama’s signature piece of legislation, the law that bears his name in popular culture, is a failure and its days are numbered. The Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare,” has not lived up to its name. Health insurance premiums have increased sharply under Obamacare, even as deductibles and coinsurance have increased. This means that Americans are paying more for healthcare both at the insurance office and the doctor’s office. And, of course, Barack Obama’s promise that “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” went down in history as the Lie of the Year.
Even by the standard of providing coverage to the uninsured, Obamacare is a failure. The uninsured rate is at a historic low, but remains above 10 percent. For its enormous cost and disruption, Obamacare hardly ushered in an era of universal healthcare.
Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan is largely forgotten now, but it is part of his legacy. The plan failed to stimulate the economy, but the Obama era has been a period of heady deficit spending. The borrowed $787 billion stimulus set the tone for the rest of Obama’s presidency. In the final analysis, President Obama nearly doubled the national debt. According to data from USgovernmentspending.com, the total federal debt has increased to more than 100 percent of GDP under Obama. The debt increased from $12 trillion under President Bush to about $23 trillion today. That is more than a trillion dollars per year of debt for every year of the Obama presidency!
Even after inflating the national debt, the US has still not fully recovered from the Great Recession. Even though unemployment has stabilized and decreased, the labor participation rate, the metric that shows how many Americans are in the work force, has decreased throughout Obama’s presidency. To find a historic level that is as low as the current level under Obama, you’d have to look all the way back to 1978 and the presidency of Jimmy Carter.
One part of the Obama legacy that will stand, for better or for worse, is the redefinition of marriage. While this was an action of the Supreme Court and not the president, Obama failed to adequately defend marriage laws in court and appointed justices that helped to upend thousands of years of tradition. As the first sitting president to embrace same-sex marriage, the landmark decision will be linked to his presidency.
Barack Obama also has a secure place in history as the first black president. His election did not heal the racial divide among Americans however. His tenure was marred by racial tension, especially over shootings by police, and race riots. A CNN/ORC poll in October found that more than half of Americans think that race relations have gotten worse under Obama.
President Obama’s record on foreign policy isn’t much better than his domestic record. One of the first things that comes to mind with President Obama’s efforts at diplomacy is the withdrawal from Iraq. President Obama campaigned in 2008 on withdrawing from Iraq and, in 2012, made good his promise after failing to negotiate a status of forces agreement that would permit US troops to remain in the country.
In 2012, Iraq was a stable and functioning democracy. A short time later, after US troops left the country, the Islamic State launched an offensive and gained control of large parts of both Iraq and Syria. Military leaders say that Obama ignored their advice to maintain a US force in Iraq to stabilize the region. The hundreds of thousands of dead, many brutally murdered by ISIS, are a part of Obama’s legacy as well.
The Middle East is not the only region where America’s enemies advanced during the Obama years. Russian President Vladimir Putin brazenly annexed Crimea in 2014. Russia has been fighting a proxy war against the Ukraine ever since. The Ukraine had relied on US and British protection under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum in which Ukraine gave its nuclear weapons to Russia in exchange for “security assurances.”
In Asia, China has not fired shots in anger, but the communist country has illegally been turning South China Sea atolls into artificial islands. Military bases are being built on the islands that could threaten many US allies in the region.
Obama’s seminal foreign policy achievements are abject failures. His nuclear deal with Iran was never ratified by Congress and is already being violated by the Iranians. The Trans Pacific Partnership, one of Mr. Obama’s few conservative achievements, was pronounced dead on arrival by President-elect Donald Trump, who is on par with Bernie Sanders when it comes to free trade agreements.
Ironically, one of the biggest legacies of Obama, the champion of the nanny state, is the loss of faith in government among Americans. Gallup shows that American trust in government peaked in 2003 when 60 percent of Americans believed that government would do the right thing most of the time. The current number is lower even than when President Bush left office amid the Iraq War and the Great Recession. In spite of – or perhaps because of – Obama’s conviction that government is the solution to every problem, only 19 percent of Americans now trust the government. Gallup also shows that 67 percent of Americans see government as the biggest threat facing the country. This is a 13-point increase over Obama’s term.
The falloff in trust in government may explain another Obama legacy. Under President Obama, the Democratic Party has been devastated at the state and local level. During Obama’s eight years, the party of Big Government lost more than 1,000 seats in state legislatures, governorships, Congress and the White House.
Even though President Obama leaves office with a respectable approval rating of 57 percent, his coattails have been short to nonexistent. Barack Obama’s personal popularity has not translated into popularity for his party or his ideas. With few rising stars surviving the Republican electoral victories of the past four years and Democratic ideas rejected by voters, the Democratic Party has a difficult road ahead.