Barack Obama has been out of office for the better part of a decade. Enough time has passed that we, the pundits and observers, can take a look at Obama’s administration, with the benefit of posterity, and make something of a reasonable assessment.
Let’s consider the question that is asked of all presidential administrations. What were the biggest mistakes of the Barack Obama presidency?
Afghanistan. Obama failed to end the war in Afghanistan. Now, to be fair, Obama inherited the nation-building exercise in South Asia from his predecessor, George W. Bush. And to be fair, Bush’s initial invasion of Afghanistan, to oust Al Qaeda in the wake of 9/11, was rational. But the resultant occupation and nation-building were misguided, expensive, and doomed.
Obama should have prioritized withdrawing U.S. forces when he had the chance, rather than sustaining what he would help become the longest war in U.S. history.
Judiciary. To my own point about the benefits of posterity in assessing presidential performance: Obama and the judiciary. Contemporaneously, Obama’s failure to push Merrick Garland through the nomination process, or Obama’s failure to pressure Ruth Bader Ginsburg to retire, seemed like small potatoes.
Everyone in the Obama administration operated under the assumption that Hillary Clinton was going to win the 2016 election, so no one acted with any urgency to get Garland on the bench, or to get Ginsburg off the bench. Then, of course, Trump won the election and got Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and ACB onto the bench.
So with a few years of hindsight, we are beginning to appreciate how detrimental Obama’s tenure was with respect to the liberal judicial agenda – Obama helped facilitate a 6-3 conservative majority.
Sidenote: Obama also took a relatively lax approach to federal judiciary appointments, whereas Trump and Senator McConnell, understanding the judiciary’s power, zealously appointed conservative judges to Article III positions around the country.
Incrementalism. Barack Obama was elected on a promise of hope and change. Obama was billed as a transformational figure, like the second coming of Franklin Delano Roosevelt or something. He certainly acted the part, with soaring (albeit vague) rhetoric about yes we can and the like.
But once Obama slid into the Oval Office he started to talk about how government was like an ocean liner that you could only turn a few degrees at a time, and although the turn felt insignificant in real-time, over many miles the fractional turn would become significant. It was a disappointing reveal for the people who had elected Obama to enact a progressive agenda. Really, Obama’s incrementalism equates to inactivity; Obama’s Aaron Sorkin-style pursuit of a “Grand Bargain,” manifested in an uninspiring and underachieving administration.
Banking. Through Frank-Dodd, Barack Obama squandered an opportunity to enact reform in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Instead, Obama upheld the status quo. Under the Obama administration, the “too big to fail” banks were given a guarantee against bankruptcy, without having to offer any concessions, or having to submit to any reforms; the banks weren’t required to quit the risky behaviors that had caused the economy to collapse in the first place. People were upset.
The Obama administration’s response helped ignite the Occupy Wall Street movement, and more consequentially, helped sow the seeds of resentment and disgust toward the status quo that would bloom into the MAGA worldview.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.
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