Barack Obama ended his presidency as he began it, delivering soaring rhetoric and political pageantry that far exceeded his actual record of governance.
Indeed, the rhetoric of Barack Obama’s farewell address did not match the bleak reality of his presidency. Despite his high approval ratings, Obama remains more than anything else a symbol for Democrats disheartened by the stunning defeat of Hillary Clinton, rather than a truly successful president leaving behind a legacy of accomplishment.
Obama promised America unity and healing after the Bush years, but delivered polarization and division.
Today, America is far more divided and partisan than when Obama became president, a trend exacerbated by his own patronizing and belittling political style.
The division that Obama has sown over the course of his presidency has had real consequences for the stature and stability of our country. America is weaker, both at home and overseas, than when Obama took office.
In his address Tuesday night, Obama decried the “cynicism and polarization in our politics,” yet his tenure has witnessed the rapid deterioration of bipartisanship at every level of American government. It is fitting that ObamaCare, the president’s signature piece of legislation, was rammed through Congress without a single Republican vote.
The repudiation of ObamaCare by the incoming Republican administration, and the speed with which Congressional Republicans are moving to repeal it, should come as no surprise.
Weak economic growth has also been a hallmark of the Obama years, despite Obama’s insistence that he presided over the “longest stretch of job creation in our history.” The anemic, jobless recovery has left millions underemployed and hollowed out entire sectors of the American economy.
In fact, Obama’s economic performance was so dismal that the mere prospect of new governance has rallied markets and sent consumer confidence indicators surging.
Obama’s legacy abroad is even more dismal than at home. America has surrendered leadership in Middle East, where terrorist organizations including ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas run rampant. Hundreds of thousands are dead in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and beyond.
Obama claimed to have “shut down Iran’s nuclear program without firing a shot,” but Iran is now more powerful and influential than ever, and has already begun to violate Obama’s toothless nuclear deal.
Europe is hopelessly divided, while Vladimir Putin’s resurgent Russia freely invades its neighbors with barely a word of protest from Nobel Peace Prize-winner Obama. The EU and NATO are faltering, while Obama dithers.
In Asia, Obama has left our allies entirely at the mercy of a totalitarian, expansionist China. Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and South Korea have desperately sought Obama’s support, but received only token platitudes. Obama has done nothing to halt North Korea’s nuclear progress, which could lead to an Asian arms race and regional conflict.
Put another way, Obama’s presidency was a disappointment, and he leaves behind a broken, unimpressive legacy. He always prioritized the symbolism and theater of the presidency over concrete policy accomplishments that benefitted Americans.
The 2016 election was a clear an unambiguous repudiation of Obama’s policies and presidency. Hillary Clinton ran on a continuation of the Obama administration, and lost to unlikely outsider Donald Trump in no small part because voters desperately wanted real change in government.
In his address, Obama insisted that “the future should be ours.” But the truth of his legacy is that the future now belongs to the Republicans who steadfastly opposed Obama for the last eight years, and their President-elect Donald Trump.