The Obama Legacy



I suppose it’s flattering that President Obama is being blamed for failing to prevent the Saudis from beheading that Iranian cleric. The accusation seems to presuppose some kind of supernatural power.

President Obama tries, he really tries, to right the wrongs of the world. But even the president of the United States can only do so much.

I imagine history will conclude that President Obama did what good he could under the circumstances.

He took office while the American economy was in free fall and the world’s financial system was in grave danger. It took a Herculean effort to turn things around, and the side effects of that effort were not all beneficial.

The economy that emerged – not just in America but throughout the world – is still skewed, channeling wealth away from the majority into the hands of an elite few. It will be up to future American and world leaders to sort that out – if they have the will.

President Obama’s achievements are legion, and I can’t list them all in a blog. But I imagine he will be remembered most for providing affordable health care to nearly all Americans, even those with “pre-existing conditions.”

That was no small task. The opposition to health care reform was powerful and resolute. Opponents are still trying to destroy the new system. And I imagine they will keep trying as long as it exists.

Obama’s immigration policies will be remembered as humane (despite the deportation sweeps currently under way). His efforts to accommodate the children of undocumented immigrants, for example, while not entirely successful, were a step in the right direction.

This humane approach prevailed in the president’s global policies, too. But a world in chaos and conflict presents challenges nobody could resolve without bloodshed. Barack Obama’s successors will find that while it’s easy to criticize – especially in hindsight – it’s not so easy to do better.

What stands out to me is President Obama’s perseverance. He doesn’t give up in the face of intransigent opposition. And as America’s first black president, he faced added hostility to his reform efforts. There were many white Americans who seemed to be wondering who this black man thought he was, anyway.

An example of this president’s perseverance is his crusade against gun violence. Today, he issued a series of executive orders strengthening background checks and closing loopholes in regulations covering such things as gun show sales. How much good this will do remains to be seen. But with Congress in the pockets of the gun lobby, it’s all he can do as president.

He would have done more if the system had allowed him to.

And that perhaps will be the Obama legacy. Under the American system of government, the president’s power is limited. If the people choose a perverse Congress, and if that Congress is supported by a biased Supreme Court, there’s only so much any president can do.

Click for beheading story.

Click for the executive orders.