Obama missed a chance to change political conversation: Editorial

Obama missed a chance to change political conversation: Editorial

The British politician Enoch Powell, a man who took the long view, once remarked that “all political lives end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.”And so it is with Barack Obama, who will cease to be president of the United States at noon on Jan. 20. As he counts down his final days in the White House, a conventional wisdom has solidified among commentators on both the right and the purist left that Obama’s presidency has been a flop.According to this narrative, which neatly fits Powell’s melancholy observation about inevitable disappointment in public life, the 44th president is a fine man and gifted orator whose legacy was built on sand and will be quickly washed away by the incoming tide of Trumpism.The truth is more complex. It’s telling that as Obama departs under a cloud of negative punditry, his popularity among Americans remains remarkably high (60 per cent give him a positive approval rating). And it’s almost certainly true that if he’d been able to run for a third term he would have won handily, as he told an interviewer in December. Total losers don’t leave amid such applause.The fact is that while Obama certainly made his full share of mistakes, it’s far from sure that his achievements will be quickly erased. And to the extent that he fell short of the sky-high promise of 2008, the problem was not that he ignored the need for political deal-making (as his most vocal critics argue) but that he was too cautious at a moment when his support was highest and voters were most open to change.Article Continued BelowThat was in early 2009, and Obama had just taken office with the financial crisis still raging and the U.S. economy in free fall. His recovery plan prevented collapse; since he took office the U.S. has added 14 million new jobs, unemployment has been cut in half, and the economy has actually grown faster than almost every other advanced country. It’s an admirable record.And yet… That’s just the point when the populist rage that eventually propelled Donald Trump to the White House took firm hold. Anger at the “1 per cent” and yawning inequality was at its peak. A bolder president might have seized the moment and made himself its champion by, for example, making sure at least a few Wall Street banksters ended up behind bars for wrecking the economy. Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and a determined plan to confront economic inequality would have changed the political conversation.Instead, “no-drama Obama” went about his business, putting together bailouts for key industries, saving millions of jobs – and was then rewarded by seeing Republicans take back Congress and sabotage him at every turn. It was left, incredibly, to the likes of Trump to harness the anger of voters left out of the recovery.

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