Passing the Torch: The Obama Legacy

While not a comprehensive overview of his entire Presidency, I’ve provided an assessment of Obama’s performance in several key areas that I felt were significant and deserving of analysis. Along with supporting evidence, I hope to shed some honest light on his time in Office.

 

CLIMATE CHANGE
Obama raised fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks (Scientific American) and dedicated 4 billion toward clean energy initiatives, largely in solar and wind power (WhiteHouse.gov). He also massively expanded our protected National Parks (National Park Conservation Society), banned offshore drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic (Washington Post), and stopped the Keystone Pipeline (BBC).

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that for all the efforts Obama did make domestically, he canceled out much of that progress by investing in oil and gas projects internationally. Since climate change is a global problem, pollution from other countries will still impact the United States.

The Guardian has a balanced summary:
https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/environment/video/2016/nov/30/obama-climate-change-legacy-global-warming-video


IMMIGRATION

Between 2009 and 2015 his administration removed more than 2.5 million immigrants, the largest number of deportations by any previous President. (ABC News). Interestingly, Trump has pledged to remove 2-3 million, making him no worse or better than Obama.

Aren’t numbers fun?


FOREIGN POLICY

Obama may have won a Nobel Peace Prize, but he bombed seven unprovoked countries, all of which lacked the technology to strike the United States: Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and Pakistan. This has contributed to the 4+ million Muslims killed since the 9-11 attacks. Some might call that genocide. Obama has also escalated tensions with Russia over (as of yet) unfounded claims of election-hacking.

The Obama Administration supplied weapons to ISIS and Al-Qaeda (as revealed in the damning leaked audio of John Kerry here) to overthrow Assad, a democratically-elected and secular leader. Russia and the U.S. have been competing over who gets to build a pipeline through Syria. Since Russia is a major exporter of oil, they didn’t want any competition in the region. But if one of the two competing pipelines were built they’d prefer the one that goes through Iran since they are allies of Russia. Assad also sided with Russia, which he had every right to do, so America opted to supply the “rebels” to eliminate him, fueling a civil war. Wrong on multiple levels, the plan also completely failed. Russia and Turkey have since brokered a cease fire agreement and a tentative peace has held (The Guardian). The U.S. was not involved in the peace agreement.

Here’s an overview on Syria:

You probably haven’t heard a word about Somalia, so here’s that too:

FUN FACT: America dropped 26,171 bombs in 7 countries in 2016. (The Guardian) Fun, huh? 2015 wasn’t much better:

DRONE PROGRAM
Launched the drone assassination program that Noam Chomsky correctly describes as “the most extensive global terrorism campaign the world has yet seen”. These  drones that have killed innocent civilians 90% of the time (The Atlantic) (Huffington Post) (The Intercept) (Washington Times), including a 16-year old American citizen (The Atlantic) (The Intercept), flying over multiple sovereign nations without consent. Imagine if China were flying armed robots over the United States, promising only to kill the terrorists but killing hScreen-Shot-2016-01-19-at-11.25.52-AM.pngundreds of civilians in the process. Wouldn’t we be… upset? Imagine how the people in those countries must feel.

MASS SURVEILLANCE
Obama expanded and enhanced the NSA domestic surveillance program (The Intercept) and prosecuted eight whistleblowers under the Espion
age Act, more than under all other Presidents combined. This included Chelsea Manning, who has been terribly mistreated in prison (The Guardian) and of course, Edward Snowden who first made us aware of the NSA’s domestic spying program.

Here’s a timeline of Obama’s evolving policy on mass surveillance.


HEALTH CARE

Peddled a Republican healthcare plan, an insurance mandate originally proposed by the Heritage Foundation in 1989 (America Blog) instead of the single-payer system that he campaigned for:

Remember that there was a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate for Obama’s first two terms in office, yet he couldn’t get his own Party on board with single-payer? Nope. He didn’t even try to use the bully pulpit. Instead he briefly pushed for the public option then quickly regressed to the insurance mandate to appease conservative Democrats, resulting in a massive giveaway to the insurance industry and Big Pharma. Recently he renewed his support for the public option. Far too little and too late:

Some aspects of the ACA were very beneficial, such as eliminating the discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions, allowing kids to remain on their parents’ plan until 26, and subsidizing low-income Americans by expanding Medicare. However, The Affordable Care Act did little to live up to it’s primary purpose of providing affordable insurance, with premiums continuing to rise. Obamacare, in short, was unsustainable by design. Getting everyone into the same pool has now necessitated the need for single-payer. Whether or not that was Obama’s long-term strategy or not is up for speculation.


TRADE

Obama championed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that would have given regulatory power over corporations to… corporations. Gee, what could possibly go wrong!

Fortunately this massive corporate gift never made it into law and, thanks to opposition from the President-elect, never will.

Hillary Clinton by contrast intended to continue fighting for it (link) even though she campaigned against it when started to mirror the positions of Bernie Sanders, who was gaining popularity among voters.

Here’s Robert Reich’s breakdown of the TPP:


TAX CUTS

The two biggest reasons for the massive debt accumulated by then-President Bush was launching two wars while simultimage-3.jpganeously cutting taxes that heavily favored the already-wealthy. You obviously cannot spend more money while at the same time taking in less revenue without creating a deficit, as any economist will attest. So what did Obama do? He unbelievably extended the Bush tax cuts in 2010, then made the middle-class portion permanent.

WALL STREET 
It wasn’t widely reported, but Obama received the most campaign contributions from Wall Street in 2008 than any previous Presidential candidate (Politifact). Their investment was rewarded. Despite saying in his final State of the Union address that “food stamp recipients didn’t cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did,” Obama slashed the food stamp budget by 8.7 billion while he doled out 4.6 trillion to Wall Street out of a total commitment of 16.8 trillion. Yes, trillion. (Salon)

Yet apparently there was somehow no funding for a middle-class bailout to aid victims of the mortgage crisis or student loan debt, each of which would have acted as an economic stimulus and increased revenue? I call bullshit. Obama also refused to prosecute any of the Big Bankers responsible for the financial crash. (The Atlantic)


SOCIAL ISSUES

Obama tends to get praise for having gay marriage legalized under his watch, but all credit goes to the Supreme Court. Obama had nothing to do with it and actually opposed equal marriage rights. He only supported civil unions, a far cry from true equality:

He does deserve credit for ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell along with a host of other protections for the LGBTQ community following the Supreme Court ruling.

On the marijuana front, he told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2008 that he would order the DEA to end medical dispensary raids in states where pot had been legalized. Instead, he actually exceeded the number of arrests that were made under Bush by 2012. Rolling Stones even published an article titled, “Obama’s War on Pot”. He has since stated passive support for legalizing at the federal level, leaving the matter up to the states and Congress to take action.


CONCLUSION

History will likely look back on Barack Obama much like Bill Clinton: A charming neo-liberal who talked a big game but largely sold out to the will of Wall Street and defense contractors. He’s likable and seems to have a good heart, but based on his record Obama was weak at his best and a war criminal at his worst.

I am not looking forward to a Trump Presidency, but I’m very happy for pretty-face Obama to finally be gone. Every President since 1981 has been a variation of neo-conservative and neo-liberal policies, both of which are radical ideologies that decimate the middle-class and empower corporations. Incarceration rates, poverty, income inequality… all of these areas remain dangerously high. The standard of living has remained stagnant for the lucky ones and declined for the rest while the top siphoned off middle-class wealth to the point that the entire middle only shares 7% of the total wealth in America. The 8 wealthiest people on Earth, 6 of which are Americans, now hold as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the global population. It’s reached a breaking point with 50% of Americans now living in poverty thanks to starvation wages, unaffordable college, and unaffordable healthcare. This combination of factors is coming to a head.

With Trump in charge, he’ll put an ugly face to an already ugly system. That’s a good thing. Hopefully Americans will finally recognize our government for what it is: a corporate run Oligarchy, a war-machine spreading terror across the globe that fails to prioritize the needs of it’s own population.

Obama did nothing of notable significance to change that dynamic.

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