Hehir on Obama’s legacy


Obama ran for the presidency campaigning against American involvement in “wars of choice” like Iraq. He was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in anticipation of the more peaceful times his presidency would bring. And yet the record shows that he involved America in the Syrian and Libyan conflicts, both of which have become geopolitical and humanitarian nightmare.

On assuming the presidency, one of Obama’s first actions was to order the closure of the American military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. At the time, this was intended as a powerful symbolic rebuke to the Bush years. Eight years later, the prison remains open and very much operational – a fact that is itself deeply symbolic.

Or consider the manner in which Obama drastically escalated the use of unmanned drone strikes. Here’s an incredible statistic – in the past eight years, more people not in declared war zones were summarily executed by drone than were killed by the three and a half centuries of the Spanish Inquisition.

No one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition!

The Spanish Inquisition saw 3,000 people killed over 350 years.

In 2008, at the height of his messianic fervour, Obama decreed that, “generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless. This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

Following the inauguration of Trump, all references to climate change have been removed from the White House website. One of the first actions of the new president was the signing of an executive order aimed at frustrating the Obamacare healthcare law pending its full repeal. For those who supported the substance of Obama’s agenda, this will be the bitterest legacy of all.

When he was inaugurated, serious people were talking about a coming 40 years of dominance for the Democratic Party. Instead, the party has lost the Senate, the House of Representatives, 12 governorships, nearly 1000 state legislative seats and, of course, the presidency.

By the way, none of this points to any character defect on the part of the now former president. What it does do, however, is point to three incontrovertible truths about politics.

First, that idealism in opposition must yield to realism in office. Secondly, that there are no permanent victories. Thirdly, that in an imperfect world, we won’t be saved by politicians.

Obama did about as well as I expected for someone who became President with just a couple of years experience in the Senate (when he started campaigning) and no executive experience. That is one of the reasons in 2008 I thought Clinton would be a better nominee than Obama. Of course John McCain was my preferred choice – and I think he would have been a great President.

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