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Obama as Disappointment

Obama and American Flag
Written by David Frisk

The eight-year performance due to end on January 20 will never, I suspect, be viewed with anything like a historical consensus.

When Americans of the Left look back on President Obama’s conduct in office, they will remember a classy, moderate, sophisticated progressive—too classy and moderate—who was often stymied by extremist opposition, despite his not, usually, swinging for the left-field fences. Americans of the Right will recall nothing like that, but a shallow, evasive, yet persistent leftward agitator with a bloated ego who hated making concessions, at least in the policy realm, to Middle American sensibilities let alone opinions. In memory, Obama will remain what each side has seen all along.

My own perspective on him is largely that of the Right. But rather than reiterate the long conservative bill of particulars against Obama, I would rather, at the moment, reflect on two special kinds of disappointment he has occasioned. They are closely related to each other.

Among the worst political myths we have seen in our lifetimes is the charge that most opposition to Barack Obama is motivated, at bottom, by racism. This poisonous claim requires an assumption that America is full of people who cannot accept a black president. Less obviously, it assumes another premise that’s equally ludicrous even if we stipulate, fictionally for the sake of argument, that most anti-Obama people are racially prejudiced. This second premise is that these tens of millions of Americans wouldn’t also have strongly opposed a white president who was, in all other ways, like Mr. Obama. In addition to ignoring the enormous, well-documented, utterly obvious diminution of racist attitudes over the past fifty-plus years, the smearing of Obama opponents as racists ignores the conservative politics shared by most people who are, usually wrongly, deemed racists by the Left. Conservatives will not, by and large, support a president who is ideologically distant from them. Any more than the Left supported Ronald Reagan.

I can think of two reasons why people make the absurd claim that the opposition to Obama is fundamentally racist. One is either sheer hatred toward the Right or a disdain for truth and logic in fighting it, leading such individuals on the Left to play what is too often a trump card in our post-1960s culture. The other is a weird conceit that either all members of racial minorities, all African-Americans, or at least major black figures such as Obama—if they’re politically progressive—must, by virtue of their identity, be liked and respected almost regardless of what they do. Many Americans have grown sick of such arrogant, divine-right attitudes. Their reactions to these double standards, both political and racial, are not what elected Donald Trump. But they likely helped to weaken the impact that condemnations of him as a racist, etc., would otherwise have had on many voters.

Leftists and liberals made quite a mistake in 2008 and 2009, when Obama was new. It was to believe, even a little bit, that the election of a black man, especially one seen by almost everybody as what Joe Biden called “articulate and bright and clean,” might mean a president not subject to strong opposition. No such luck. What kind of democracy or free society would we have become in that case? Obama changed America in certain ways, at least for now. But I don’t think he “fundamentally” transformed it, as he wildly promised his fans in the final days of his 2008 campaign. History having happened to him at certain points, especially but not only in the devastating 2010 midterm election, Obama’s many adulators among progressives missed the political free lunch they had hoped for and, thus, the fundamental transformation. For that, some will never forgive the Right.

Many bad decisions, and more than a few serious delinquencies, can be blamed on the outgoing president. Almost all were predictable, on at least one of four grounds: his leftist politics, his leftist background, his evident egotism (which, we should admit, coexists with a genuine idealism in Obama), and his being less of a politician by nature than perhaps any other president in our modern history. But it seems to me that these things, and especially his greater comfort in a kind of self-righteously agitational role than as a normal politician, also explain another important failure, one which all Americans, not just those of us on the Right, should see. Obama really could have been a racial healer, in the limited but useful sense of doing more to relax than to sharpen racial tensions. He doesn’t seem to have succeeded in this role.

Although I believe he hoped to play such a role, I don’t believe it was very important to him. Other things were more so—just as other things mattered more than remaining as popular as he was when elected or than keeping his Democratic Congress. In the case of Obamacare, that calculus was and remains worthy of some respect, whatever one thinks about the troubled policy. But in the case of racial and, for that matter, ideological healing, it was not a respectable calculus. The man was too concerned with smiting his foes or, due to ideology or vanity, with obdurately guarding against more than fleeting (and probably insincere) acknowledgements of their most valid points. He was too concerned, also, with being president for some, rather than all, Americans—not so much blacks, I think, as “progressives” of any race.

Obama did seem to want a lack of strong opposition from all Americans. Well, dream on. The irony is that he would have gotten less, and weaker, opposition if he’d shown more respect for the opposition he already had.

 

David B. Frisk is a Resident Fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (theahi.org). A Ph.D. in political science, he is the author of If Not Us, Who? William Rusher, National Review, and the Conservative Movement
Frisk Book Cover

About the author

David Frisk

David B. Frisk is a Resident Fellow of the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization in Clinton, New York (www.theahi.org), where he teaches its continuing education courses in political science, political philosophy, and history, also assisting with student reading groups at Hamilton College.

A former newspaper reporter and feature writer, he holds a Ph.D. in political science (2009) from Claremont Graduate University. He is the author of the widely acclaimed biography If Not Us, Who? William Rusher, National Review, and the Conservative Movement (ISI Books, 2012).

His research interests include: parties and elections, the role of ideology and culture in politics, political movements, and the relationship between American conservatism and classical liberalism. A frequent talk radio guest, Dr. Frisk has published opinion pieces at Politico, RealClearPolitics, and the Washington Examiner.

34 Comments

  • I really do think Trump will take this country to a better level. He has the gift of running the country as a business as it should be. Let’s give him the respect, for he is now, the President.

  • Rural Trump voters went totally silent when Mitch McConnell said “Our main goal is to make Barack Obama a one-term President”, within days of his being sworn into office. Now, you sit here after you succeeded in the most baldfaced obstinate obstruction ever conducted by the US Senate and falsely claim the US is somehow not WAY better off than we were after the disaster global economic meltdown brought to us by Bush, Cheney and folks like you.

    I am an American veteran and manufacturer, and we make our products in California, New York, Taiwan and China. My biggest customers are Chinese companies. I am selling American made products to China in volume. Before rural America votes again you need to get out and visit one of the coasts were blue states pay more in US taxes than we take out, unlike MOST red ‘taker’ states. My business has grown 418% since Obama was elected. Everyone we deal with is booming. These are the good-old-days across almost every marketplace but maybe oil and coal. To them I say good riddance anyway.

    Finally, I’ll say this: Every American who lost a job when their ‘factory’ closed, or their coal mine closed, or their job was off-shored by their companies board-of directors, I understand why you feel LEFT-OUT of todays BOOMING economy, but you have NO ONE to blame but YOURSELF. Industry does NOT owe you a career forever, only a job where you make choices to look around and stay, or leave. This is your choice. You should have gotten up and retrained yourself into a technology job so we wouldn’t have to IMPORT smarter and more qualified workers abroad.
    It is UN-American to then sit around, (like many of my relatives did/do in Kentucky) bitchin’ about Obama, or the Guvmint’ and waiting on the Guvmint’ or Trump to save the day by reopening all the coal mines and promoting tobacco again.

    To anyone who thinks were NOT way better off today than we were after Bush, you are one of these people and it’s UN-American. Liberals and Progressives are the INVENTORS of nearly everything new and the GOP and most Republicans are stuck in policies and a tired, old mindset from the sixties. It’s 2017 folks. Wake up. Go travel to another country and open your eyes and see for yourself how much power we have globally as Americans. It’s awesome because as an American businessman I am unstoppable and driven to make better products while treating and paying my employees fairly so they can help our company grow instead of heading out after work to wait tables somewhere else. Banks are lending again, and housing is strong almost coast-to-coast, the stock market tripled under Obama. Your obscure nuanced criticism is purely intended to make you and other bitter Trump supporters feel better about yourselves. Good luck with that, as I believe you’ll be among the first victims of Trump.
    As for me, I’ll take the big fat UNwanted tax return Trump has promised me as a 1%’er, and I’ll donate it to the ACLU to fight Trump, which is super easy since he refused to divest himself of his businesses, or release his tax returns.

    You need to stop trying to take the shine off of Obama to make yourselves feel better about the racist, obstructionist behavior you exhibited for the past eight years. Shame on you.

      • Thanks. It’s not hard to remember that there are nearly 3 MILLION more of us Americans. We love our country as much as Republicans do, but Dems, Progressives and Liberals are tired of Repubs coming into office saying one thing, then immediately doing the opposite. Trump drained the swamp and then hired every filthy millionaire with a GIMME-GIMME, me first attitude. I expect he will nominate El Chapo as head of the DEA soon. Trump was a poor candidate with no skills and no empathy for anyone else. This is NOT a guy who has gone around helping others because he just feels like giving and helping. No. This is a man who thinks of his profit above all else. Now he’s got Kelly Ann Conway (Ms. Alternate Truth) saying on TV that we all need to go buy Ivanka Trumps clothing. A FREE Commercial she called it. Straight from OUR White House, our first commercial for a Trump family profit. If ANY of this was Obama, or a Democrat you could hear the howls on the moon.

        As a Veteran, I am ashamed that Trump represents the United States. This country is WAY better than Donald Trump. Unfortunately, the weak and underinformed among us screwed the whole country and you want to go back to not knowing or seeing anything and not fact checking anything. You should be wondering which Democrat is going to fix all the messes when we all suffer another Republican financial collapse. Clinton did it and left Bush a SURPLUS. Then Obama fixed our economy, and he fixed it good. And THE US DEFICIT has been cut in half, despite wild and wrong claims otherwise.

  • All this man (Barack) did was serve himself from our country that was going thru a war with terrorists. He accused Bush of being un patriotic for leaving the nation in financial ruin. So he leaves office and our country with twice the financial burden. I consider that treason! He didn’t care for anyone thing but himself and his agenda and he got it all done thru the guise of being the first black president of the USA!

  • David Frisk, I don’t know where you get your facts, but no one legislate love, human feels or respect to one another. Rightist would blame Obama for the simple problems in their kitchen. He was called Islam from the start, hated for reasons unknown yet somehow we have chosen to forget how close we came to depression, the unnecessary wars, fail of big auto manufacturers, housing crisis, all before he took office. Somehow we’re worst off and it’s not because he’s black. Oh well forgot how Republicans vowed to block all his agenda the very first time he took office. Frisk people like you are the reason there’s racial divide. You are the problem, it’s your nature to hate other race and think yourself superior. And it’s OK because your kind is dying. Next time run for president.

  • In the two weeks Trump has been president, he makes Obama look like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and The Twelve Apostles rolled into one. To use one of his own favorite words, Trump is already a disaster. To the country and to the free world.. Have any of you righties paused to consider why Putin is overjoyed by Trump’s win? And yet you b***h about Obama…

  • Read more carefully. And, for that matter, write more carefully. I didn’t say that Obama should have been a racial healer. I say he could have been, which I would think is pretty hard to argue against. As for where the blame “belong” — you need an “s” there, Anonymous — my response is that the blame for bad race relations is pretty extensive throughout American society. If you want to make it into a political football, be my guest. But understand, I might just run it into your end zone.

  • So you thought Obama should have been a racial healer. Really! What about all the presidents before him. What should they have done. Why not write about how racial healing should done. You know! That would be interesting. Put the blame where it belong.

  • Thanks. As for Obama’s inclinations on this issue, I think he would like to see the racial divide healed, but only on left-liberal terms. In other words, he would not be willing to sacrifice any of the Left’s supposed moral high ground on this issue, or that of African Americans, in order to achieve healing. Compromise on this is unacceptable to him. Which is another way of saying: he doesn’t want it all that much.

  • Very well written and spot on. I would add that I believe Pres. Obama had no sincere inclination to heal the racial divide because that would require addressing the US racial issues from both sides when he (incorrectly) believes it is a one-sided issue.

  • Your mention of truth and logic of the right made me laugh. There is no truth or logic in clinging to the left or the right. It’s better to guard oneself from that trap and let facts be your guidance, not political dogma. Speaking of facts; read this article and tell me we are worse off than 2009. Obama wasn’t as left leaning as people think. Open your minds people…and read the article:
    https://soapboxie.com/us-politics/14-Facts-About-The-Obama-Presidency-That-Most-People-Dont-Know

  • Why is opening the comments impossible to do.? obviously the negative responses to Obama by the public, are to be ignored by you! whatever happened to FREEDOM OF SPEECH…PAL!!!

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