Winston Churchill famously claimed that "democracy is the worst form of government...except for all the rest." The quote illustrates that even with all the problems that comes with living in a democracy, it is still better than the alternatives of monarchy and absolute rule. As I reflect on Obama's legacy, I think Churchill's quote really applies. The past 8 years have been filled a lot of disappointment and feeling that Obama deliberately missed opportunities to make the world a better place. But to Obama's credit, every other President since the Civil War was worse.
Obama didn't start two massive ground invasions in the unstable Middle East, Obama didn't round-up Japanese citizens while forcing them into Nazi style interment camps because they look like the people who attacked us, Obama didn't pass racist crime bills that led to 2.2 million prisoners in jail, Obama didn't have the CIA overthrow foreign governments because they cut into America's profit margins - one of America's favorite past times.
President Obama's biggest knock on his legacy is he did little to fix or stop any of his predecessor's atrocities. Many of the same problems that we face today are because of the actions of the Bush administration as well as from the Clinton and Reagan administrations.
Even liberal heroes like LBJ and FDR committed crimes against humanity in order to consolidate their power and those decisions still have massive impacts today. Eisenhower and Truman both oversaw huge expansions of American foreign power through the use of violent coup d'etats and undermining peace in exchange for profit.
Obama had the power to change a lot of that and yet patience and silence was his most popular response.
In 2008, I was one of the millions of people inspired Barack Obama's message of hope and change, and his call for a more progressive society. I volunteered weekly at my local Democratic office in rural Arizona calling anyone who was willing to pick-up the phone and listen to my desperate attempts on why they should vote for this idealistic young black man. I campaigned vigorously because I saw Obama as a plausible way to truly change the world and to embolden entire communities that have only felt oppression. I cited his opposition to the Iraq War, and his earnest commitment to end lobbying in Washington as ways he was different than other politicians. That he was going to stand for the little guy, and not just for those in military industrial complex or for lobbying firms that drop millions of dollars ensuring Congress remains stagnant.
Obama won on that message of change in a landslide and took 59 seats in the Senate along with 233 seats in the House. Obama was coming in with more of a mandate to lead than most Presidents get during their entire term. The economy was still in free fall, but it also gave Obama a huge opportunity to restructure the power dynamics between the people and corporations.
Movements like Occupy Wall Street attempted to pressure Obama to punish corporate CEOs and lock up those who committed fraud on people's houses. Not only did he have a massive political weapon with his Congressional allies but he also had the people supporting that core message of change. If Obama decided to sprint once in the White House, he had an open field to gain back a lot yardage.
Instead we reflect back on the Obama years with a certain tinge of regret. Obama had countless opportunities like the one we gave him in 2008 to do the right thing, but instead he remained silent. On the Dakota Access Pipeline he had a chance to punish oil executives while simultaneously protecting Native Americans, which has the added benefit of being politically popular as well as the right thing to do.
But instead, Obama remained silent as the police violated human decency in order to protect the illegal construction of a pipeline determined to dangerous to be near Bismark. Even today, Obama could label the land a federal monument and there would be little recourse for Trump to undo his executive action, but silence remains the default.
Even Obama's crown achievement, Obamacare, emboldened the insurance industry to new levels of wealth as everyone was forced to purchase their product. Rather than focusing on healthcare, he focused on coverage, and now we have an even more bloated insurance system with still 20 million citizens uninsured and many of them now paying fines because of that status. If hope and change looks like forcing Americans to purchase insurance while guaranteeing little subsidies to off-set cost increases, then we need to redefine what you mean by hope.
Rather than fighting in Congress and targeting vulnerable Republicans while you push through every piece of legislation you can, he opted to appease donors of both parties and settled on a piece of legislation that everyone hates.
There are few areas where Obama shined and they were small achievements like opening trade with Cuba, having an economically crippled Iran sign a nuclear deal, and supporting gay marriage on the heels of the Supreme Court doing same. Issues from Palestine, to the TPP, to campaign finance, to the use of drone warfare, to drug decriminalization, to education, to refugees, Obama has remained either silent or continued these questionable policies without hesitation.
Despite all of the disappointments I have with the Obama administration, I can't help but remind myself that America has been a disappointment for a long time. Obama might be the worst President, but at least he is better than all the rest.