Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Very Definition Of An Insignificant Presidency


In an op-ed The Washington Post should have had more sense than to print, the Joe of Morning Joe displays impressive imagination. He concedes "the rise in bigotry shown to Muslims, Jews, Hispanics, blacks and 'others' has been so discouraging in the age of Trump" that "any policy differences I had with Obama now seem so insignificant."

But he claims also "100 years from now, Obama's presidency will be hailed as the most transformative of our lifetimes" and concludes

If changing the Constitution and reelecting Obama two more times would break the fever that now ravages Trump’s Washington, I would cheerfully champion the passage of that constitutional amendment, slap a “Hope and Change” sticker on my shirt, and race to the nearest voting booth to support the man historians will remember as the most significant president since Abraham Lincoln.

Presidents busted up trusts, successfully prosecuted one world war or another, ended the Great Depression, unleashed the nuclear age, integrated the armed forces, built the interstate highway system, established health and income insurance for the elderly, put the full force of the federal government behind the civil rights movement, helped end the Cold War while ushering in a still-continuing period of income inequality by trashing unions and deregulating the economy..

But President Obama ended a recession with the most sluggish economic recovery in the post-war era, so there is that.

Matt Stoller, who is far less generous toward President Obama than I ever have been, found the ex-President's acceptance of 400,000 "from a Wall Street investment bank for the first paid speech of his post-presidential career" in April of 2017 to be emblematic of Obama's policy toward financial institutions.  He notes

The policy path of the Obama administration, like the Bush and Clinton administrations before it, and in some ways like Hamilton’s Treasury Department, was largely construed around aiding the big, and hurting the small. Local banks lost out during the crisis, as did community-oriented banks. Black-owned banks, for example, were ten times less likely to receive bailout money than non-black-owned banks. This hit at the individual level as well. People in foreclosure were treated with one set of rules, while large Wall Street firms with significant debt were treated with another.

Noting "these policies were an assertion of a Hamiltonian moral vision," Stoller explains

This Hamiltonian process of concentrating power was most obvious in the banking sector, but it is also part of an overall trend towards the monopolization of our commercial society and increasing control over our lives, our liberties, and our democracy by private financiers. Some within the Obama administration noticed problems towards the end of the administration. His administration challenged the Comcast-Time Warner merger and issued an executive order on monopoly. Antitrust chief Renata Hesse made a speech explicitly rejecting the modern pro-concentration treatment of antitrust. But this was far too little, loo late.





On foreign policy, there were- still is- ISIL,. Korea, Syria, statelessness of Palestinians. Limited progress was made on the first, and little if any on the last three, each of which defies an easy solution. That does not confirm a failed presidency, and President Obama's failure to transform the earned benefits of Medicare and Social Security through a Grand Bargain was a great victory for future generations of elderly people.

Whether with Wall Street, foreign policy, or domestic policy, President Obama's presidency can be viewed favorably, unfavorably, or somewhere in between. However, to label it "transformative" is as accurate as to label Harrison, Nebraska a "seaside resort."








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