Click the button below to get instant access to these worksheets for use in the classroom or at a home.
Download This Worksheet
This download is exclusively for KidsKonnect Premium members!
To download this worksheet, click the button below to signup (it only takes a minute) and you'll be brought right back to this page to start the download!
Edit This Worksheet
Editing resources is available exclusively for KidsKonnect Premium members.
To edit this worksheet, click the button below to signup (it only takes a minute) and you'll be brought right back to this page to start editing!
This worksheet can be edited by Premium members using the free Google Slides online software. Click the Edit button above to get started.
Download This Sample
This sample is exclusively for KidsKonnect members!
To download this worksheet, click the button below to signup for free (it only takes a minute) and you'll be brought right back to this page to start the download!
See the fact file below for more information on President Barack Obama or alternatively, you can download our 37 PAGE BUMPER worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
President Obama Named 5th Best President in History by University-Fiction!
Summary of eRumor:
President Obama has been named the 5th best president in history by the University of Georgia or Texas A&M, depending on the version of the eRumor.
President Obama was named the 5th best president by the University of Georgia or by Texas A&M.
Those rumors started in March 2014 with a post at Zipper Weasel, a spoof website with the tag line “Scouring the Bowels of the Internet.” The story, which appeared under the headline “Texas A&M Study: Obama The Fifth Best President in History” showed a screen shot of the so-called study that ranked the top five presidents as such
1 Reagan & Lincoln tied for first
2 Seventeen presidents tied for second
3 Twenty-three presidents tied for third
4 Jimmy Carter came in fourth, and…
Considering that Obama was the 44th president of the United States, and that the so-called study lists 43 former presidents as finishing ahead of him, it was obviously a gag meant to imply that Obama was actually the worst president in U.S. history.
Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz fanned the flames in 2014 by retweeting the Texas A&M study with the hashtag #AggieJoke — but many of Cruz’s followers simply read the headline and missed the joke:
That led a Texas A&M official to go on the record with The Eagle, the university’s student newspaper, to clarify that the so-called study was a hoax:
The study is clearly a joke. The click-bait headline combines Texas A&M + Obama + “best president,” but when you read through the “methodology” Obama is actually the worst president.
The A&M spokesman said the chain-joke-spam-letter first cropped up in the early fall and that he wasn’t sure why it had just resurfaced. He said the university had not formally distanced themselves from the study because officials didn’t want to help it spread.
Not that there was ever any doubt, but Texas A&M University has nothing to do with the chain study about President Barack Obama that’s spreading around. An A&M spokesman said it’s a hoax. The statement attributed to the “Public Relations Office at A&M” is fabricated.
The post has caught fire recently and was tweeted out by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on Thursday afternoon. It’s all over right-wing blogs and the social media accounts of the faithful.
As the end of President Obama’s final term in office neared its end in 2016, the hoax study finding that Obama was the 5th best president in history went viral again. In this version, however, the University of Georgia had ranked Obama 5th best. The new version was a variation on the previous hoax.
Ted Cruz: The Imperial Presidency of Barack Obama
Of all the troubling aspects of the Obama presidency, none is more dangerous than the president's persistent pattern of lawlessness, his willingness to disregard the written law and instead enforce his own policies via executive fiat. On Monday, Mr. Obama acted unilaterally to raise the minimum wage paid by federal contracts, the first of many executive actions the White House promised would be a theme of his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
The president's taste for unilateral action to circumvent Congress should concern every citizen, regardless of party or ideology. The great 18th-century political philosopher Montesquieu observed: "There can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or body of magistrates." America's Founding Fathers took this warning to heart, and we should too.
At a White House reception for U.S. mayors, Jan. 23.
Rule of law doesn't simply mean that society has laws dictatorships are often characterized by an abundance of laws. Rather, rule of law means that we are a nation ruled by laws, not men. That no one—and especially not the president—is above the law. For that reason, the U.S. Constitution imposes on every president the express duty to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed."
Yet rather than honor this duty, President Obama has openly defied it by repeatedly suspending, delaying and waiving portions of the laws he is charged to enforce. When Mr. Obama disagreed with federal immigration laws, he instructed the Justice Department to cease enforcing the laws. He did the same thing with federal welfare law, drug laws and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
On many of those policy issues, reasonable minds can disagree. Mr. Obama may be right that some of those laws should be changed. But the typical way to voice that policy disagreement, for the preceding 43 presidents, has been to work with Congress to change the law. If the president cannot persuade Congress, then the next step is to take the case to the American people. As President Reagan put it: "If you can't make them see the light, make them feel the heat" of electoral accountability.
President Obama has a different approach. As he said recently, describing his executive powers: "I've got a pen, and I've got a phone." Under the Constitution, that is not the way federal law is supposed to work.
The Obama administration has been so brazen in its attempts to expand federal power that the Supreme Court has unanimously rejected the Justice Department's efforts to expand federal power nine times since January 2012.
There is no example of lawlessness more egregious than the enforcement—or nonenforcement—of the president's signature policy, the Affordable Care Act. Mr. Obama has repeatedly declared that "it's the law of the land." Yet he has repeatedly violated ObamaCare's statutory text.
The law says that businesses with 50 or more full-time employees will face the employer mandate on Jan. 1, 2014. President Obama changed that, granting a one-year waiver to employers. How did he do so? Not by going to Congress to change the text of the law, but through a blog post by an assistant secretary at Treasury announcing the change.
The law says that only Americans who have access to state-run exchanges will be subject to employer penalties and may obtain ObamaCare premium subsidies. This was done to entice the states to create exchanges. But, when 34 states decided not to establish state-run exchanges, the Obama administration announced that the statutory words "established by State" would also mean "established by the federal government."
The law says that members of Congress and their staffs' health coverage must be an ObamaCare exchange plan, which would prevent them from receiving their current federal-employee health subsidies, just like millions of Americans who can't receive such benefits. At the behest of Senate Democrats, the Obama administration instead granted a special exemption (deeming "individual" plans to be "group" plans) to members of Congress and their staffs so they could keep their pre-existing health subsidies.
Most strikingly, when over five million Americans found their health insurance plans canceled because ObamaCare made their plans illegal—despite the president's promise "if you like your plan, you can keep it"—President Obama simply held a news conference where he told private insurance companies to disobey the law and issue plans that ObamaCare regulated out of existence.
In other words, rather than go to Congress and try to provide relief to the millions who are hurting because of the "train wreck" of ObamaCare (as one Senate Democrat put it), the president instructed private companies to violate the law and said he would in effect give them a get-out-of-jail-free card—for one year, and one year only. Moreover, in a move reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's looking-glass world, President Obama simultaneously issued a veto threat if Congress passed legislation doing what he was then ordering.
In the more than two centuries of our nation's history, there is simply no precedent for the White House wantonly ignoring federal law and asking private companies to do the same. As my colleague Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa asked, "This was the law. How can they change the law?"
Similarly, 11 state attorneys general recently wrote a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius saying that the continuing changes to ObamaCare are "flatly illegal under federal constitutional and statutory law." The attorneys general correctly observed that "the only way to fix this problem-ridden law is to enact changes lawfully: through Congressional action."
In the past, when Republican presidents abused their power, many Republicans—and the press—rightly called them to account. Today many in Congress—and the press—have chosen to give President Obama a pass on his pattern of lawlessness, perhaps letting partisan loyalty to the man supersede their fidelity to the law.
But this should not be a partisan issue. In time, the country will have another president from another party. For all those who are silent now: What would they think of a Republican president who announced that he was going to ignore the law, or unilaterally change the law? Imagine a future president setting aside environmental laws, or tax laws, or labor laws, or tort laws with which he or she disagreed.
That would be wrong—and it is the Obama precedent that is opening the door for future lawlessness. As Montesquieu knew, an imperial presidency threatens the liberty of every citizen. Because when a president can pick and choose which laws to follow and which to ignore, he is no longer a president.
Mr. Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas, serves as the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.
Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
The Incredible, Shrinking Presidency of Barack Obama
According to a new Washington Post-ABC poll, Barack Obama now ranks among the least popular presidents in the last century. In fact, his approval rating is lower than Bush’s was in his fifth year in office. Obama’s overall approval rating stands at a dismal 43 percent, with a full 55 percent of the public “disapproving of the way he is handling the economy”. The same percentage of people “disapprove of the way he is handling his job as president”. Thus, on the two main issues, leadership and the economy, Obama gets failing grades.
An even higher percentage of people are upset at the way the president is implementing his signature health care system dubbed “Obamacare”. When asked “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Obama is handling “implementation of the new health care law?” A full 62% said they disapprove, although I suspect that the anger has less to do with the plan’s “implementation” than it does with the fact that Obamacare is widely seen as a profit-delivery system for the voracious insurance industry. Notwithstanding the administration’s impressive public relations campaign, a clear majority of people have seen through Obama’s health care ruse and given the program a big thumb’s down.
Of course, Obamacare is just the straw that broke the camel’s back. The list of policy disasters that preceded this latest fiasco is nearly endless, including everything from blanket pardons for the Wall Street big-wigs who took down the global financial system, to re-upping the Bush tax cuts, to appointing a commission of deficit hawks to slash Social Security and Medicare (Bowles-Simpson), to breaking his word on Gitmo, to reneging on his promise to pass Card Check, to expanding to wars in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, to droning 4-times as many civilians as the homicidal maniac he replaced as president in 2008.
Obama’s treatment of undocumented immigrants has been particularly shocking although the details have been kept out of the media, presumably because the news giants don’t want to expose the Dear Leader as a heartless scoundrel who has no problem separating mothers from their children, locking them up in privately-owned concentration camps and booting them out of the country with nothing more than the shirt on their back. Check out this blurb which sums up Obama’s “progressive” immigration policy in one paragraph:
“Obama is on track to deport 3 million immigrants without papers by the end of his second term, more than any other president. George W. Bush deported about 2 million over two terms. Obama will likely hit that mark this month….. The average daily count of immigrants in detention now is about 33,000. In 2001, it was 19,000. In 1994, it was 5,000, according to the Detention Watch Network. Almost all of the detainees and deportees are Latino. True, the population of illegal immigrants has also doubled in that time to more than 11 million. But the detainee and deportee counts have escalated more than twice as fast.
“He could go down as the worst president in history toward immigrants,” said Arturo Carmona, executive director of the liberal activist group Presente.org.
Hooray for the Deporter in Chief! You’re Numero Uno, buddy. You even beat Bush! Is it any wonder why the man’s ratings are in freefall?
All told, Obama has been bad for the economy, bad for civil liberties, bad for minorities, bad for foreign wars, and bad for health care. He has, however, been a very effective lackey-sock puppet for Wall Street, Big Pharma, the oil magnates, and the other 1% -vermin Kleptocrats who run the country and who will undoubtedly attend his $100,000-per-plate speaking engagements when he finally retires in comfort to some gated community where he’ll work on his memoirs and cash in on his 8 years of faithful service to the racketeer class.
But, let’s face it no one really gives a rip about “drone attacks in Waziristan” or “hunger strikes in Gitmo”. What they care about is keeping their jobs, paying off their student loans, putting the food on the table or avoiding the fate of next-door-neighbor, Andy, who got his pink slip two months ago and now finds himself living in a cardboard box by the river. That’s what the average working stiff worries about just scraping by enough to stay out of the homeless shelter. But it’s getting harder all the time, mainly because everything’s gotten worse under Obama. It’s crazy. It’s like the whole middle class is being dismantled in a 10-year period. Wages are flat, jobs are scarce, incomes are dropping like a stone, and everyone’s broke. (Everyone I know, at least.) Did you know that 76% of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck. Check it out:
“Roughly three-quarters of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck, with little to no emergency savings, according to a survey released by Bankrate.com Monday.
Fewer than one in four Americans have enough money in their savings account to cover at least six months of expenses, enough to help cushion the blow of a job loss, medical emergency or some other unexpected event, according to the survey of 1,000 adults.
Meanwhile, 50% of those surveyed have less than a three-month cushion and 27% had no savings at all….
Last week, online lender CashNetUSA said 22% of the 1,000 people it recently surveyed had less than $100 in savings to cover an emergency, while 46% had less than $800. After paying debts and taking care of housing, car and child care-related expenses, the respondents said there just isn’t enough money left over for saving more.”
Are you kidding me? What’s that? Who do you know that’s able to save money in this economy? Maybe rich uncle Johnny whose lived on canned sardines and Akmak for the last 50 years, but nobody else can live like that. Subtract the rent, the groceries, the doctor bills etc, and there’s barely enough leftover to fill the tank to get to work on Monday. Saving just isn’t an option, not in the Obamaworld, that is.
Now check this out from Business Insider:
“Thousands of Americans aged 55 and older are going back to school and reinventing themselves to get an edge in a difficult labor market, hoping to rebuild retirement nest eggs that were almost destroyed by the recession….
According to the Federal Reserve, household financial assets, which exclude homes, dropped from a peak of $57 trillion in the third quarter of 2007 to just over $49 trillion in the fourth quarter of last year, the latest period for which data is available.
A survey to be released this summer by the Public Policy Institute of AARP, an advocacy group for older Americans, found a quarter of Americans 50 years and older used up all their savings during the 2007-09 recession. About 43 percent of the 5,000 respondents who took part in the survey said their savings had not recovered.” (“Unemployed Baby Boomers Are Getting Hired By Going Back To School”, Business Insider)
Sure they’re going back to work. What do you expect them to do? They’re broke! They got wiped out in Wall Street’s mortgage laundering scam and they’re still behind the eightball five years later. And what’s left of the money they set aside for retirement is yielding a big zilch thanks to the Fed’s zero rate policy which is forcing people back into another decade of penal servitude at minimum wage. That’s why you see so many hunched over graybeards in red vests with “Happy to Serve You” splattered on their chests lugging shopping bags out to the cars for old ladies. Because they’re broke and out of options. Everyone knows someone like this unless, of course, they’re one of the fortunate few who make up the Nobel 1% aka–The Job Cremators. Then they don’t have to fret about that sort of thing.
Here’s another gem you might not have seen in USA Today a few months back:
“Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.
Survey data exclusive to The Associated Press points to an increasingly globalized U.S. economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend….
Hardship is particularly growing among whites, based on several measures. Pessimism among that racial group about their families’ economic futures has climbed to the highest point since at least 1987. In the most recent AP-GfK poll, 63% of whites called the economy “poor.”
“I think it’s going to get worse,” said Irene Salyers, 52, of Buchanan County, Va., a declining coal region in Appalachia. Married and divorced three times, Salyers now helps run a fruit and vegetable stand with her boyfriend, but it doesn’t generate much income….
Nationwide, the count of America’s poor remains stuck at a record number: 46.2 million, or 15% of the population, due in part to lingering high unemployment following the recession. While poverty rates for blacks and Hispanics are nearly three times higher, by absolute numbers the predominant face of the poor is white…
“Poverty is no longer an issue of ‘them’, it’s an issue of ‘us’,” says Mark Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis who calculated the numbers. “Only when poverty is thought of as a mainstream event, rather than a fringe experience that just affects blacks and Hispanics, can we really begin to build broader support for programs that lift people in need.” ( in 5 in USA face near-poverty, no work”, USA Today)
Does Obama have any idea of the damage he’s doing with his Rich-First policies? The country is in a terrible state and yet Obama continues to approve bills that throw millions of people off unemployment benefits, sharply cut government spending, or undermine vital safetynet programs that keep the sick and the elderly from dying on the streets. It’s like he’s trying to reduce 300 million Americans to grinding third world poverty in his short eight-year term. Is that the goal?
Did you know that–according to Gallup.0% of all Americans did not have enough money to buy food that they or their families needed at some point over the past year? Or that –according to a Feeding America hunger study–more than 37 million people are now using food pantries and soup kitchens? Or that one out of six Americans is now living in poverty which is the highest level since the 1960s? Or that the gap between the rich and poor is greater than any in history?
Everything has gotten worse under Obama. Everything. And, not once, in his five years as president, has this gifted and charismatic leader ever lifted a finger to help the millions of people who supported him, who believed in him, and who voted him into office.
These latest poll results indicate that many of those same people are beginning to wake up and see what Obama is really all about.
Obama Has Presided Over 5 of 6 Largest Deficits in U.S. History
In fiscal 2013, which ended Sept. 30, the deficit was $680.276 billion, according to the Monthly Treasury Statement released Wednesday.
In fiscal 2012, the deficit was $1.089193 trillion in fiscal 2011, it was $1.296791 trillion in fiscal 2010, it was $1.294204 trillion and, in fiscal 2009, it was $1.415724 trillion.
In fiscal 2008, the last full year that George W. Bush was president, the deficit was $454.798 billion.
Even when adjusted for inflation, the $680.276 billion fiscal 2013 deficit is only exceeded by one pre-Obama deficit--the one the U.S. government ran in 1943, during the height of World War II. That year, the deficit was $54,554,000,000--or $738,367,890,000 in inflation-adjusted 2013 dollars.
The 2013 deficit of $680.276 billion exceeded the other annual deficits of the World War II era as well as the annual deficits that the U.S. government ran during World War I, the Vietnam War, or the final years of the Cold War.
In fiscal 1919, which began on July 1, 1918, the U.S. government ran its greatest deficit of the World War I era, according to data published by the Office of Management and Budget. It was $13.363 billion in 1919 dollars, or $180.863 billion in 2013 dollars, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator.
In 1968, the U.S. ran it greatest annual deficit of the Vietnam era. It was $25.161 billion in 1968 dollars, or $169.294 billion in 2013 dollars.
In 1986, three years before the Berlin Wall came down, the U.S. ran its largest deficit in the final years of the Cold War. It was $221.227 billion in 1986 dollars, or $472.628 billion in 2013 dollars.
Since 1976, the U.S. government’s fiscal year has run from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. Before that, it ran from July 1 to June 30.
President Barack Obama was elected on Nov. 4, 2008, a little over a month after the beginning of fiscal 2009. He was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2009, almost four months into fiscal 2009. On Feb. 17, 2009, less than a month into his first term, and less than five full months into fiscal 2009, he signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—an “economic stimulus” law that the Congressional Budget Office has estimated would increase the deficit by $833 billion over ten years.
William A. Galston
Ezra K. Zilkha Chair and Senior Fellow - Governance Studies
The Seeds of Future Difficulties
Some of the seeds of future problems were sown during the campaign. To begin, Obama raised the expectations of many Americans so high that they were bound to be disappointed. The excitement that his campaign aroused proved to be a two-edged sword. While it mobilized many people—especially minorities and the young—who otherwise might not have voted, it also led them to expect change of a scope and speed that our political system rarely permits. When the normal checks and balances took hold in 2009, hope turned into doubt and then into disillusion.
Also symptomatic of future problems, there was an odd void at the center of Obama’s campaign. It featured soaring rhetoric about hope and change at one extreme and a long series of detailed policy proposals at the other. But there was something missing in between: a compelling, easily grasped narrative that offered a theory about our challenges and unified his recommendations for addressing them. In this respect, Obama’s campaign did not measure up to its acknowledged model, Ronald Reagan’s successful race for the presidency, framed by his remarkable acceptance speech at the 1980 Republican convention. Hope is a sentiment, not a strategy, and quickly loses credibility without a road map. Throughout his first two years in office, President Obama often struggled to connect individual initiatives to larger purposes.
Obama’s campaign was not only expansive but also ambiguous, and Obama knew it. After defeating Hilary Clinton, the presumptive nominee gave an interview to the New York Times. “I am like a Rorshach test,” he said. “Even if people find me disappointing ultimately, they might gain something.”[ii] The difficulty was that the hopes of his supporters were often contradictory. Some expected him to be a liberal stalwart, leading the charge for single-payer health insurance and the fight against big corporations others assumed that his evident desire to transcend the red-blue divide pointed to a post-partisan presidential agenda implemented through bipartisan congressional cooperation. It would have been difficult to satisfy both wings of his coalition, and he didn’t. As he tacked back and forth during the first two years of his presidency, he ended up disappointing both.
There was a further difficulty. While Obama’s agenda required a significant expansion of the scope, power, and cost of the federal government, public trust in that government stood near a record low throughout his campaign, a reality his election did nothing to alter. A majority of the people chose to place their confidence in Obama the man but not in the institutions through which he would have to enact and implement his agenda. Although he was warned just days after his victory that the public’s mistrust of government would limit its tolerance for bold initiatives, he refused to trim his sails, in effect assuming that his personal credibility would outweigh the public’s doubts about the competence and integrity of the government he led.[iii] As events proved, that was a significant misjudgment.
It was reinforced by a fateful decision that Obama made during the presidential transition. Once elected, Obama in fact had not one but two agendas—the agenda of choice on which he had run for president and the agenda of necessity that the economic and financial collapse had forced upon him. The issue he then faced was whether the latter would require him to trim or delay the former, a question he answered in the negative. Denying any conflict between these agendas, he opted to pursue both simultaneously. A major health care initiative was piled on top of the financial rescue plan and the stimulus package, exacerbating the public’s sticker shock. And initiatives such as climate change legislation and comprehensive immigration reform remained in play long after it should have been clear that they stood no serious chance of enactment while pervasive economic distress dominated the political landscape.
From Latent Difficulties to Actual Problems: The Economic Challenge
As Obama took office, it was clear that the public’s overriding concern was the state of the economy and the job market. But throughout the 111 th Congress, the White House and congressional Democrats failed to address that concern in a manner that the electorate regarded as satisfactory. After some promising signs in the fall of 2009 and spring of 2010, economic growth slowed to a crawl, the private sector generated jobs at an anemic pace, and unemployment remained stuck near 10 percent. The number of workers remaining jobless for six months or more soared to levels not seen since the Great Depression. Many older workers doubted that they would ever again be employed. Contributing to the sour mood, economic forecasters held out scant hopes of faster job generation through much of 2011. The administration did not help itself early in 2009 when its Council of Economic Advisors suggested that with the passage of the stimulus bill, unemployment would peak around 8.5 percent. (Instead, it reached 10.3 percent before subsiding slightly.)
Although many economists outside the administration argued that a financial crisis differed fundamentally from a cyclical downturn, administration officials struggled to integrate this premise into their economic program. They proceeded with a traditional demand-side stimulus, even though hard-pressed households were more concerned about reducing debt than expanding consumption. (In any event, a flood of inexpensive imports weakened the link between consumer demand and domestic job creation.) And the administration chose not to use TARP money to take devalued debt off the banks’ balance sheets, opting instead to allow them to rebuild capital through profits gained from record-low interest rates. In some respects, this replicated post-crash policies the Japanese government employed through the 1990s, with unsatisfactory results.
Home ownership is at the center of most middle-class families’ balance sheets and way of life. The wave of foreclosures that began in 2007 devastated entire communities. But here again, the administration’s initiatives fell short. Rebuffing calls for basic structural change—such as permitting bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of mortgages—the administration opted for a more modest approach that relied on lenders’ cooperation. This gamble on the efficacy of incrementalism did not pay off. Programs to renegotiate the terms of mortgages in or in danger of default reached only a small percentage of families in need of assistance, and in many cases the relief they received was not enough to prevent them from sliding back into default. By the fall of 2010, foreclosures reached a rate of more than one hundred thousand per month for the first time ever.
To make matters worse, a massive scandal erupted: it turned out that banks and other mortgage lenders were sending borrowers into foreclosure by the thousands without meeting basic legal requirements. (The term “robo-signer” quickly entered the lexicon of shame.) Policymakers were forced to consider a nation-wide foreclosure moratorium. Concerned about the impact on the financial system, the administration resisted, winning high marks for responsibility but probably reinforcing the impression that it cared more about large, wealthy institutions than about hard-pressed families.
The Politics of Agenda Management
The early phase of the Obama administration resembled nothing so much as the early days of a presidency that Obama held in low regard—namely, President Bill Clinton’s. Although the man from Hope had campaigned as a different kind of Democrat, his party’s congressional leaders persuaded him to downplay his signature bipartisan issue—welfare reform—in favor of a plan for comprehensive health insurance. Combined with the effort to eliminate barriers against gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, this shift helped convince many of Clinton’s moderate and independent supporters that they had been mislead, that he was an East Coast liberal masquerading as an Arkansas moderate. In addition, Clinton became wrapped up in the daily legislative process and began measuring success by the number of bills enacted. In the process, he lost control of the overall narrative.
Something similar happened to Obama, as the post-partisan candidate morphed into a more traditionally partisan president. He has acknowledged as much: the administration’s early legislative agenda, he says, “reinforced the narrative that the Republicans wanted to promote anyway, which was [that] Obama is not a different kind of Democrat—he’s the same old tax-and-spend liberal.” And the master orator of the campaign all but abandoned the presidential bully pulpit during the drawn-out struggle to enact key proposals. Said one top advisor, “It’s not what people felt they sent Barack Obama to Washington to do, to be legislator in chief.” David Plouffe, the former head of the president’s campaign and one of his closest political advisors, adds that “I do think he’s paid a political price . . . for having to be tied to Congress.”
Could it have been different? Another senior aide has been quoted as saying that “Here’s a guy who ran as an outsider to change Washington who all of a sudden realized that just to deal with these issues, we were going to have to work with Washington.” It’s hard to believe that this came as much of a surprise to Obama it certainly didn’t to his chief of staff. The question was not whether the White House would have to work with Congress to move the president’s agenda of course it would. It was rather whether the president would be dragged into the daily process or would be seen as remaining above it. President Ronald Reagan, Obama’s model of a transformational president, had to engage with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to enact key legislation, starting with the 1981 tax cuts. But he managed to do this without becoming “legislator in chief” and without losing control of the narrative. Reagan’s compromises—and there were many—were seen as occurring within a framework of principles and goals that never changed and that defined his political identity.[iv]
Not so for Obama, who failed to grasp fully the nature of the office he had won. Alone among the advanced democracies, the United States combines the functions of head of government and head of state in a single institution and human being. The American president is expected to be more than a legislator, more than a prime minister. He must also fill the role occupied by monarchs or ceremonial heads of state in other countries. He must be an explainer and a comforter, as circumstances require. And he must stand for, and represent, the country as a whole.
Rather than doing this, President Obama allowed himself to get trapped in legislative minutia, even as the country remained mired in a kind of economic slump that most Americans had never experienced and could not understand. Their reaction combined confusion and fear, which the president did little to allay. Ironically, a man who attained the presidency largely on the strength of his skills as a communicator did not communicate effectively during his first two years. He paid a steep political price for his failure.
From the beginning, the administration operated on two fundamental political premises that turned out to be mistaken. The first was that the economic collapse had opened the door to the comprehensive change Obama had promised. As incoming Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel famously put it, “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” In fact, as Emanuel himself came to realize, there was a tension between the steps needed to arrest the economic decline and the measures needed to actualize the president’s vision of fundamental change. The financial bailout and the stimulus package made it harder, not easier, to pass comprehensive health reform.
Second, the administration believed that success would breed success—that the momentum from one legislative victory would spill over into the next. The reverse was closer to the truth: with each difficult vote, it became harder to persuade Democrats from swing districts and states to cast the next one. In the event, House members who feared that they would pay a heavy price if they supported cap-and-trade legislation turned out to have a better grasp of political fundamentals than did administration strategists.
The legislative process that produced the health care bill was especially damaging. It lasted much too long and featured side-deals with interest groups and individual senators, made in full public view. Much of the public was dismayed by what it saw. Worse, the seemingly endless health care debate strengthened the view that the president’s agenda was poorly aligned with the economic concerns of the American people. Because the administration never persuaded the public that health reform was vital to our economic future, the entire effort came to be seen as diversionary, even anti-democratic. The health reform bill was surely a moral success it may turn out to be a policy success but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that it was—and remains—a political liability.
Indeed, most of the Obama agenda turned out to be very unpopular. Of five major policy initiatives undertaken during the first two years, only one—financial regulatory reform—enjoyed majority support. In a September 2010 Gallup survey, 52 percent of the people disapproved of the economic stimulus, 56 percent disapproved of both the auto rescue and the health care bill, and an even larger majority—61 percent—rejected the bailout of financial institutions.[v] Democrats’ hopes that the people would change their minds about the party’s signature issue—universal health insurance—after the bill passed were not fulfilled. (It remains to be seen whether sentiment will change in coming years as provisions of the bill are phased in—that is, if they survive what will no doubt be stiff challenges in both Congress and the states.)
It isn’t hard to understand why the stimulus bill remained so unpopular: it neither fulfilled the administration’s promises nor met public expectations. As for the health care bill, cuts in Medicare needed to finance private insurance coverage for low and moderate income individuals alarmed many older voters, and the bill failed to address most people’s core health care concern—rising costs—in a manner that commanded confidence. The assistance to tottering financial institutions that began during the Bush administration affronted people’s moral sense: wrongdoers seemed to get off scot-free, and many people wondered why banks and insurance companies received hundreds of billions of dollars while average families struggled to make ends meet. And surprising many observers, it turned out that decades of shoddy products had undermined public support for once-iconic American auto makers. In the eyes of most people, what was good for General Motors was no longer good for the country—at least not when tax dollars were on the line.
Administration officials could and did argue that what they did was necessary and in the national interest. It is easy to sympathize with their view. Failing to prop up pivotal financial institutions would have risked a rerun of the 1930s. Allowing the domestic auto industry to go belly-up would have disrupted production and employment throughout the Midwest, already the most economically depressed region of the country. Not passing the stimulus bill would have forced hard-pressed state and local governments to slash spending and cut their workforces in sectors such as public safety and education, exacerbating unemployment. And so forth.
Clearly, though, the administration failed to persuade most Americans, who viewed its program as costly, unnecessary, and unproductive if not outright damaging. The administration often seemed to believe that its policies spoke for themselves and that their merits were obvious. We will never know whether a different strategy of public explanation could have produced a better result.
We do know this: the administration quite consciously chose to disregard the immediate political consequences of enacting its agenda. In his now-famous interview with the New York Times, President Obama put it this way: “We probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right. There was probably a perverse pride in my administration—and I take responsibility for this . . .—that we were going to do the right thing, even if short-term it was unpopular.” If so, by the fall of 2010 he had come to understand the shortcomings of this stance: “anybody who’s occupied this office has to remember that success is determined by an intersection in policy and politics and that you can’t be neglect[ful] of marketing and P.R. and public opinion.”[vi] It remains to be seen whether the president has fully grasped the implications of this “intersection”: in our democracy, popular sentiment necessarily influences, not only strategies of persuasion, but also the selection and sequence of problems for action and the shape of the policies devised to address them. America’s populist political culture normally resists rule by elites who claim to know better than the people—even when the elites represent a meritocracy of the best and the brightest rather than an oligarchy of the richest and best-connected.
The Road Ahead
The outcome of the November 2010 election has fundamentally changed the political dynamic for at least the next two years. It will no longer be possible for President Obama to advance his agenda with support from only his own party. Instead, he will be forced either to negotiate with an emboldened Republican House majority or endure two years of confrontation and gridlock. (As Newt Gingrich discovered in 1995, the same logic applies in reverse: it is no easier to run divided government from Capitol Hill than from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.)
Choosing the path of negotiation over confrontation would require a change of substance as well as tone. The president would have to give the federal budget deficit and national debt a far more central place in his policy agenda. Here the obstacles to agreement across party lines are formidable, although the findings of his bipartisan fiscal commission, due out in December, may assist him in making a shift to a more fiscally conservative position. It helps that the co-chairs of the commission, Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, are determined to break the current gridlock, in which conservatives refuse to consider raising taxes while those on the left stoutly resist cuts in social programs.
The logic of the coming new political balance will impose other requirements. If Obama hopes to achieve his goal of doubling U.S. exports, he will have to balance a possible confrontation with China with a push for the ratification of pending trade treaties with Colombia and South Korea. The latter would split the Democratic Party and force him to rely on Republican support. If he wants to fire up the idling US job machine, he would also have to do more to repair his administration’s damaged relationship with corporate America, and give more weight to the effects of his policies on the business community’s animal spirits.
In social policy, only new programs with strong bipartisan support (if there are any) would stand a chance. While a package of incentives for energy development that includes new and alternative fuels may be possible, a cap and trade scheme will be on hold until after 2012, perhaps even longer. Crafting a response to the housing crisis that offered more effective relief to struggling homeowners would require serious negotiations over the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And progress on immigration reform – a vital issue for America’s burgeoning Latino population – would mean accepting the tough enforcement measures on which conservatives insist.
The outlook for defense and foreign policy is much the same. If President Obama does not achieve ratification of the New Start treaty updating limits on the strategic nuclear stockpiles held by the U.S. and Russia before the new Congress is seated in January, he will have to compromise with anti-arms control conservatives on their favorite issue, missile defense. And if he wishes to persevere in Afghanistan (a matter of conjecture, admittedly), he will have to rely on Republican support to fill the gap left by rising opposition within his own party.
In short, to avoid gridlock, Obama will have to govern less like the liberal antithesis to Ronald Reagan and more like the heir to Bill Clinton whose agenda he has regarded hitherto as excessively compromised and incremental. If he wants to succeed in the next two years of his presidency, and stand for re-election from a position of strength, he will have to do what Clinton did after the debacle of 1994 – namely, defend what he cannot surrender, while negotiating seriously with the opposition in other areas.
A survey conducted days before the November 2010 election suggests that this is indeed possible. While the electorate clearly wanted a change of course, it rejected key elements of the Republican agenda, including a freeze on all government spending except national security and a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts for upper-income Americans. Barack Obama enjoys a higher approval rating than either Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton after their mid-term defeats, and the people are more favorably inclined toward his bid for reelection than they were for either Reagan or Clinton at comparable points in their presidencies.[vii] If the new Republican majority over-interprets its mandate and goes too far, as Newt Gingrich’s Republicans did in 1995, and if the president draws the correct line between conciliation and confrontation, history could repeat itself, and he could find himself in a much stronger position at the end of 2011 than he was after the mid-term election.
No later than his 2011 State of the Union address, we will find out whether Obama possesses the one trait that every successful statesman needs: the ability to adjust to changing circumstances without selling his soul.
Thomas E. Mann, “American Politics on the Eve of the Midterm Elections,” Chatham House, October 2010.
“Obama, the self-described ‘Rorshach test,’ liberal but inscrutable,” New York Times, June 4 2008.
See William A. Galston and Elaine C. Kamarck, “Change You Can Believe In Needs a Government You Can Trust,” Washington DC, Third Way, November 2008.
All quotations in the preceding two paragraphs are from Peter Baker, “The Education of President Obama, New York Times Magazine, October 17 2010.
Gallup, “Among Recent Bills, Financial Reform a Lone Plus for Congress,” September 13, 2010.
The quotations in this paragraph are from Baker, op. cit.
Pew Research Center, “Midterm Snapshot: Enthusiasm for Obama Reelection Bid Greater Than for Reagan in 1982,” October 25 2010.
Watch President Obama's Full Farewell Speech
It’s the third such survey by the organization, which began polling the panel of presidential experts in 2000. The poll ranks each U.S. president on a battery of issues, including “crisis leadership,” “moral authority,” “international relations” and “pursuing equal justice for all.”
Obama scored particularly high on the “equal justice” scale, coming in third behind only Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson. He also cracked the top ten on the issues of “moral authority” and “economic management.”
But Obama ranked fifth from the bottom on “relations with Congress,” and got a middling 24th best score on “international relations.”
Historian Douglas Brinkley of Rice University says that Obama's presidency, despite its weak points, may age well and notch an even higher ranking as time passes.
"There tends to be kind of an upward mobility, particularly if you are a president who had no major scandals," he said, noting that presidents are also often judged in comparison to their immediate predecessors and successors. "If the Trump presidency is problematic, people may judge Obama even higher yet."
For the third time in a row, Abraham Lincoln ranked as the nation’s best presidential leader, according to the panel. George Washington came in second, and Franklin D. Roosevelt rounded out the podium at third.
Others in the top ten are: Theodore Roosevelt (4), Dwight Eisenhower (5), Harry Truman (6), Thomas Jefferson (7), John F. Kennedy (8), Ronald Reagan (9) and Lyndon Johnson (10).
Eisenhower has climbed to fifth place after being pegged at ninth place in 2000. His rise, historians say, may be a result of greater appreciation for his understated style, his measured approach to managing Cold War tensions and ending the Korean War, and particularly his famous — and, many say, prescient — warnings about the growth of the military-industrial complex.
George W. Bush’s dismal ranking of 36rd in the 2009 survey has improved slightly with time. He’s now ranked as the nation’s 33rd best presidential leader.
Andrew Jackson, whose populist movement has been compared by some historians to Donald Trump’s unconventional political rise, dropped several pegs in the latest survey, falling from the 13th slot in 2000 and 2009 to just 18th today.
C-SPAN president Rob Kennedy noted that Jackson's demotion comes after a high-profile debate about whether Jackson should remain on the $20 bill, but also after a new wave of scholarship about the less savory aspects of his presidency, particularly the Indian Removal Act that paved the way for the deadly "Trail of Tears."
"There’s been a lot written about Jackson over the past eight years, and his drop is probably due quite a bit to things that have happened over time as opposed to this particular moment in history" when it comes to any parallels between Jackson and Trump, he said.
Curious about the worst leader in U.S. presidential history? The ignominious honor goes to James Buchanan, whose failure to address the onset of the Civil War is noted as one of the great failures of leadership in American history.
Buchanan joins four other presidents — Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce, Warren G. Harding and John Tyler — at the bottom of the presidential barrel, below even William Henry Harrison, who died after a month in office.
"You never want to be lower than William Henry Harrison," Brinkley said. "If you’re below Harrison, the thought is that that you really damaged the executive branch during your tenure in office."
Throughout his Presidency, Barrack Obama proved to be a skilled policymaker than a politician, conventional wisdom aside. His accomplishments are numerous, impressive, and exceed what his supporters thought he could ever achieve. Although some critics complain that he did not do enough to transform the United States of America, he introduced remarkable policies and regulations [&hellip]
Throughout the history of the United States, the standing and equality of minorities, particularly those of African descent, has been debated and fought over, with many working for the goal of equality from myriad angles. African Americans were brought to the new world in chains, considered only 3/5th a person in the Constitution, and the [&hellip]
Syria Will Stain Obama’s Legacy Forever
Barack Obama’s impending departure from the White House has put many Americans in an elegiac mood. Despite an average approval rating of only 48 percent — the lowest, surprisingly, of our last five presidents — he has always been beloved, if not revered, by the scribbling classes. Just as many prematurely deemed Bush the worst president ever, so many are now ready to enshrine Obama as one of the all-time greats.
Or at least they were until the fall of Aleppo.
Since the Syrian uprising began in 2011, Americans have regarded the carnage there as essentially a humanitarian disaster. For Obama, contemplating his legacy, the awful death and destruction that Syria has suffered — the 400,000 deaths, the wholesale wasting of civilian neighborhoods, the wanton use of sarin gas and chlorine gas and barrel bombs, the untold atrocities — has raised the old question of how future generations will judge an American president’s passivity or ineffectuality in the face of mass slaughter.
Perhaps Obama has been hoping for a dispensation, since presidential reputations have never suffered much for such sins of omission. With a few notable exceptions, biographies, textbooks, obituaries, and even public memory have dwelled little on George W. Bush’s inaction in Darfur, Bill Clinton’s floundering over Rwanda, George H.W. Bush’s dithering about Bosnia, Jimmy Carter’s fecklessness in Cambodia, Gerald Ford’s cold realism toward East Timor, or Richard Nixon’s complicity in Bangladesh. “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Hitler reportedly said in 1939, predicting that the world’s amnesia about the Turks’ mass killings should allow his armies to proceed in all ruthlessness without fear of judgment. We might think of those words in considering how little attention in our history books is given to our presidents’ very limited roles in standing up to atrocities overseas.
And yet now, as Obama’s presidency winds down, and a ceasefire begins to take effect Syria that Washington played no role in negotiating, it’s becoming clear that the loss of life and the humanitarian crisis represent just the first of many consequences that historians will have to assess as they ask how the United States, under Obama’s leadership, chose to deal, or not to deal, with the Syrian Civil War. And if historians tend to give presidents a pass on failing to arrest slaughter, they are not so generous in evaluating the loss of American influence around the world.
Right now, the apparent loss of that influence seems to loom newly large. The brutal Russian-backed assault in December crushed the Syrian resistance in its main holdout city, Aleppo, calling into question whether the rebel forces will still be able to carry on any insurrection at all. President Bashar al-Assad is gathering with the despots of Russia, Turkey, and Iran to draw up the terms of resolution, pointedly excluding the United States and the United Nations. Vladimir Putin seems high in his saddle.
For years, Obama has insisted that Syria isn’t of great strategic importance to the United States. But that judgment represents not just a break from decades of geostrategic thinking but a gamble of considerable risk. If Obama is wrong, his miscalculation could have massive implications.Should Russia displace the United States as the region’s preeminent great power, it will affect America’s access to energy, its ability to fight terrorism, its capacity to ensure Israel’s survival, and its relationship with states like Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
Equally important are the implications of Obama’s Syria policy on Europe’s immigration crisis. For decades the continent has struggled, with mixed results, to assimilate Muslim arrivals from the Middle East and Africa, many of whom come bearing sharply alien cultural values. But the new waves of Syrian refugees unleashed by the failure to contain the civil war there has now created a crisis of unparalleled magnitude. Countries from Turkey and Hungary to Germany and France have been thrown into turmoil. Cultural tensions escalated, empowering right-wing nationalist parties across the continent and contributing to Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. In the United States this past year, Donald Trump amplified his own pandering to anti-Mexican sentiment with new worries about an influx of Syrian refugees — stoking anti-immigrant fears. Around the world, it seems, the rise of noxious populist currents can be traced, at least in part, to the deepening of the immigration crises by the Syrian war.
Yet a third result of Obama’s ineffectuality lay in the rise of the Islamic State, a terrorist organization even more bloody-minded and bent on conquest than the al Qaeda fragments from which it sprang. Obama obviously did not create the Islamic State, contrary to Donald Trump’s absurd campaign-trail slanders. But his administration was laggard in countering its gathering strength. Although the terrorist outfit is on the defensive now, it continues to orchestrate deadly strikes in Europe, and, indirectly, to inspire lone-wolf attacks in the United States, guaranteeing that terrorism will remain a major threat on both continents for years to come.
Buses drive through the Syrian government-controlled crossing of Ramous on the outskirts of Aleppo on Dec. 18. (Photo by GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian families, fleeing various eastern districts of Aleppo, queue to get onto governmental buses on Nov. 29. (Photo by GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Jameel Mustafa Habboush, a 13-year-old Syrian boy, receives oxygen as he is pulled from the rubble of a building after air strikes on the Fardous neighborhood of Aleppo on Oct. 11. (Photo by THAER MOHAMMED/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrians carry the body of a man following air strikes on the Fardous neighborhood of Aleppo on Oct. 12. (Photo by AMEER ALHALBI/AFP/Getty Images)
Fourth, the failure to contain the Islamic State early on also forced the United States to change its strategy in Syria. Turning his attention from Assad, Obama now chose to direct American military assistance mainly into the fight against the radical Islamist group. Among other effects, this reorientation of American policy made it much less likely — if not impossible — for Obama to deliver on his August 2011 vow that Assad must go.
Fifth and finally, it wasn’t only Assad who emerged emboldened. Fatefully, in 2012 Obama had declared that if Assad were to use chemical weapons, he would cross a red line that would require American military intervention. A year later, evidence surfaced that Assad did precisely that, firing rockets filled with sarin gas at towns around Damascus. But in the face of skeptical congressional opinion at home, Obama backed down from reprisals. Instead he settled for a Russian proposal that Syria merely dismantle its weapons stockpiles, but face no punishment for its war crimes.
Obama has made clear that he disdains the concept of “credibility” — the idea that the U.S. must follow through on its commitments lest it get pushed around in the future. But the reversal of policy in September 2013 on a clearly articulated principle sent shivers from Seoul to Jerusalem to Tallinn — and may well have encouraged America’s adversaries, including Russia, to test Obama further. Putin’s illegal 2014 seizure of Crimea and the ongoing fomenting of unrest in eastern and southern Ukraine were worrisome enough. But now evidence suggests that the Russian president played a direct role in hacking Democratic Party officials’ emails in an effort to tip the scales of the presidential election in favor of Trump. These disclosures have shattered any claims that Obama showed sufficient resolve against a formidable, confident, and completely immoral rival for geopolitical influence.
How all of this will affect Obama’s reputation in the long run is difficult to predict. Observers can only speculate, recognizing all the while that we can’t know which elements of Obama’s policy future historians will emphasize and which they will ignore, which they will esteem and which they will scorn.
Sadly, it seems probable that Obama won’t be judged too harshly for failing to arrest the carnage in Syria. For all our fretting, inaction in the face of genocide or mass slaughter or humanitarian disaster has never hurt our presidents much in the historical reckonings. It is true that in the wake of the Holocaust, Americans grew conscious of the sufferings of foreign peoples and of their own responsibility, as citizens of the world’s mightiest nation, to try to do something. Looking at the past through this new lens, even the sainted Franklin D. Roosevelt took a mild hit, as historians learned more about and came to question his failure to assist the Jewish refugees of Europe, to bomb the rail lines to Auschwitz, or otherwise impede or retard Hitler’s killing machine. More recently, historians and journalists like Samantha Power, Ben Kiernan, and Gary J. Bass directed historians’ attention to other genocides and mass slaughters. Human rights advocates argued more vociferously that the world’s mightiest nations had a duty to try to prevent such atrocities.
An injured Syrian child receives treatment at a makeshift hospital in Douma on Oct. 3. (Photo by ABD DOUMANY/AFP/Getty Images)
Foreign diplomats from Egypt, Russia, the United Sates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Jordan meet in an attempt to revive a ceasefire on Oct. 15. (Photo by JEAN-CHRISTOPHE BOTT/AFP/Getty Images)
A rebel fighter throws a tire onto a fire to keep smoke from billowing during battles with Syrian government forces in Douma on Sept. 5. (Photo by SAMEER AL-DOUMY/AFP/Getty Images)
Two Syrian refugees sit at Piraeus harbor in Athens on March 6 after at least 25 migrants when their wooden boat capsized in the Aegean Sea while trying to cross from Turkey to Greece. (Photo by ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
But that consciousness peaked in the 1990s, and because military interventionism has fallen out of fashion since the Iraq War, it has been receding. Obama may have sought some solace in the fact that presidents’ reputations have not typically suffered for inaction in the face of mass slaughter.
They do suffer, however, for frittering away American power and prestige. Though Harry Truman wins high marks for his handling of the communist threat in Europe, he and the Democratic Party were haunted for years by the question, following Mao Zedong’s civil war victory in 1949, of “Who lost China?” — feeding a domestic political environment that arguably made his successors keener to intervene in Vietnam, Laos, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Similarly, Jimmy Carter’s inability to deal effectively either with the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan or the revolutionary Iranian government’s seizure of 52 American hostages contributed to his defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1980 as well as to the low esteem in which his foreign policy is held by scholars. Presidents can’t, of course, always prevent the outbreak of conflicts and wars, but how they respond to those wars — and whether the U.S. emerges from them stronger or weaker, and the world safer or more precarious — is a telling measure of leadership.
On the other hand, as Obama knows well, presidents also suffer for wars gone badly. Lyndon Johnson should be remembered as one of America’s greatest presidents, but his stubborn prosecution of the Vietnam War, despite knowing it was unwinnable, has kept him out of the pantheon of greatness. (It’s possible that when the Vietnam-obsessed Baby Boomers pass from the scene, LBJ will be judged with greater balance and charity.) George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, similarly, with all its disastrous implications, is likely to remain the central episode of his presidency for a long time, outranking even his more successful response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
Indeed, Obama, entering office after Bush’s ruinous adventurism, made the avoidance of another quagmire his primary goal. Encouraged by national security aides who hailed from the realm of domestic politics, Obama let the fear of crossing antiwar opinion dictate his path. Yet in treading lightly, Obama misplaced his big stick. A conciliator by nature, he had reached the presidency on promises to unite inimical groups — red-staters and blue-staters, whites and blacks — and in his inaugural address he likewise pledged to bridge the gap with the Arab world. But just as he wasn’t prepared for the implacability of congressional Republicans, who scorned his outstretched hand in a bid to bolster their own power, so he did not count on foreign adversaries taking advantage of his aversion to conflict.
Obama’s Syria legacy won’t be the only factor shaping how posterity regards his foreign policy. The uneven efforts to wind down the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the still-controversial Iran nuclear deal, the opening to Cuba, the weakening of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, the struggles to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians — these add up to a mixed and complicated record whose implications will take time and thought to untangle. It may be that his focus on building alliances in Asia will prove, despite the collapse of his Trans-Pacific Partnership, to be of greater long-term significance than his misadventures in Syria. But for now it seems hard to escape the conclusion that in correcting for Bush’s overly aggressive foreign policy, Obama went too far in avoiding confrontations, and that in that halting and hesitant approach he wound up neither strengthening his country’s influence and status nor its power to bring about its ultimate goal of a safer and more peaceful world.
Top image credit: Getty Images/Foreign Policy illustration
David Greenberg is a professor of history and media studies at Rutgers. His most recent book is Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency.