Vail Daily column: Obama’s legacy
September 15, 2013
Years from now, historians will judge the successes and failures of the Obama administration. So let's speculate that if the evaluation were conducted today, what might it include?
Economically speaking, any assessment must speculate that his stimulus saved us from a depression. At the same time, however, it's not speculation that this is the weakest economic recovery since the depression (Forbes). Nor is it speculative that the administration's economic policies have already increased the national debt by more than $6 trillion dollars with three years still left in his term.
Assessments of domestic achievement would be incomplete if they didn't include the passage of the Affordable Care Act. But should that be construed as an "achievement," when the law was passed with the support of only one party, is replete with problems, is expected to cost billions more than promised according to the Congressional Budget Office and remains widely unpopular (41 percent for, 52 percent against, 7 percent unsure.)
In foreign affairs, the president kept his promise and orchestrated the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan and adhered to the Joint Forces Agreement — the Bush policy defining our withdrawal from Iraq.
His signature accomplishment, however, will likely be authorizing the takedown of Osama bin Laden. Additionally, the administration will be credited for its aggressive and effective war on terrorism via the drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But regarding his overall foreign policy, I'll quote from a local writer who published the following in the congressional newspaper The Hill.
"I submit for consideration the fact that this junior-senator-suddenly-president is just naive. International relations has never been his strength, or even his interest. … He surrounds himself with academics who are experts at theory but inexperienced in practice, thus making us incredibly vulnerable, gullible and disrespected in the global arena. When you carelessly place a 'red line' to the leader of another country, then later claim, 'I didn't set the red line, the world set a red line,' followed by, 'My credibility is not on the line; America's credibility is on the line,' just makes President Obama look weak and foolish."
On a personal note, I might ask if anyone can imagine Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy or Reagan separating their personal responsibility from that of the nation?
Vis-a-vis the foregoing, historians will likely regard Obama's primary win over Hillary Clinton along with his electoral victories against John McCain and Mitt Romney as nothing short of remarkable.
What else can explain a pre-presidential life consisting of unremarkable grades in college and law school, no published papers even though he was the editor of the Harvard Law Review, a man whose only real job was as a community organizer, a brief career as an Illinois legislator without any legislative achievement and a single term in the United States Senate devoted primarily to his presidential ambitions.
To quote Norman Podhoretz, "How, they will wonder, did a man so devoid of professional accomplishment beguile so many into thinking he could manage the world's largest economy, direct the world's most powerful military, execute the world's most consequential job?"
Mahatma Gandhi told the world, "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." Yes, a society is measured by how it treats its less fortunate, but it's also measured by how it instills in its citizenry — especially its youth — the notion that industriousness, education and taking personal responsibility is the most efficacious means of creating a prosperous and compassionate society.
Those who have read the Federalist Papers understand that for the first time in history, a nation was envisioned that was of, by and for the people. And to quote Ben Carson, "This meant that there would be a great deal of individual, family and community responsibility for everyone's lives, as opposed to government responsibility."
This philosophy underpinned the American experiment and literally changed the world in ways never before experienced. Carson also opines that among the many factors that made up our success "was the conscious creation of an atmosphere conducive to innovation and hard work."
This was the vision of the founders. And since the founding, presidents have provided us with their interpretation of that vision.
Vision begets mission, and mission begets policy; therefore, any assessment of the Obama administration must include an examination of how closely this president has adhered to or deviated from the founders' vision.
For more than two centuries, the United States has been the world's model for capitalism, i.e., the economic system in which individuals or corporate groups have the right to make private decisions, and to acquire private property and capital goods predicated upon their own work and competition in a free market.
The founders envisioned a nation of laws that would sustain an environment where innovation, effort and resourcefulness would become the economic underpinnings of society.
Capitalism may foster greed, selfishness and an unequal distribution of wealth; but at the same time, American capitalism has also provided more people with more opportunity for economic advancement than any other system in history.
Historians will surely note that in 2008, a prepossessing young candidate orated about a vision of "hope and change," which translated into "fundamentally changing America," which gave us the president's policies. But after four years, the country remained in recession, the deficit and debt soared and the welfare state grew exponentially when work and other requirements attached to government welfare programs were ignored. So in 2012, the president heralded a new vision — one of "fairness."
But fairness is difficult to quantify because much depends upon perspective, the Affordable Care Act being just one recent example of who benefits at whose expense. Nonetheless, if vision begets mission, and mission begets policy, how else has the president's fairness vision translated into policy?
It can be argued the president's vision of fairness has created an unprecedented expansion in welfare programs that promote further dependency. Welfare programs are necessary in a nation of 320 million people, but at the same time, one must wonder if in their collective wisdom the founders ever envisioned one-third of the population receiving direct economic welfare benefits from the federal government (excluding Social Security and Medicare.)
If President Obama imparted a vision of self-reliance versus one of dependency, if he emphasized personal responsibility versus some amorphous notion of fairness, then I suspect history would be much kinder to him. But unless he aligns himself more closely with the vision of the founders, his legacy will be left wanting.
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.