How Barack Obama Defied His Critics and Created A Legacy That Will PrevailBook - 2017
From the critics
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... the imprint of Obama’s climate legacy is everywhere – rows of houses covered in panels, wind turbines stretching across the plains, glistening new solar power plants arising in the desert.
Obama will remain the president who launched the green energy revolution in the United States and forged the first international agreement on climate change.
But as the scientific case for climate change hardened, environmentalists filed suit to force the EPA to regulate carbon emissions like other pollutants. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in the environmentalists’ favor. In 2008, the agency officially deemed carbon dioxide a pollutant, and sent its finding to the White House. The Bush administration refused to open the email, thus, incredibly, running out the clock on any legal obligation on its own part.
Samples of quotes, most from the latter parts of the book which are more interesting to me:
Robert Draper identified “the central critique” of the Obama presidency as being “far better versed in hopey-changey atmospherics and cutting-edge campaign tactics than in actual governing.”
A remarkably substantial number of critics and saddened supporters alike have described Obama and his era as a time of unfulfilled promise, poetry without prose.
Mortal threats to Obama’s presidency have included the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the swine flu epidemic, the Christmas underwear bomber, the IRS scandal, healthcare.org, and the Central American refugee crisis, among many others (Ebola, Boston/Orlando ...) Depending on how you keep count, upwards of nineteen events have been described as “Obama’s Katrina.” In April 2014, at a time Obama had publicly beseeched his critics to consider the long run, the crisis of the moment was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. ...
Most Americans, that is, oppose big government in the abstract but favor it in the particular. They oppose “regulation” and “spending,” but favor, say, enforcement of clean-air laws and Social Security.
Previous generations of Americans knew times when it seemed impossible to imagine slavery might be abolished, women given the right to vote, business subject to any government regulation.
White America had come to see the Democratic Party’s domestic agenda as a transfer of resources from the white middle class to the black poor. Violent crime shot upward, starting in the 1960s, a trend that continued into the 1990s. Whites fled cities for the suburbs, and many of them came to associate African-Americans with welfare, which became a synecdoche for laziness and unearned entitlement. Ronald Reagan regaled audiences with stories about a “welfare queen” driving a Cadillac, or a “strapping young buck” who used food stamps to buy steak while “you were waiting in line to buy hamburger.”
McConnell knew that most Americans have little time to follow the intricacies of the policy debate, and instead take their cues from indirect signals. Bipartisan agreement provides one such important signal. If the two parties seem to agree on a bill, it implies the idea is broadly acceptable and moderate. If they disagree, it sends a signal that something with the bill is wrong.
Bolsheviks, Rand constructed a worldview that turned the ideology of her Bolshevik tormentors upside down. Recapitulating the methodology of the Marxists she so despised, Rand believed that politics boiled down to a struggle between two opposing economic classes, in her vision one that created all wealth (the makers), and the other that stole it (the takers). Rand identified the producer class and the parasite class as the opposite of how the Marxists did: the producers were the capitalists, the parasites the workers.
Theda Skocpol, a Harvard sociologist, conducted a detailed study of Tea Party activists and discovered that they saw themselves beset by parasitic Democrats. “Along with illegal immigrants,” she wrote, “low-income Americans and young people loom large as illegitimate consumers of public benefits and services.” The Tea Party activists also felt gripped with “anxieties about racial, ethnic, and generational changes in American society.” Stanley Greenberg held extensive focus group discussions with Tea Party voters in 2013 ... Their most intense belief held that Obama had used the power of expanded government to build a majority voting coalition of racial minorities, those on welfare and food stamps, those soon to be legalized via immigration reform, those getting free health care, and the like. They were “very conscious of being white in a country with growing minorities.”...
Rather than attack government for being unworkable or too large and proposing to shrink it, as good Reagan Republicans customarily do, he attacked it for being allegedly run by morons and promised to solve all problems by having it be run by his own great business genius. Trump promised to protect every cent of Social Security and Medicare. He cravenly exploited the bigotry of the Republican electorate, even mocking their gullibility. (“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” he boasted at one point.) Trump’s appeal stripped away the illusions about just what made so many Americans pull the Republican lever for so long. “If Trump were to become the president, the Republican nominee, or even a failed candidate with strong conservative support,” editorialized National Review in January 2016, well before Trump’s nomination seemed inevitable, “what would that say about conservatives?”
Trump was the very incarnation of every value abhorrent to the Obama coalition, the anti-Obama incarnate—loud, impulsive, ignorant, intolerant, backward-looking. Trump’s racism, misogyny, and contempt for expertise offended college-educated voters, racial minorities, and feminists, among others. And the America that saw itself in Trump’s vision rather than Obama’s was dying off. In its desperation to stop Obama, the conservatives had signed their own demographic death warrant. Yes, Trump did win the Electoral College. In the wake of his triumph, jubilant Republicans boasted that the country had rejected Obama at last. Paul Ryan called Trump’s election “a repudiation of the status quo of failed liberal progressive policies” and “a mandate”—a bizarre description of an election in which his party finished second in the national vote.
Clinton failed to carry the Electoral College for a combination of reasons attributable largely to her personal image, rather than her association with the popular incumbent. Her poor decision to use a private email server received more news coverage than all policy issues combined, creating for her an image of indelible untrustworthiness that made many voters rule her out. Clinton was unable to overcome simultaneous attacks by Russian intelligence, which stole emails of her allies and leaked them selectively in order to generate negative coverage in the American media, and the FBI, whose director made an extraordinary intervention in the race’s final days to return the server issue to the forefront of the debate. Polls showed that voters considered her less honest and trustworthy than an opponent who was literally facing trial for fraud.
For good or for ill, Obama had proposed change on a massive, historic scale. Neither friend nor foe denied the new president’s audacity.
In 1994, Republican Pete Wilson won the governorship in California by railing against illegal immigrants from Mexico. His state had supported Republicans in every presidential election from 1968 through 1988, and in 1992, Bill Clinton had won just 46% of the vote in a three-way race. California has tilted overwhelmingly Democratic since. Trump seems to have taken Wilson’s immigrant-demonization strategy as a model rather than a cautionary tale, but his party will face the consequences. Fifty years from now, there will be Latinos and Asian-Americans who, asked why they vote Democratic, give Trump’s name as an answer.
Conservative Republicans won power, but they lost the future, and they also lost the argument. The triumph of a blustering, cartoonishly dishonest and manifestly anti-intellectual candidate was a forceful display of the party’s retreat from seriousness. Their critique of Obama’s program amounted to doomsaying predictions that had failed to come to pass. Their alternative was a retread of failed policies and free market aphorisms sold to the public through bombastic sloganeering and social resentment. Trump is the poisoned chalice of a failed ideology. Obama, not Trump, is destined to supply the model for American governance in the decades to come.
When Louisiana justice of the peace Keith Bardwell refused to marry an interracial couple, he argued in his own defense, “I’m not a racist. I just don’t believe in mixing the races that way.”
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Historians have ranked Barack Obama the 12th best president of all time, the highest rated since President Ronald Reagan, in a new C-SPAN survey released Friday.
Less than a month after exiting the White House, Obama received high marks from presidential historians for his pursuit of "equal justice for all" and for his commanding "moral authority," ranking third and seventh among all former presidents in each respective category. The 44th president also cracked a top 10 ranking for his "economic management" and public persuasion.
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