In a previous post we discussed the shaky foundation upon which President Obama’s legacy is built. Rather than attempt to pass bipartisan legislation by working, and yes compromising, with Congress, the 44th president relied on executive actions and a record number of rules, regulations and agency directives as workarounds to the democratic process. President Obama gambled, and as Marc Thiessen writes, he lost.
“From legislation to executive action, the lesson is clear: The value of bipartisan compromise is not just about optics,” Thiessen writes. “If you build consensus, then your actions will last. But if you impose your agenda on an unwilling country, it is going to get repealed or reversed when the other party comes to power.”
And yet his real legacy may not be policy-based at all. It could be that history remembers him for the devastation of the Democratic party under his leadership.
To be fair, President Obama is a once-in-a-lifetime politician. A little known, junior senator from Illinois does not rise from relative obscurity to the nation’s highest office (while beating back the Clinton dynasty) without untold political skill. His campaign rallies and speeches were events to behold, and his eloquence truly made politics exciting. He had the ability to make you a true believer, at least for a moment.
Though he was incredibly deft at getting the electorate to vote for him, he appeared utterly clueless as to how to get Congress to support his plans or voters to support Congressional Democrats.
The result was a heavily partisan slate of legislation, rammed down the throats of Congress, with little concern for bipartisanship. Frustrated voters responded in 2010 when Democrats forfeited control of the House after losing an astounding 63 House seats. They also lost a net of six Senate seats, which put their majority in a precarious position going into 2014, when the party was left playing defense in a majority of races.
Sadly, as Rich Lowry writes for the New York Post, President Obama wasn’t chastened by voters response to his brash agenda. If anything, he appeared emboldened.
When Obama’s initial legislative overreach cost him his congressional majorities, he proceeded with executive overreach, especially on environmental regulation and immigration. His attitude was that everyone had to get with his program and that if they didn’t, they were either stupid or spiteful. He believed less in the usual political arts of compromise and personal relationships than in the irresistible power of his own words.
Unsurprisingly, Republicans were rewarded with full control of Congress in 2014, after nine Democratic senate incumbents were relieved of their duties by voters. That was the largest swing since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980.
The electoral carnage extended to the state level. When President Obama assumed office Democrats held 31 governorships, they now have 16. They held 62 of the nation’s 99 legislative chambers, they now have 30.
All told, more than 1,100 Democrat elected officials at the federal and state level were tossed out of office, an unparalleled number in history.
This, as John Podhoretz and Noah Rothmans write for Commentary, is the true legacy of Barack Obama.
As it turned out, Barack Obama was a political genius with one unparalleled skill—getting Barack Obama elected and reelected president. For everyone else in his party, and for his party itself, he has been an unmitigated disaster. And now, his decimation of his own electorate has helped to ensure the election of Donald Trump. Out of office in 2017, Barack Obama may have to stand by, impotent, as the legislative and policy advances that were supposed to be his enduring legacy vanish like the thousand elected politicians unfortunate enough to have been serving in office when Barack Obama came along and hollowed out the Democratic Party.
But let’s not be chintzy. Republicans have been entrusted with an enormous amount of power, and therefore responsibility. It will be up to us to push for the progress, and push out the corruption, that the voters have demanded. If we fight amongst ourselves, or get too caught up in perfection over progress then our own ascendant legacy may be shortlived.