By: Todd Smekens
Blog – He hasn’t left office, but President Barack Obama’s legacy is already being debated by pundits and experts from all backgrounds. If you look back to 2007-08, when America learned about Barack Obama, a young senator from Chicago, we didn’t give him a chance. We had an economy on the brink of disaster and he was going up against the dynastic Clinton brand. Obama ran as a progressive against Hillary under the slogan, “Hillary will promise everything, but change nothing.” His supporters offered another slogan, “Yes We Can”. I defended Obama from the racism he and his family endured while president. Our country should be ashamed. Obama promised Americans, “Hope and Change” – he delivered very little of either one. These are not just my opinions about Obama’s legacy, but those of African-American leaders. Let’s take a look at what Gary Younge, Cornel West and Louis Farrakhan have to say about Obama’s legacy.
Obama’s farewell speech was very moving, and yes, many Americans will miss him. Considering who Obama replaced, and what’s coming after him, Obama is intellectually superior and a great person. However, when you look at our most pressing problems requiring immediate progressive solutions, his eight year-long presidency was full of disappointment.
Barack Obama’s presidency, sandwiched between those of George W Bush and Donald J Trump, will be missed by many Americans, says Gary Younge. But, he argues, ‘could be worse’ is poor rhetorical compensation for ‘yes we can’. Since Obama was simultaneously the best man for the job and insufficient, he says, the American political system is by definition in crisis.
Gary lived in Muncie for five weeks leading up to the general election writing a series of articles for the Guardian UK focusing on populism – the rise of Sanders and Trump. He also wrote about the Rust Belt in decline and gathered perspective from residents of Middletown. His video on Obama is both truthful and refreshing. Gary grew up in Chicago, but now lives in London, so his perspective is both local and international. Check out his concise, yet poignant 3 minute video:
In 2008, Americans were in shock, and didn’t have all the facts leading up to the financial meltdown. As we’ve learned the hard way, our press is more interested in generating profits than informing the public.
What we have learned is Bill Clinton deregulated the banks in the 1990’s which led to speculative investments by our banking system. This caused Shearson Lehman’s demise and later bankruptcy – the largest in U.S. history. We’ve also learned many of our Wall Street bank executives committed massive fraud, but it rarely makes headline news. In 2008, Americans wanted Obama to be tough on the banks and hold the fraudsters accountable
After he won the election, he sadly allowed Citibank to appoint his top cabinet members. His Fed chief was another Wall Street insider. Obama not only bailed them out, he didn’t prosecute a single executive, and he authorized giving them $85 billion a month for years to clean up their balance sheets from the toxic assets they created. Instead of decentralizing the banks, Obama made them even bigger and more powerful – “Too Big To Fail” and “Too Big to Jail”.
This inability to properly hold the financial sector accountable ignited the already steaming populists on the left while the corporate party loyalists cheered him on. Not only did he let bankers off the hook, he continued neoliberal policies which were destroying the working class and gutting communities across the nation’s midsection. His inability to hold the greed of free market capitalism accountable opened the door for conservative media to blame the government for our problems. Obama had the pulpit and the speaking skills, but he chose to defend Wall Street, and corporate media lap-dogs cheered him on.
The months following the election were captured very well by Cornel West, who recently wrote an article for The Guardian titled, Pity the Sad Legacy of Barack Obama. Cornel writes,
A few of us begged and pleaded with Obama to break with the Wall Street priorities and bail out Main Street. But he followed the advice of his “smart” neoliberal advisers to bail out Wall Street. In March 2009, Obama met with Wall Street leaders. He proclaimed: I stand between you and the pitchforks. I am on your side and I will protect you, he promised them. And not one Wall Street criminal executive went to jail.
Not only did the criminal CEO’s not see jail time, the chosen Fed chairman would flood trillions of dollars in “quantitative easing” into the banking system to buy back all the toxic assets remaining on bank balance sheets. Not sure how this fits the definition of, “Hope and Change” – feels more like betrayal to progressives worldwide. Barack acted more like Ronald Reagan than a progressive democratic president. The broken promises in 2008 caused me to cringe when I heard Hillary Clinton exclaim during the debates, “I’m a progressive who likes to get things done.” The audience cheered.
Not only did Obama let Wall Street off the hook, his policy decisions allowed all the gains from the post-2008 recovery to be realized by the top 1% of Americans – creating an even wider gap in income inequality. Historians will look upon our second Gilded Age as the greatest theft by Oligarchs this country has ever experienced.
Cornel further writes:
In addition, Obama’s education policy unleashed more market forces that closed hundreds of public schools for charter ones. The top 1% got nearly two-thirds of the income growth in eight years even as child poverty, especially black child poverty, remained astronomical. Labor insurgencies in Wisconsin, Seattle and Chicago (vigorously opposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a close confidant of Obama) were passed over in silence.
Cornel walked with Bernie Sanders (a New Dealer) in 2016 during the primary, only to see the Democratic Party crush their hopes. Just like the Wall Street bail out and Occupy Wall Street movement, Obama protected his party’s donor base – Wall Street.
Last year, Obama campaigned for congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz against her progressive opponent in Florida. This happened despite her resignation in disgrace as chair of the Democratic National Convention. Inside leaks revealed emails from her, and other DNC staffers, conspiring against Bernie Sanders for their chosen candidate, Hillary Clinton.
Cornel walked a fine line and stopped short of holding Obama accountable for Trumpism. He did say, “Obama contributed to it.” I’ll say that Obama did more than contribute to it. By not holding Wall Street executives accountable for their greed and corruption, it allowed the conservative and anti-government movements to combine forces to blame our government. Instead of pointing to the flaws in a system causing huge income and wealth gaps between the 1% and everyone else, he clamored about “American Exceptionalism”. The problem with making this claim is lack of evidence to support it. Not only are we far from exceptional, our rankings in everything but defense spending is sliding further and further behind other developed nations.
Obama served Wall Street and tossed Main Street under the bus. As leader of the Democratic Party, the party lost its empathy and soul – shown by losing one election after another. Even though the democrats won the campaign fundraising contest, they lost everything else. Both the democratic party and the establishment media have lost all credibility. Their pathetic attempts of blaming Russian hackers for their losses won’t fly with the people. Most of us see clearly through the smokescreen.
We needed a leader like FDR who would stand with Main Street – Middletown. If we wanted another Wall Street minion, we would have nominated Hillary Clinton in 2008. We needed a leader who would represent the people’s interest while in Washington. He promised that to us. We were sold out within a few short months.
Obama knew the system was broke and why. He lived in Chicago, the birthplace of neoliberalism, and home of Milton Friedman and his Chicago School of Economics. Obama was a community activist, so I doubt he made his inspiring speeches to Milton’s people. I am sure he spoke to the people about oppression. The people gave him the grandest pulpit in the world to hold truth to power. He whiffed.
Another systemic failure is our justice system. If you’re white and come from money and influence, you get six months probation for rape. If you’re black and live in the hood, your rape will result in years of prison life. Hope means different things depending on your status in life. For some, they hope to get accepted to the best colleges, graduate, and lead a successful career on Wall Street. For others, it means selling drugs on the street hoping they don’t get caught by the police.
Louis Farrakhan called out Barack Obama for his betrayal to black people, especially back in Chicago where Obama served the community:
Louis does have a way with words. If you listen closely though, his message is no different from Gary’s or Cornel’s. Obama failed to deliver on social and economic justice. When given the most powerful position in our country, he aligned the power bestowed to him by us, with the establishment (military-industrial-financial complex). Instead of using his power to face the oppressors, he chose to side with the oppressors.
“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. ”
― Paulo Freire
Cornel’s closing words are powerful, so I’ll use them to sum up this article:
Obama’s lack of courage to confront Wall Street criminals and his lapse of character in ordering drone strikes unintentionally led to rightwing populist revolts at home and ugly Islamic fascist rebellions in the Middle East. And as deporter-in-chief – nearly 2.5 million immigrants were deported under his watch – Obama policies prefigure Trump’s barbaric plans.
Bernie Sanders gallantly tried to generate a leftwing populism but he was crushed by Clinton and Obama in the unfair Democratic party primaries. So now we find ourselves entering a neofascist era: a neoliberal economy on steroids, a reactionary repressive attitude toward domestic “aliens”, a militaristic cabinet eager for war and in denial of global warming. All the while, we are seeing a wholesale eclipse of truth and integrity in the name of the Trump brand, facilitated by the profit-hungry corporate media.
What a sad legacy for our hope and change candidate – even as we warriors go down swinging in the fading names of truth and justice.