A legacy of Obama’s humble view of America’s interests and influence may be a more leaderless global order.
What’s it about?
The Economist writes an Essay on Barack Obama, covering his childhood, tenure, achievement, struggles and plans for the future. From being a skinny kid growing up in Hawaii, through to his time in office. Bold ideas either unimplemented or about to be undone, a mix of diplomatic bravery and timidity, and the mixed results of his character and skin-color on US race relations.
Barack Obama: The End of Hope:
- Despite being awarded the Nobel peace prize in his first year in office the US has remained at war. Bombing seven countries, often from unmanned drones, in 2016 alone.
- The failure of the Bush years, the Arab Spring and the rise of IS has seen America embedded, for one reason or an other, in the Middle East.
- Some trace a direct line from Obama’s reluctance to get involved in Syria (not enforcing the ‘red line’ he drew on the use of chemical weapons) to Russia’s seizure of the Crimea and to China’s Island building in the South China Sea.
- Despite the elation about race relations Obama’s election encouraged, the share of Americans who worry about them “a great deal” has doubled since 2008.
- One view is that race relations are not worse, but more visible. Disappointment, because it speaks of high expectations, may be grounds for optimism.
- The affordable care act and other changes Obama oversaw in the White House will by 2017 have boosted the after tax-income of the bottom 20% of America by around 18% compared to at the start of his tenure.
From the start of his Presidency, Mr Obama worried that he could not bear the weight of expectation he had inspired. On the night of his first victory he spoke of “unyielding hope” in “a place where all things are possible.”
Yet for all his achievements, his intellect and his grace, his eight years in office imply that even the most powerful leader in the world—a leader of rare talents, anointed with a nation’s dreams—can seem powerless to direct it.
From the ruins of Syria to the barricades in Congress and America’s oldest wounds, sometimes nothing has been the best he could do. Sometimes it was all he could do. The possibilities seem shrunken.
After its collision with history, so might hope itself.
The Limits of Power
Democratic leaders often leak political power as they govern, even as their efficiency improves. In Obama’s case, Republican election victories and a wide partisan divide meant that this process was rapid and costly. America’s finances have been patched rather than mended, immigration remains unreformed and despite several massacres gun laws have not been tightened. Notwithstanding the closure order signed on his second day in the job, Guantanamo Bay remains in operation.
Take Away Points and Context
- Unable to pass laws, Obama turned to executive decrees and regulations, strengthening transgender and gay rights and improving the lot of federal workers, consumers and undocumented migrants.
- History often moves in zigzags. Non Hispanic whites, will be a minority in the US by 2050. It is too early to tell the effects of Mr Obama’s tenure on race-relations.
- Events and America’s deadlocked politics can limit the power of the brightest, most hopeful of Presidents.
- A legacy of his humble view of America’s interests and influence may be a more introverted (if angry) America, and a more uncertain, leaderless global order.