The following is a news commentary and analysis. It was first published Nov. 6, 2016 and has been updated with additional "successes" and "fails."[hr]
As Barack Obama’s presidency draws to a close, he’ll likely go down in history (as do many Presidents) as a polarizing figure: Beloved by supporters who believe he delivered on key promises to change America for the better; Reviled by critics who see him as a divisive figure who undermined what they see as the American way of life.[hr]Lists of President Obama’s many widely-acclaimed achievements aren’t difficult to find. A few common top picks heralded by the media include:
1. Improving the economy. According to factcheck.org, President Obama has shrunk the trade deficit, added millions of jobs, cut the unemployment rate and provided millions with health insurance. He "leaves with an unemployment rate less than half of what it was during the depths of the downturn."
2. Police abuse of Blacks. President Obama has drawn unprecedented attention to Blacks who are victims of police brutality. He has made civil rights issues and police abuse a primary focus of his Justice Department, first under Attorney General under Eric Holder and then under Holder's successor, Loretta Lynch
3. African-Americans “firsts.” President Obama appointed the first black attorney general, Eric Holder, and the first black head of the Department of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson.
4. Global warming. President Obama advanced politics putting global warming on the front burner. He made a priority of clean energy initiatives, spending billions of tax dollars to advance them. His Energy Department prioritized solar initiatives, electric vehicles and wind power and developed grant programs to encourage development in key green energy arenas.
5. Capturing Osama bin Laden. The lead figurehead for Islamic extremist terrorism, Osama bin Laden, was captured and killed on President Obama’s watch: it's one of the biggest terrorist-related achievements in the War on Terror.
6. Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act reportedly extended health insurance to 20 million Americans who didn’t have it before. Much of this was accomplished through a major expansion of Medicaid, health insurance provided at little to no cost to low incomer Americans. Obamacare also allows ill people with pre-existing conditions to purchase health insurance.
7. Ending “don’t ask, don’t tell.” President Obama halted President Clinton’s policy, now allowing gays to openly serve in the military. Under his watch there have been other advancements to further the goal of equal rights in the armed services, including for women to serve in special forces.
8. Transgenders and gay marriage. President Obama focused on protecting the civil rights of transgender individuals. He issued guidance and directives intended to bring issues relevant to transgenders to the forefront of the national conversation. Formerly against gay marriage, he reversed his position in his second term and led the way in supporting gay marriage.
9. "No foreign organized terrorist attacks in US." According to President Obama, the many terrorist attacks conducted in the US were not coordinated by overseas interests. "Over the past eight years, no foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland," says Obama.
10. Energy Independence. "Our dependence on foreign oil has been cut by more than half and our production of renewable energy has more than doubled," writes NPR.
It’s not as common to find the media listing President Obama’s shortfalls. Here’s my take on Obama’s Epic Fails:
1. “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.” Politifact said it all when it named the President’s statement about Obamacare “2013 Lie of the Year.” And matters have gone downhill since. Obamacare is likely go down as one of the largest policy blunders in recent times, reflecting poor judgement on the part of the bureaucrats who designed it and the politicians who supported it.
2. “The 80s called and want their foreign policy back": Russia missteps. Four years after President Obama mocked Republican Mitt Romney for calling Russia our top geo-political foe, Russia is—by many accounts—out top geo-political foe. The poor judgement by the President and his foreign policy advisers on Russia is further emphasized by his infamous open mic moment in March of 2012. That’s when President Obama was overheard quietly telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”
And it was Obama’s smiling secretary of state Hillary Clinton who, in 2009, presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a cartoon-like “reset” button as though relations between the two countries could be improved with the push of a button. More recently, Russia has invaded the Crimea region of Ukraine, the U.S.-led North American Treaty Organization (NATO) is stationing troops in eastern Europe in response to Russia aggression, and Clinton has accused Russia of hacking into the emails of the Democratic National Committee and her campaign chief John Podesta.
3. “The JV Team": Terrorism miscalculations. When President Obama referred to ISIS as “The JV team,” as in the less-formidable “junior varsity” team, his own intelligence officials cringed because they knew otherwise. They were similarly perplexed when he earlier seemed to claim al-Qaeda leadership had been “decimated” or was “on the run.” [quote]“We never told him that,” a top counterterrorism official told me. “That was never the case.”[/quote] ISIS and al-Qaeda have vastly expanded their reach under the Obama administration. Critics say President Obama’s miscalculations on the threat have impacted the U.S. ability to effectively address them.
“Islamic extremists.” The President’s refusal to utter phrases such as “radical Muslim” and “Islamic extremist” remains baffling to many, even those working at high levels in his administration. He’s indicated he thinks using the phrase would incite people to stereotype ordinary Muslims. However, critics believe his approach has done just that: by failing to acknowledge a distinction, the line between radical Islamists and ordinary Muslims becomes blurred.
4. Government Secrecy. The President’s first day in office, he promised unprecedented transparency. However, by nearly every major press account, the administration has been the worst on transparency and the biggest on secrecy in recent times, from stonewalling Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to bullying and controlling the media.
Spying and lying. The Obama administration wasn’t first to engage in mass data collection of American citizens, but the program vastly expanded under his watch. The administration’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper drew outrage even from Democrats in 2013 when he falsely denied the government was conducting mass surveillance on Americans. Edward Snowden’s revelations subsequently proved Clapper’s statement to Congress untrue. Government officials even collected information on members of Congress. Amid calls for his resignation, Clapper has remained in place and apparently faced no discipline.
War on whistleblowers. The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other previous presidents combined. It’s also imposed reams of rules that critics say are designed to discourage truth-tellers inside the federal government from speaking to Congress or the press.
War on reporters. The Obama administration threatened to jail a New York Times reporter for not revealing a source, and has engaged in bullying, intimidation and spying on journalists (including me, according to sources and forensics reports—my lawsuit is ongoing). The Justice Department surreptitiously collected AP reporters’ phone records to try to identify a government leak. It also spied on a Fox reporter.“Not a smidgen of corruption.” In 2014, before the investigation into IRS improper targeting of conservative groups was finished, the President announced there was “not even a smidgen of corruption.” Subsequently, a key IRS employee, Lois Lerner, took the fifth and refused to testify to Congress, IRS commissioner John Koskinen got caught providing incorrect information to Congress, and documents tied the IRS efforts to the White House. The scandal became a symbol, convincing some Americans that government corruption is systemic.
5. “Not a smidgen of corruption.” In 2014, before the investigation into IRS improper targeting of conservative groups was finished, the President announced there was “not even a smidgen of corruption.”Subsequently, a key IRS employee, Lois Lerner, took the fifth and refused to testify to Congress, IRS commissioner John Koskinen got caught providing incorrect information to Congress, and documents tied the IRS efforts to the White House. The scandal became a symbol, convincing some Americans that government corruption is systemic. Also, the Obama administration has never fully come clean on the Justice Department's operation Fast and Furious: the ill-advised gunwalking operation that secretly allowed thousands of weapons to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was among those killed by illegal immigrants armed with Fast and Furious weapons. After government officials provided false information to Congress and the public, the President used executive privilege to withhold documents in the case.
Attorney General Eric Holder was held in contempt of Congress for withholding documents, a U.S. Attorney was forced out for improperly leaking damaging information in a government-led Smear campaign against the lead whistleblower, John Dodson. Dodson never received an apology and top officials were not held accountable.
6. Divider-in-Chief. While many Americans of all races dreamed that the first Black President would bring the country together, many of the President’s policies and approaches have resulted in new divides and heightening racial tensions that pit factions against one another rather than bring Americans together.
Police misconduct. Though many believe police abuse of minorities is a real issue, the Obama administration repeatedly picked bad cases to use as examples, such as Ferguson. In the end, even Eric Holder’s Justice Department had to acknowledge that initial witnesses lied, reporting was incorrect, and there was no basis to prosecute police officer Darren Wilson for the death of suspect Michael Brown. However, by then, Officer Wilson’s career and character had been destroyed. To this day, misconceptions about the case commonly persist in society, as the administration didn’t take effective steps to correct them. This undermines efforts to identify and correct true instances of police misconduct, whether racially-motivated or otherwise.
7. Immigration. The Obama administration inherited a dysfunctional immigration system, but lack of enforcement intensified on his watch.The failure to enforce immigration law and protect the border has decimated border towns and sanctuary cities, inundated American towns with drugs, and dumped tens of thousands of criminal illegal aliens into the U.S. where they’ve committed tens of thousands of assaults, rapes, murders and other crime in just a couple of years (according to the Obama administration’s own statistics). The Justice Department was found to be so dishonest in its representation of the administration’s efforts that a judge ordered 1,000 Justice Department lawyers to undergo ethics training, finding Justice Department lawyers intentionally misled him in an immigration policy case. Instead of addressing the real concerns expressed by a majority of Americans polled, the Obama administration falsely equated opposition to illegal immigration as opposition to immigrants, using the subject to divide Americans.
8. Increase in debt. The debt has nearly doubled under Obama. (Oct. 3, the first business day of fiscal 2017, the total federal debt closed at $19,642,949,742,561.51. At that point, the debt had increased under Obama by $9,016,072,693,648.43 from the $10,626,877,048,913.08 it stood at on the day of Obama’s inauguration).
9. Labor participation. In 2015, the number of Americans 16 years and older not working or even looking for a job reached an all time high: exceeding 93 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Also, the rate of potential workers actually participating in the labor force fell to a 37-year low.
10. Mideast Mess:
Iran deal. The appearance of ransom payments given in secret, and other problems, have seriously clouded the nuclear deal with Iran, though the White House insists make the U.S. safer.
Libya and Mideast. The Obama administration’s support for toppling Libya Dictator Moammar Ghaddafi (at the urging of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) with no backup plan led to a failed state that’s served as an incubator for terrorists including ISIS. Likewise, the U.S. supported the ouster of Egypt’s president without foreseeing the chaos that would follow showed major poor judgement on foreign policy issues. On Iraq, President Obama didn’t create the mess, but his policy missteps and miscalculations led to the resurgence of terrorist forces there, including ISIS. With Syria, President Obama declared in 2012 that the use of chemical weapons by President Bashar Assad would cross a “red line” and might trigger a U.S. military response. But when Assad crossed the line there were no consequences. This emboldened Syria and led the world community to see the U.S. as weak.
Benghazi. To this day, the President will not reveal where he was, what decisions he made, and why he was absent from the dialogue while Americans were dying on foreign soil in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012. The lack of an outside military rescue attempt, the false information put out by the administration afterwards, and the administration’s refusal to call it “terrorism” will go down as a major stain on the Obama White House.