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Tuesday, November 29, 2016
The Obama Apologists Tour
Jonathan F. Keiler
As President Obama winds down his final term, his defenders are in a goal line stand defending his accomplishments to an increasingly critical audience. Obama failed to fundamentally transform the nation, resuscitate the economy, improve American standing abroad, slow the rise of the oceans, heal the planet, or even establish a convincing moral justification for trying. What's left? One old standby, less in use now than a couple of years ago, is Obama's ability to hand over to his successor a supposedly scandal-free administration. The other, more newly minted, is Obama's supposedly similar ability to hand over a crisis-free America. If these claims are illegitimate, then Obama's meaningful legacy will be reduced to his glibness and complexion.
In April 2015 Slate's chief political correspondent, a fellow named Jamelle Bouie, penned "Obama's Gift to Hillary Clinton," a howler of an article that anticipated the president handing off a remarkably scandal-free administration to his chosen successor. Bouie completely ignored the then just festering State Department email scandal and rationalized away Obama's other problems, from Fast and Furious to the IRS to Benghazi. From there Bouie opined
"Put simply, there's nothing Clinton can do to escape Obama's legacy. But she doesn't need to. Unlike with McCain and Bush or Gore and Bill Clinton, there is no Obama scandal fatigue or general exhaustion with the Democrats."
Everybody makes mistakes now and again, and at least the first sentence was correct. Almost a year later, the New York Times' David Brooks, with the State Department email scandal in full bloom, made a similar claim.
"…The Obama administration has been remarkably scandal-free. Think of the way Iran-contra or the Lewinsky scandals swallowed years from Reagan and Clinton.
We've had very little of that from Obama. He and his staff have generally behaved with basic rectitude. Hillary Clinton is constantly having to hold these defensive press conferences when she's trying to explain away some vaguely shady shortcut she's taken, or decision she has made, but Obama has not had to do that."
That Clinton worked for Obama while she took these shady shortcuts, with his connivance, evidently mattered not to Brooks.
Why, in Brooks' words has Obama "not had to" defend himself from scandal? The answer is that Brooks and his colleagues in the dominant mainstream media never required it of him.
Crimes or moral indiscretions themselves are not scandals. That's why prominent people who commit wrongs try to hide them, lest they become scandals. Obama's alleged "scandal free" administration is purely a creature of the media, which by and large has simply refused to scandalize him, regardless of the fact that his administration's crimes and indiscretions dwarf those of his predecessors of the past half-century, including Richard Nixon's.
Brooks and Bouie made their "scandal-free" claims some time ago, and you don't see quite so much of it now. That's not to say that the media by and large continue to ignore the scandalous nature of Obama's governance, including his intimate involvement with Hillary's email criminality, which if pursued properly would have directly implicated the president in serious national security violations. History should not treat Obama so kindly, but given the ideological makeup of university history departments that is not a great bet.
A second last-ditch defense recently appeared in the Atlantic, proposing that Obama will leave office relatively "crisis-free." In "Leaving a Clean Desk" ("What Obama Got Right" online) Jonathan Rauch favorably compares Obama with such presidents as Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton for leaving his successor no crisis. Of course, this depends, as the last member of this presidential list might say, on the meaning of "is" as in "what is a crisis?"
Here again, the fix is easily put in, since crises, like scandals, are mostly creations of the media. Is climate change a crisis? Usually for those on left it very much is, and Rauch must say so, thus admitting however subtly, that Obama has not stopped the ocean's rise. But Rauch concludes that it is not for most Americans a political crisis, and so Obama has no crisis to pass on. The circular reasoning is remarkable. Obama himself says climate change is a crisis, and flails about attempting to bind the country to useless treaties while savaging valuable American energy industries. But because the American people mostly ignore him on the issue, it's not really a crisis at all, and so Obama gets credit for leaving Trump a "clean desk" on that issue.
It's the same illogic with Obama's other "non-crises." Rauch reports that "After years of slow recovery, the economy is chugging along…" whatever that means. Tell that to an unemployed factory worker in Ohio, or reconcile it with the exploded national debt. We learn that "…the security situation is astonishingly non-critical…" though America finds itself internationally weaker both diplomatically and militarily than at any time since the 1930s. And "…that there have been zero major [terror] attacks within the United States…" during Obama's presidency. This, of course, would be news to the victims of Islamist terror in Massachusetts, Fort Hood, San Bernardino, and Orlando. But again, depends on what is a major attack.
Rauch's theory would benefit from an independent variable, other than his own opinion as to what constitutes a crisis-free turnover of power. For example, a crisis-free president like Reagan might turn over the presidency to his vice-president, which happened. Except that it didn't happen with Eisenhower and Clinton. Or vice-versa, that the country free of crisis is more willing to change parties, except that Rauch's own theory -- that Reagan and Kennedy had crisis-free presidencies -- eliminates this standard. So we just have to rely on Rauch's say so, and that of other Obama apologists, that he is handing Donald Trump an uncluttered desk.
And that points up really what's really wrong here, in that Obama's apologists are missing the forest for the trees. The real crisis in this country is Obama's presidency itself, both in terms of the real -- if largely ignored -- scandals during his term (which threatened the heart of republican democracy) and his foreign and domestic policies which promised utter disaster if continued under a second Clinton presidency.
That theory was proven pretty conclusively on November 8. Obama himself made the election a referendum on his supposedly scandal-free, crisis-free presidency. As Mr. Bouie put it, Clinton had no choice but to run on Obama's legacy, including his scandals and crises, however unreported or under-reported in the mainstream media. The people answered.