President Barack Obama, with more than a year and a half remaining in his second term, has begun taking his “victory lap,” according to the political insider media.
Not waiting until his last days in office, the president has begun touting his most important accomplishments.
He reminds us that he found high unemployment and an economy falling into deep recession when he entered office, but now the country has normal levels of joblessness and is experiencing sustained economic growth. Justifiably, he gives some of the credit for the recovery to his stimulus program.
The much heralded “signature” accomplishment of his administration is said to be the Affordable Care Act, which he accepts being called “Obamacare.” He points out that more than 16 million Americans have gained health insurance as a result of this program.
These are significant accomplishments, and Obama can fairly claim that his administration is responsible for pushing both of them against tough opposition.
But Obama’s “signature” accomplishment is not Obamacare. It took place in January 2009, when he was inaugurated as president. For the first time in modern world history, a major power elected a person from a racial minority to head its government.
That was why Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize during his first year in office. The Nobel committee’s announcement said, “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention….” The award was essentially to him for his achievement in being elected and to the U.S. for setting an historic example by electing him.
Though his election was historic, too much can be read into it. Like all other Democratic presidential candidates since the 1960s, he won the support of only a minority of white voters. In some ways, his election was less significant in terms of white sentiment than it appears.
Its true significance may have been in showing that the U.S. was becoming a multiracial nation in which “people of color” would soon come to outnumber the traditional white majority.
Like all presidents, Obama must await the judgment of history, but he already suffers from the greatest disrespect of any president in memory. Setting aside claims that he is a communist or a Nazi or a dictator, there are three reasons why he is treated so badly by his political opponents and so distantly by his own party: race, conservatism and himself.
Increasingly, political observers are willing to say the lack of respect for Obama shown by congressional Republicans is based on a lack of respect for African Americans. House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu without discussing it with Obama is the clearest case of such disrespect.
The letter by 47 Senate Republicans, but not Maine Sen. Susan Collins, to Iran, America’s adversary, in which they explicitly undercut the president shows similar deep-seated disloyalty. Like Boehner’s invitation, the letter was meant to tell the world it need not respect the American president.
Actions like these would not have happened previously when the White House and Congress were dominated by different parties, making it is possible to conclude that the only difference between then and now is the president’s race.
Another fundamental reason for opposition to Obama comes from recent political history. When Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, conservatives saw his victory as the beginning of their era in political control of the U.S.
The elections of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, both two-term presidents, interrupted the plan for long-term rule by conservatives. A failed attempt was made to remove Clinton, seen as the usurper of the conservative regime, by impeachment and conviction. Though responsible for unforgivable indiscretions, Clinton would have been punished for his politics not his behavior.
Having failed once, the congressional Republicans would not try impeachment and removal of the president again when it came to Obama. Instead, they have simply attempted to seize the powers of the presidency for themselves. Only their fear of being labeled “the party of ‘no’,” makes them cooperate with him occasionally.
Finally, Obama created some of his problems. In successive elections, he had expected congressional Democrats to defend him rather than he himself making the case for his policies that they could then support. Lacking his leadership, many of them ran away from him.
He has not been a strong and consistent advocate of his own policies, and his efforts now to publicize his successes may be an attempt to repair the damage. In his last 18 months in office, he still has the chance to provide stronger leadership.