President Obama’s First Inauguration, Tuesday, January 20, 2009
By Daniel Allott
The Washington Examiner
Barack Obama ascended to the presidency with sky-high public approval ratings, control of both houses of Congress and a great deal of unearned goodwill around the world.
His goal was ambitious: To expand government in order to “fundamentally transform” the country. To do so, he would persuade the public that Washington was a powerful force for good that could be relied upon to fix their problems.
But when Obama leaves office in 100 days, he will leave behind a legacy that can only be seen as a failure to those who treasure limited government and constitutional democracy. Obama certainly expanded the role of government, but, in part as a consequence, trust in government and other public institutions have fallen to historic lows.
Obama’s first two years were his most productive. He signed a raft of consequential laws, including the financial stimulus, the auto bailout, the Dodd-Frank financial regulations and Obamacare.
The stimulus, a response the financial crisis, didn’t create jobs or cook up any sort of real recovery as promised. Seven years later, 32 percent of men 20 years and older still do not have paid work, more than double the share in 1948.
Obamacare, his signature domestic achievement, has helped some 10 million people obtain health insurance. But it has also resulted in skyrocketing premiums and has caused many large insurers to exit insurance markets. Most Americans continue to disapprove of the law.
Since 2010, Obama has shown almost no willingness to work with Congress, as the Constitution requires, and has instead governed primarily via executive orders and other presidential directives. By one estimate, his administration has added $488 billion in annual regulatory costs to the economy. That comes out to about $2,500 a year per person.
Perhaps Obama’s most lasting accomplishment will be his appointment to the federal bench of 329 federal judges, more than one-third of the total, including two to the Supreme Court. Those judges will ensure that Obama’s legacy of judicial activism for liberal ends will endure for decades.
Obama’s foreign policy has been defined by a failed diplomatic reset with an increasingly aggressive Russia, twin debacles in Libya and Syria, and a nuclear deal with Iran that makes the world less safe. He has dissed traditional allies and left enemies emboldened. Obama’s vision of a more restrained American foreign policy was admirable, but it has left the Middle East in flames, terrorism on the rise and the Russian bear on the prowl, filling the vacuum left by an increasingly withdrawn America.
That said, Obama has done damage to the body politic, some of it irreparable. He has reduced America’s standing in the world and the public’s respect for and trust in government. Seven in ten people in America think race relations are generally bad, a higher share than when Obama took office. Two-thirds think the country is on the wrong track.
Perhaps the greatest indictment of Obama’s presidency, although it is not the only cause, is that the voters reacted to it by elevating candidates such as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. The public has become even sicker and more tired of politicians, whether they be cowboys preaching nation-building or hope-mongers vowing to make government work for them. Government isn’t working for most people, and Obama is a big reason why.
Daniel Allott is deputy commentary editor for the Washington Examiner
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