The polarizing president
Barack Obama prepares to go down in history, and the question is, how far?
Tooting your own horn is one way to make sure your tune gets heard. Barack Obama wants to finish his presidency on a high note, so he’s arguing his own case for a good grade. However, he will learn, as presidents before him, that his legacy is not his to define, but for the people to decide whether he deserves to be immortalized on Mount Rushmore or merely to have his name on a presidential library on the south side of Chicago.
President Obama described how he would like to be remembered last week at his end-of-the-year press conference: “By so many measures, our country is stronger and more prosperous than it was when we started. That’s a situation that I’m proud to leave for my successor.” Every president lives in a bubble, fashioned by his worldview and reinforced by the “yes men” who live in the bubble with him. But Mr. Obama has had only ayes for the left.
A survey by the Pew Research Center finds that 88 percent of Democrats approve of the his job performance, but only 15 percent of Republicans do. “Obama’s average job rating over the course of his presidency is more politically polarized than any president dating to Dwight Eisenhower,” the surveyors concluded.
Respondents named Obamacare as the issue for which the president will be most remembered. (Who could argue?) The president’s signature measure sailed through Congress easily, with Senate approval on Christmas Eve, 2009, without a single Republican vote. The legacy of Obamacare is that it is to be first in line for the chopping block when President-elect Donald Trump’s administration opens for business on the afternoon of Jan. 20.
Mr. Obama often spurned the art of persuasion in dealing with the natural partisan resistance from the minority party, invoking what he calls the authority to govern with pen and phone rather than by hard-earned consensus. He has reaped the fruit of overreach, particularly anger about his presidential executive orders that liberalized the nation’s immigration policies. It was largely anger at watching their country and culture transformed by the flow of illegal aliens that turned Americans against Mr. Obama’s handpicked successor, Hillary Clinton.
“Parting is such sweet sorrow,” wrote Shakespeare, and Pew’s survey affirms the insight of the Bard’s observation as voters are warming at last to the president as they see him beginning to pack up to go to a new home. Some 46 percent say they expect him to be seen as an above average or outstanding president, and 26 percent predict he’ll be considered average; another 27 percent forecast below average. It’s unlikely, however, that the president can match Ronald Reagan’s stellar numbers: When the Gipper rode off into the sunset, 59 percent rated him as above average or outstanding. But this is sentiment, not a historian’s cool judgment.
If Obamacare is repealed and replaced, as promised, the second-most cited Obama achievement is safe. He will always be America’s first black president. Millions of voters of every shade of color thought the nation’s past racial sins would be redeemed by a black man in the Oval Office. Wiser now, Americans understand that they’ll have to wait a little longer for a unifier than Barack Obama has proved that he is not.