It is striking how little attention Barack Obama is getting as he leaves the White House. Understandably we are all focused on what is about to happen when Trump takes over. Obama is yesterday’s news, but there has been surprisingly little assessment of his legacy. Instead Obama has only been glimpsed doing yet more of his boring and interminable speeches. Good grief, as Tim Montgomerie put it, Obama likes the sound of his own voice.
Like many people outside America I was briefly enthusiastic about Obama in 2008, on the basis that US history shows at moments of crisis the right person (Republican or Democrat) can emerge and be remade by office. Harry Truman with his construction of the Western system of defence and security is the perfect example. Both major parties have produced great Presidents.
Obama has, to put it politely, not been one of them. Far from being a great President he has been close to disastrous in terms of the security of the West. One of his earliest themes – leading from behind, meaning American strategic retreat – ended up leaving space for Russian revival, the consequences of which are about to play out. Then there is the rise of Islamic State, which filled a vacuum left by Western failure. And then there is the Syrian situation, along with Libya.
It has been a post-modern presidency, all about surface. They even gave Obama the Nobel Peace Prize before he had done anything, and then his inaction and useless warbling made the world more dangerous. It became apparent rapidly that wining the presidency was the thing. The campaign was it. After that he had no coherent idea, other than a fondness for chin-stroking and giving long and extremely dull interviews about the nature of power to the editor of the New Yorker.
Healthcare looks as though it will be pulled apart by the incoming administration. The gains in the US economy are almost entirely down to the shale gas energy revolution, which has made the US self-sufficient in energy. The Obama administration did its best to block this development, but in spite of its efforts fracking and shale put rocket boosters under the American economy.
For all his dignity and cool reputation, domestically the main legacy of this supposed giant is the electoral destruction of his party, which lost the presidency, Congress and governors and states. He bred no successor generation and left the door open to Trump. Well done Barack. Give yourself a pat on the back. No, no… please don’t make another speech. No speech required.