SYNDICATED COLUMN: Where’s the Legacy?

Political Malpractice and Missed Opportunities under Obama

I’m on book tour, promoting “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.”

In “The Book of Obama” I argue that Obama is America’s Mikhael Gorbachev. Like Gorby, The One (Oprah’s phrase) is the most progressive, decent and intelligent leader his system is willing and able to allow to rise to power; like the reformist of perestroika, Obama’s fundamental not-so-badness—coupled with his…ineffectiveness? cluelessness? conservatism? exposes the fact that the system is the problem. That voting for a better/less evil leader can’t bring about the changes we need, because what the 99% view as problems—unemployment, underemployment, the growing gap between rich and poor—are things that the system views as not merely desirable, but necessary. Its raison d’être.

Among progressives it’s a given that Obama has been a disappointment. At my signings people keep asking me: Why? Why hasn’t the president lived up to the hopes and dreams we invested in him? Sure, the Republicans have blocked him at every turn. But he doesn’t seem to try.

Why not? Is he a wimp? Or were liberals wrong about him—was Obama an establishment conservative from the start?

I don’t know what’s in Obama’s heart. Frankly, I don’t care. It’s all about policies: either you’re for good policies, or you’re not. If you are, you fight for them with everything you’ve got. If not…

Like most pundits, I tend to focus on the negative. So this week let’s look at Obama’s signature accomplishments, the things he actually did get done: healthcare reform, his statement support for gay marriage, and last week’s Dream Act Lite, his order that Department of Homeland Security stop pursuing the approximately 800,000 young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally.

It took three years for this President to do something that brought a smile to my face. So I owe him this: Nicely done, Mr. President. (Sure, it’s just a political ploy, a play for the Hispanic vote. But other things Obama should do, but won’t—unlimited unemployment benefits, assistance for foreclosure victims, a new WPA—would be popular too. Pandering to the people is called democracy.)

Millions of people—the lucky 800,000, their families and friends—finally have their foot in the door. Early signals from GOP bosses indicate reluctance, even if they win this fall, to revert to the bad old days of rounding up kids and deporting them to “homes” they don’t know, whose languages they don’t speak.

Yet, like so many of his more positive acts, it came later than it should. And it should have been built to last.

The Dream Act failed in December 2010, just after the Republican sweep in the Congressional midterms. It would have passed if not for the craven, bigoted “nay” votes of five Democratic senators spooked by the election results.

I keep thinking back to 2009. Democrats had both houses of Congress. A filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Obama enjoyed a worshipful media. Sky-high public opinion polls. Why didn’t the president propose the Dream Act then, when it would probably have passed, sparing 800,000 kids terrible uncertainty—not to mention those who got swept up during the last three years? (While we’re at it: what’s the point of letting kids stay in the U.S. and deporting their parents?

Back in 2009, was Team Obama guilty of political ineptitude? Obsessive focus on healthcare? We don’t know. The result of their neglect of young immigrants amounted to political malpractice at least, bigotry at worst. (There were, after all, more deportations of illegals under Obama than under Bush.)

Worse than too little and/or too late, Obama’s announcement in support of gay marriage came so late that it might as well not have happened at all; by the time he spoke out, gay marriage had become a historical inevitability. Talk about political malpractice! What is more ineffectual than irrelevance? Like the Homeland Security directive on illegals, it came as big, good news to millions of people. But it could have been handled earlier, proactively, and—not incidentally—paying bigger dividends to the president’s reelection effort.

Less clear but with broader implications was healthcare reform. “Have you had enough of Obamacare?” Tim Pawlenty asked a crowd at a pro-Mitt Romney rally. “Yes!” they shouted. But there is no Obamacare. Not yet. Even if the Supreme Court doesn’t overturn the Administration’s biggest achievement, it doesn’t go into effect until 2014. After, perhaps, President Romney takes office. What was Obama thinking? If nothing else, wasn’t he worried about his historical legacy?

My guess is that he cares less about his legacy, or changing things, than the political horse race. He likes winning as an individual more than he cares about changing the world.

Obama has a few chances left to prove me wrong. He could still close Gitmo by executive order. He could also propose a federal law legalizing abortion, forcing the GOP to counter the 77 percent of Americans who told the most recent Gallup poll that they’re pro-choice. It would be a bold move, one that would resolve the decades-long legal limbo that has left abortion rights in the hands of the Supreme Court. Is Obama incapable of bravery? Of vision? Or is he using the threat of a Romney SCOTUS to threaten women into voting for him?

No one knows.

All we can do is consider the president’s actions.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is This column originally appeared at


6 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Where’s the Legacy?

  1. Whimsical,

    1. “Complete and utter fantasy that would accomplish nothing except to suck up all the air in the room, and make it even more difficult for Obama to accomplish anything.”

    He isn’t accomplishing anything anyway. I’d love to see him play poker. Everyone antes. Someone bets, Obama folds. If he drew a royal straight flush, he’d bet one chip. If someone raised him, he’d fold on the assumption the other player had a RSF as well. To put it into the vernacular: Obama’s the Republicans’ bitch now. They know that no matter what comes up, all they have to do is bare their teeth, and he’ll back away.

    2. “If closing Gitmo matters THAT much to you, I suggest you work on replacing Republicans instead of damaging Obama by unfairly blaming him for things which are beyond his control.”

    I did. I voted for Obama. And I got nothing for that vote except explanations from apologists about how the president of the United States can’t be expected to get things done. I wouldn’t accept that excuse from an employee, I’d never use such an excuse as an employee, I certainly won’t accept it from a president.

    By the way, Obama commands the military. Obama, not a senator from the great state of Texas or some representative who thinks America’s biggest problem is that women can read. Obama could get those Gitmo Prisoners transferred if he wanted to.

    Actually, he can’t. Do you know why? Because he signed a law in January 2012 ( restricting transfers AND allowing for indefinite detention. Yeah, he wants Gitmo resolved so much that he signed a law making it impossible.

    I’m sorry, Whimsical. But you have to snap out of this. Obama isn’t a great guy, he isn’t a good president, he certainly isn’t anything like a democrat, and his superiority to Republicans is such a fine distinction at this point that it’s almost moot. He gave himself the right to kill anyone he wants AND to be unaccountable to anyone when he uses that self-given “right.” And he’s used it. But he’s the best guy the Democrats can come up with? Then the Democrats don’t deserve to be in office.

    We aren’t talking about trivial things. The country — any advanced country — runs because the rules are obeyed and human dignity is respected. Look at LBJ. He got quite a lot done, and he was fought tooth and nail all the way. Sometimes he lost. Sometimes he won. But he understood that the job of president isn’t to go in and just fold, fold, lose, lose, fold.

    If Obama can’t get the job done, he needs to resign. I could support someone who tries and fails, but Obama doesn’t try. He just fails.

  2. @alex-

    Complete and utter fantasy that would accomplish nothing except to suck up all the air in the room, and make it even more difficult for Obama to accomplish anything. And it wouldn’t work- treason has a very narrow, very specific definition, and denying the Gitmo detainees their day in court doesn’t fit.

    But at least you’re not lying about an exceutive order that has already been issued.

    I want Gitmo closed as much as they next guy, but the ONLY realistic way to close it, the only one that stands a snowball’s chance in hall is to replace enough Republicans so that the next time Obama issues an order, they don’t have the votes to block it.

    If closing Gitmo matters THAT much to you, I suggest you work on replacing Republicans instead of damaging Obama by unfairly blaming him for things which are beyond his control.

  3. “Give me an action based on how government ACTUALLY works, that Obama could do to close Gitmo that he hasn’t already done.”

    Oh, that’s easy. Obama could start every speech off with something to the effect of this: “Although most people in America accept that the Constitution is the law of the land, some people, specifically, Sens. X, Y, Z, A, B, C (actually name them), refuse to give the Gitmo detainees, some of whom have still not even been charged with anything, their day in court. These cowards in the Senate won’t charge the detainees, they won’t give them bail, they won’t give them a day in court. I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen, that these senators are guilty of treason, and I have asked the Attorney General to investigate their high crimes.”

    That’s right. You actually call these gutless nothings what they are: cowardly bullies who hide behind procedures and dirty tricks to make sure that “fair” only applies to the people who’ve already rigged the game in their favor.

    In short: Obama could actually stand up for something, unequivocally.

  4. Wow, so much wrong here, I hardly know where to begin. I don’t really have the time right now to do a proper point by point rebuttal to all the mistaken assumptions and outright lies here, though I will try to soon.

    But I CANNOT let this blatant lie go unchallenged.

    To wit: “He could still close Gitmo by executive order.”

    Ted, not just me, but others as well have posted SEVERAL links demonstrating the FACT that Obama ALREADY issued an executive order to clsoe Gitmo, and the implementation of it was BLOCKED by the Republicans and a few turncoat Democrats.

    I understand that it’s a fact that you don’t like; but ignoring facts just because you don’t like them is behavior unworthy of a liberal- it puts you on par with the tea party.

    So, given that Obma has ALREADY issued an executive order to close Gitmo, what on Earth makes you think that he would get a different reaction this time around?

    And don’t try to pass off one of your usual “He just could” non-answers, based on your fantasy theory of how government works on me. Give me an action based on how government ACTUALLY works, that Obama could do to close Gitmo that he hasn’t already done.

    Not that it will change the inherent falseness of the statment in your column. But it will at least show you’re making an effort to make yourself and the brand of liberalism you promote look better instead of like people who will take any excuse, no matter how false, to bash Obama.

  5. If Obama is Gorbachev, where is Yeltsin??? And were the people in the former USSR better when Yeltsin dissolved the union, or would they have been better off had Gorbachev remained in power and kept the USSR intact?


    As the New York Times has pointed out, President Obama has been making speeches to Hispanics about selective enforcement, of not deporting undocumented people who have committed no other crime (and who maybe aren’t even illegals, a la ‘Born in East LA’).

    But then Obama has continued the highest rate of deportations of any president, and tried to get that information to the Know Nothings (a big chunk of the electorate). The rate of deportations did NOT decrease after Obama’s promise to not go after undocumented Hispanic-looking people who had committed no other crime.

    But the Hispanics seem to be getting the word about the ‘greatest number of deportations’ and the Know Nothings the word about not deporting undocumented children with no other criminal offenses.

    So this doesn’t seem to be working.


    Odds as of 27 June 2012, 10:9 on Romney, 9:10 odds-on on Obama.

    About 5:1 on the Democrats winning the house, and 3:1 on Democrats keeping the Senate.

    Best guess at this point: Obama re-elected, but with a Republican House and Senate, so we can have the same prosperity we had under Clinton!

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