Eight years later, the most iconic image of the 2008 American presidential elections seems to be nothing more than a cruel joke.
This election cycle has been littered with scandals, conspiracies, and enough insults to make Mike Ward sick. Hope? In these elections? Sounds like nothing more than a pipe dream. Indeed, between Trump’s Revelations-esque portrayal of the world, and with 52 % of Hilary’s supporters only voting for her because she isn’t Trump, it would seem as though there’s less hope in this election than there are policies proposals in the debates (1).
Eight years ago, there was hope. The concept of dreaming for a better future for America was not foreign to the electorate. Obama inspired something in people that had been previously unseen, and presented himself as a political messiah, here to usher in a new era of bipartisanship and cooperation. What of those miracles Obama was supposed to perform? What of the messianic era he seemed destined to guide?
Obama certainly had no help in attempting to bring the American government together. Hyper-partisanship by the Republicans, who held the House and the Senate thanks to convincing victories in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, made it nearly impossible for any legislation to be passed, and resulted in some of the least productive congressional years in history. Was Obama naive in thinking he could ever reconcile Democrats and Republicans? Maybe, but that in itself is not a failing. Wide-eyed optimism is nothing to criticize, and he can hardly be blamed that moneyed interests have ensured that many Republican positions are immune to change. Opposing him on almost anything he tried to enact, Obama was hardly able to squeeze any legislation through congress, despite his many attempts.
His bigger failing was his inability to strengthen his own party. He managed to maneuver his country through one of the worst recessions it had ever seen, and the country has, since 2009, seen an increase in jobs and the fastest growth among any NATO countries. Despite this relatively strong economic record, Democrats found themselves unable to win votes. The thumping they took in the 2014 midterms was indicative of their weakness and inability to counter the message of their Republican counterparts. Indeed, his Democratic party finds itself more fractured than ever, and will be faced with a serious identity crisis, no matter the November results. If Democrats want to continue being the party of Hilary Clinton, they might profit in the short term by flipping moderate Republicans fleeing the party of Trump, but risk permanently alienating progressives and driving them towards a third party. At his prime, Obama controlled a unified party. Now, that same party finds itself on the brink of an implosion.
Despite the gridlock that is the American legislative process, Obama has been the catalyst behind much positive change at the domestic level. Gays can now openly serve in the military, banks can no longer become ‘too big to fail’, carbon emissions are down, use of solar technology is up, the Keystone pipeline is dead and a plan is in place to make community college free by 2017. His magnum opus, Obamacare, has diminished the number of uninsured, but rests on unstable footing as insurers steadily opt-out. Serious issues, including racism, income equality and gun violence continue to plague America. I don’t think any reasonable person expected Obama to remedy everything during his mandate, but it can be shocking how little progress has been made. Income inequality and gun violence continues to rise, and racism has been an almost daily topic of conversation. A lack of progress could be attributed to the slow-changing nature of politics, but the lack of any clear trajectory or intelligent national discussion regarding these issues is a bitter disappointment to the movement Obama rallied in 2008.
In regard to foreign policy, the state of affairs is not particularly encouraging either. Never has the Middle East been so turbulent. Despite the weakening of ISIS since airstrikes resumed in 2014, wars in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon threaten to tear apart the fragile fabric of the area as we know it. American intervention in these wars has largely backfired in its attempt to ensure a long-lasting peace, and often resulted in strange bedpartners for the Americans. The U.S is fighting with Iran in Iraq and Yemen while also fighting against Iran in Syria. Demand for American action, but resistance against deployment put Obama in a tough spot, and his policy has been largely consisted of ineffective half-measures.
Fundamentally, I believe Obama is a good man in a bad situation. I believe that he, like those he mobilized in 2008, believed that he could create positive change throughout the country. However, only he had to face the stark realities of the Presidency. His influence, while strong, could not move the armored wall of politicians, pundits and lobbyists in his its way. He leaves behind him a number of positive achievements, and his approval ratings continue to surge as the next election draws nearer. He wasn’t the revolutionary he was thought to be, he was no false prophet either. He’s left a foundation of proposals and visions, it will be up to the next president to finish Obama’s legacy by either building on those foundations, or tearing them down.
(1) THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, Trump and Clinton’s Popularity Problem, http://graphics.wsj.com/elections/2016/donald-trump-and-hillary-clintons-popularity-problem/?mod=e2tw (consulté le 7 octobre 2016).