Regardless of how all of the votes in Washington turn out for President Obama this week, his presidential legacy will likely continue to take a beating for years to come
Thursday is a big day in the presidential legacy of President Barack Obama. Everyone knows this.
Between the impending Supreme Court decision on the notorious Obamacare reform law (and its extremely-questionable individual mandate) and the historic Contempt of Congress vote concerning Attorney General Eric Holder, the Obama Administration will have plenty of rallying points to champion or spin by the end of the week. With the mixed bag of victories and loss for the administration coming as a result of the Supreme Court ruling on Arizona’s SB 1070 law earlier, President Obama and his surrogates will continue the delicate balance of stoking his base and pleading his case in order to maximize the political opportunities with each development.
Yet, as the narrative of this presidency continues to play out, the once seemingly-invincible Obama image has morphed into a fragile legacy that already bears the marks of voter disappointment, leadership shortcomings, and political overreach.
The Obama of 2008 has not been seen in years now. The gentlemen Senator that was capable of inspiring the nation (and, in many instances, the world) with his rhetoric, vision, and verbal tone has been cast into a history of campaign lore. That image has never fully found its way into the essence of the Obama presidency, as firing up a crowd of partisan supporters over these past 4 years simply does not have the same gravitas as garnering respect on both sides of the aisle. Even with high-water mark statesmen moments such as the capture and assassination of Osama bin Laden and the Tucson memorial after the Gabby Giffords shooting, the president has not been able to maintain the type of partisan cooling and long-term patriotic good will that could create any real bridge between the promise of 2008 and the realities of 2012.
Say what you want about a historically-bad economy being the only cause behind President Obama’s hampered legacy regardless of this week’s legal decisions. The president’s recent “Johnny-come-lately” approach to important social and political positions such as gay marriage advocacy and non-congressional immigration reform only cements the image of a guy that is comfortable leading from behind, a reflection that harkens back to his critics’ 2008 claims of the “present-voting” senator-turned-presidential candidate that avoided taking tough, unpopular stances. This contrasts the 2008 promise of an Obama presidency, one that would stand firm on convictions and change the tone of Washington.
That tone and those convictions seemingly shifted with each decisive political development, a trend that might have the Obama re-election campaign scrambling in the days ahead, all while continuing to erode the promise of a shining presidential legacy. If the past is any indication, the pleas for bipartisan participation in Congress will ebb when and if Democrats have hold of power in either chamber on Capitol Hill come 2013. The president’s current ire towards the Bush-era tax rates may wane again, just as it did when he signed the extension to those tax rates into law in the lame duck session in 2010. At the same time, he prioritized those tax rates and working with minority Republicans to pass “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” over working towards passing the DREAM Act. For his staunchest supporters, the community volunteer offered little to mirror the promise of the first Black and urban president in the White House and, at times, offended this constituency, not inspired them.
Even for a Black Republican like me, the Obama Presidency was supposed to mark the beginning of elevating the political discourse of America into a realm where ideologies were debated fiercely yet the nation was stronger throughout the process. Instead, as we wait for another series of historic developments to land on the doorstep of the White House for the all of the president’s men (and women) to address, there is less on the horizon that offers the hope to change the current Obama presidential image for future Americans to uphold.
The divisiveness stemming from under-current racism still alive in America has coupled with the political overreach, misgivings, and disappointments of President Obama over these past 4 years. The result has created an environment where his most noteworthy accomplishments were garnered under the shade of controversies and ethical questions and his shortcomings have highlighted the chasm between Obama the candidate and Obama the president. From this point, even if President Obama finds another win here or there in Washington throughout the rest of the week (or even in November, for that matter), the Obama presidential legacy will continue to lose its luster. That only leaves us as Americans looking back at the legacy of candidate Obama circa 2008 and wonder what might have truly been after November 4, 2008.
LENNY MCALLISTER is a senior contributor to Politic 365 featured on CNN Newsroom, CNN’s “Early Start”, and “CNN Saturday Morning” as well as outlets including Chicago Public Radio. Hear the latest “The McAllister Minute” on The American Urban Radio Network today.