“How’s that hopey-changey stuff working out for ya?” It was Sarah Palin, in her classic folksy way, who first articulated what was then a heretical scepticism about Barack Obama’s performance as President of the United States that is now mainstream, both in America and globally. Obama has not so much crashed and burned as fizzled out. After all the hype (“Yes we can”) the former messiah is now a failed president. He is down there with Jimmy Carter.
When an individual who holds high office and of whom great expectations have been entertained turns out to be a failure, the temptation for commentators is to cite Greek or Shakespearean tragedy as a metaphor for the current debacle. In Obama’s case there is no justification for dramatising his decline in such terms. This is not a great man laid low by the fates, simply a mediocre politician hyped by a massive machine who was never fit for the job to which he aspired.
The most striking feature of Obama’s failure is its predictability. A Chicago politician turned into a myth by an election machine glutted with cash and, appropriately, supported by Hollywood, the ultimate dream factory, was always going to look good up until his inauguration. Thereafter, when the job of President of the United States had to be done, it was downhill all the way. Diehard Obama worshippers – and they constitute a rapidly dwindling cult – point to “achievements” such as taking America out of the Iraq war. If Democrats want the present state of Iraq to be chalked up as a credit to Obama they can only make the Tea Party very happy.
The great totem, for those who put ideology before reality, is Obamacare. For British liberal commentators in particular, this attempt to graft onto America some aspects of the UK’s welfare system is regarded as an achievement to be applauded. Leaving aside the empirical argument that Britain’s dependency culture and big government provide a cautionary tale rather than a constructive template, the social engineering disaster that is Obamacare will indeed become the memorial to this presidency and it will not be an enviable one.
The crashed website for those registering for Obamacare might have been a parable of the whole fiscally destructive charade. As early as 2008 the then presidential candidate Obama made this project the keystone of his whole hope-and-change hype: “In an Obama administration, we’ll lower premiums by up to $2,500 for a typical family per year.” In reality, Obamacare will increase health spending for a typical family by $7,450 between 2014 and 2022, on the basis of calculations by experts working for Medicare’s actuary, according to a report in Forbes magazine, who estimated $621bn extra would need to be spent.
Obamacare is a ticking fiscal time bomb. But this ruinous scheme has another feature beyond unaffordable costs that is still more ominous. It is part of the one transformation that Barack Obama has managed to inflict on America: the conversion of the nation that pioneered capitalism into a socialist, dependent society with a growing instinct to nestle on the teat of Big Government.
Of course, the United States remains a giant capitalist economy, still breeding entrepreneurs in large numbers, still furnishing its citizens with the dream of journeying from rags to riches by means of personal endeavour and still cherishing ideals of self-reliance. But among the plenteous wheat of self-sufficiency and capitalist aspiration Obama has sown the cockle of dependency and socialism. There is now in America a significant portion of the electorate imbued with the feckless sense of entitlement that has so badly debilitated British and European society.
That is not solely attributable to Obama. The roots of this malaise go back to the presidency of Bill Clinton when crazed notions of positive discrimination in favour of minorities and politically correct dogma imposed a duty on lenders to hand out mortgages to borrowers who had no prospect of repaying them, eventually provoking the sub-prime crisis. But the double-term presidency of Obama has allowed anti-capitalist “progressive” forces to gain considerable traction across society.
Obama’s most widely acknowledged failure has been in foreign policy. He has contrived to reduce the global influence of the most powerful nation on earth to negligible status. Iran has run rings round him: the ayatollahs saw Barack coming. So far from retreating from the infatuated delusion of the Bush administration that America had a remit to impose its own order on the world, overthrowing Middle Eastern tyrants who were the only people capable of confining the jihadist genie within the bottle, Obama supported further regime change and was only frustrated from pursuing a course that might have overthrown the Assad government in Syria and left an open goal for Isis by the resistance of Congress.
Obama’s relationship with Congress is not just bad, it is simply not the conduct of an American president who understands and respects the Constitution. In his second term, when facing opposition from Congress his instinct has been to rule by presidential decree: in some areas his governance has been more autocratic than that of George III. While constantly proclaiming an irenic, across-the-aisle desire to work with his political opponents in the national interest, his actions have been unvaryingly partisan.
This man who seven years ago was thought by the gullible to embody extravagant hopes for the future has achieved nothing and will leave no monument, apart from Obamacare, an initiative that will become ever more discredited as the years pass – unless, of course, the Republicans muster the courage to repeal it, which does not seem likely, due to the GOP’s lack of political will..
When Barack Obama leaves office, in the absence of achievements to hymn it is predictable that commentators will busy themselves instead with crafting sombre reflections on unfulfilled greatness. That will be extremely ill-judged. There never was the faintest whiff of greatness about Barack Obama. All that has happened is that America, the nation that pioneered advertising, sold itself a mediocre commodity via a glitzy but utterly false sales campaign and the product is now provoking consumer dissatisfaction.