The Obama presidency: Hope turns to disappointment

John Wight
John Wight has written for a variety of newspapers and websites, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal.
The Obama presidency: Hope turns to disappointment
History will judge the Obama presidency to be one that consisted of empty symbolic gestures and vacuous rhetoric, and failed to deliver anything meaningful over its two terms.

This hollow symbolism was firmly in evidence during the first black president’s appearance in Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march into the town, led by Martin Luther King. Obama gave a speech at the iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge, where the first attempt to march into Selma in 1965 was met with police brutality and violence that shocked the entire world.

Where previously an Obama speech left us inspired and lifted the spirits, now it falls flat, filled with mawkish sentimentalism and clichés that leave us squirming with the knowledge that as a leader the man is an empty coat. In the context of the Selma commemoration, this is further confirmed by a shocking Federal Department of Justice report into policing in Ferguson, Missouri – the town where unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed in 2014 by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, who was later exonerated by a grand jury.

The report reveals the extent of racism not only within the police department of Ferguson but also within its court system. That such institutionalized racism remains a fact of life in the US five decades on from the struggle for black civil rights that President Obama is so keen to embrace in speech after speech is an unalloyed indictment of a country that purports to lecture the world on human rights.

Further, when someone like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is able to breeze into the US Congress without going through the White House beforehand, and there give a speech that could only be considered a studied insult to the President – picking apart Obama’s attempt to reach a deal with Iran over its nuclear program in advance of talks in Geneva – you know you have a president who might be in office but is certainly not in power.

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) with his family (obscured) is cheered by supporters after winning the Democratic Iowa caucuses in Des Moines, Iowa, January 3, 2008 (Reuters / Keith Bedford)

Make no mistake, the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first black president was hugely significant in itself. But that significance has been diminished by his inability and refusal to take on the forces of reaction in Washington – the Republican right, the vested interests, and Wall Street – even though he had the mandate and support within the country to do so.

Millions of Americans – especially those who been alienated and locked out of the nation’s political process on the margins of society – placed their hopes in Obama when he was first elected in 2008. They listened to speech after speech in which words such as ‘hope’ and ‘change’ were prominent, and they allowed themselves to believe in him and the pledges and promises of a new and a just America.

Seven years later and the only thing that’s changed has been the wallpaper in the Oval Office. The reforms he’s delivered domestically – on healthcare, the economy, and social justice – have been weak. Take his much vaunted healthcare reform. Known pejoratively as ‘Obamacare’, it remains a prisoner of the healthcare insurance industry and does not offer the kind of healthcare to all US citizens regardless of income that is compatible with a civilized society. On the economy, Obama caved in to Wall Street instead in response to its role in causing the worst economic crisis in the US, and by extension throughout the world, since the 1930s.

Under Obama a plutocracy on Wall Street has become ever more entrenched, a ravenous monster served by the federal government rather than constraining it, as Franklin D Roosevelt did in the 1930s when he entered the White House under similar conditions of economic depression.

Protestors block a police vehicle from entering the City of Ferguson Police Department and Municipal Court parking lot in Ferguson Missouri, March 11, 2015 (Reuters / Kate Munsch)

The plight of black people, particularly young black men, in the US has never been worse. Racism within policing and law enforcement continues to be reinforced by social indicators that reveal obscene inequality, poverty, and alienation in the land of the free.

When it comes to foreign policy under Obama, we are still talking about an empire whose economic, geopolitical, and military might has been central to the gross injustice, unending conflict, instability, and human despair that is crying out for redress. When US drones are not killing children and innocent civilians in the US ‘war on terror’, Obama is playing a central part in the rise and spread of terrorism across the Middle East and the rise in tensions with Russia over attempts by the West to expand NATO up to Russia’s border.

Now, as the last year of his presidency limps towards its end, Barack Obama’s legacy will be forever prefixed by the word ‘disappointment’. The most grievous aspect is the way it has breathed life into a resurgent Republican Party and its supporters, while demobilizing and demoralizing progressive forces in the country.

Perhaps more than any other, this will go down as his abiding legacy of disappointment and failure.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.