AMAC Exclusive – By David P. Deavel
Barack Obama has been sucking up the headlines again for what he’s been saying and doing. The significance of his words and deeds is not actually limited to the particular issues. It’s that they indicate what many have dimly suspected and many others have assumed: he is still running the show. The Biden Administration was his third term—3.5, if you consider how he was the shadowy figure behind so much of the government resistance to President Trump.
It’s good that this truth is being made known. Voters will have to look at Joe Biden—or any Democratic nominee at this point—and ask if they are getting more of the “fundamental transformation” that Barack Obama promised would fill out his promises of “hope and change.” Yesterday, we marked fifteen years since the first black president’s historic victory, yet we know that though America was changed, increased hope played little part in this transformation. We can’t give Obama another term.
Think I’m exaggerating? Left-wing journalists, noting that Donald Trump has said this, call it “a stupid idea.” Yet NBC News reported earlier this week that it was Barack Obama who had been one of the main actors in formulating the policy that went into the Biden executive order on Artificial Intelligence (AI). This executive order has worried many onlookers because its language hints at the possibility of government clampdowns on speech and the enforcement of critical race theory. Assistant Commerce Secretary for Communications and Information Alan Davidson earlier this year said that the goal of AI regulation would include stopping “misinformation, disinformation, or other misleading content.” And in the NBC News report we read that part of Obama’s “approach was to urge industry leaders to consider risks beyond national security, including information integrity, bias and discrimination.”
At the end of the week, a snippet of an interview with the Pod Save America podcast was released (the full interview will come out on Tuesday) in which Obama sonorously intoned how though Hamas’s actions were “horrific,” nonetheless “the occupation and what’s happening to Palestinians” are “unbearable.” Urging Americans to see the “complexity” in the situation, he spoke about how all, including himself, are “complicit” in this and spoke about the difficult way forward.
It was classic Obama. Still speaking in the NPR voice that made his New Left radicalism sound calming and moderate, he is always capable of sounding profound and intellectual while not actually revealing what he’s doing. But let’s give him credit with that bit about being “complicit.” If he was trying to dissolve his own responsibility for the horrific actions of the last month by making it about “we all,” he was at least willing to take a little on himself. Boy, does he bear responsibility.
It was the terrible Iran deal done while he was in office—$1.4 billion handed over—in the hopes of balancing the Middle East that is now coming back to haunt him. It was the kid gloves he used with the Palestinians, releasing $221 million at the end of his presidency to the Palestinian Authority even though there was no evidence they had reformed the corruption, incitement of violence, and payment of terrorists that had caused a group in Congress to hold up the money. It was his own penchant for using bombs all over the Middle East. It makes one want to respond to him, using his own particular phraseology, “You built this!”
The reality is that all of the blunders made in his own presidency have been repeated over the last three years of this administration. Karl Marx famously corrected the philosopher Hegel’s assertion that all historical personages and events happen twice: they occur, Marx said, “first as tragedy, then as farce.” This third term of Obama known as the Biden Administration is certainly farcical, but has retained and deepened the tragic elements in ways too many to count.
That it is Obama’s term is not to be doubted. An August interview in Tablet with historian David Garrow, who wrote an extensive biography of Obama’s early years titled Rising Star, made a lot of news for its revelation that the future president had written to one girlfriend about his homosexual fantasies. Yet there was much more interesting and relevant in the book—and the interview—to those worried about this country’s present. In his preface to the interview Tablet literary editor David Samuels notes that Garrow’s book had dissected a number of myths, none more so than that “Obama was no longer concerned with power or involved with power.”
No, Obama’s actions after leaving office had been clear for those with eyes to see. The Obamas did not leave Washington. “Instead, they bought a large brick mansion in the center of Washington’s Kalorama neighborhood—violating a norm governing the transfer of presidential power which has been breached only once in post-Civil War American history, by Woodrow Wilson, who couldn’t physically be moved after suffering a series of debilitating strokes.” And though this was ostensibly because their daughter Sasha had not graduated, her graduation brought no change in their home address. As Samuels puts it, by this point nobody could think that their decision had been “personal.” “To an extent that has never been meaningfully reported on,” he continues, “the Obamas served as both the symbolic and practical heads of the Democratic Party shadow government that ‘resisted’ Trump—another phenomenon that defied prior norms.”
Everyone, Samuels notes, understood that political operatives came in and out of the Obama house throughout both Trump’s and Biden’s terms. That Joe Biden has not seemed capable of rational thought for his entire presidency has led many to ask who exactly does make decisions at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Upon a visit to the White House in 2022, Obama was swarmed at the event while a lonely and confused Joe Biden seemed to be wandering around looking for someone to talk to. This made Obama’s “joke,” in which he addressed Biden from the podium as “Vice President” all the more telling. Samuels quotes Obama himself, who once told Stephen Colbert, “I used to say if I can make an arrangement where I had a stand-in or front man or front woman, and they had an earpiece in, and I was just in my basement in my sweats looking through the stuff, and I could sort of deliver the lines while someone was doing all the talking and ceremony, I’d be fine with that because I found the work fascinating.”
What is fascinating in the interview that follows is that Garrow, who is completely honest about the self-absorption and weakness of Obama, makes no attempt to deny this reality of what Samuels calls “a new milieu…consisting of party operatives, the people in the FBI and the CIA who are carrying out White House policy, and the press.” Samuels’ description of this situation in which Obama people seem to be making policy is, he says, “Spooky, because it is happening outside the constitutional framework of the U.S. government, and yet somehow it’s been placed off the list of permitted subjects to report on.” In response, Garrow notes that the Steele document supposedly giving intelligence about Donald Trump’s Russian connections “was just complete crap. It was bad corporate intelligence, even. It was nonsensical.” A perfect way of saying that Samuels has it exactly right.
What we’re dealing with is indeed spooky. For many, especially those influenced by the Claremont Institute, our country has long been acting outside the constitutional framework insofar as the modern administrative state is an unelected and unaccountable fourth branch of government. That power does not actually seem to dwell where constitutional authority puts it is a serious problem, for unseen power cannot be easily held to account or checked. That this unseen power has been revealed to have been controlling intelligence agencies, law enforcement, and who knows what other aspects of our government is unnerving. It was under Barack Obama’s official presidency that spying on American citizens became normalized. It was under his shadow presidency that Big Tech’s era of censorship reached its peak.
That this shadowy operation seems to be coming out of the shadows may well be providential. Our system was meant to put power in the American people. It is only by figuring out how things have been working that this American people can actually be asked what they want. Is it yet more tragic farce emanating from the policy decisions of a man who does not even hold office? If so, Americans will have to turn out Joe Biden, who himself sometimes confusedly says Barack Obama is the President. And anyone who beats him will have to make it the first priority to make sure that the chief of our executive branch actually is where the buck stops. Three full terms of Barack Obama (and more) is enough.
David P. Deavel teaches at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, and is a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative. Follow him on X @davidpdeavel.