AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
When Former President Barack Obama returned to the White House on Tuesday for the first time in more than five years, it was to a hero’s welcome. As the current president was unceremoniously shoved aside and ignored by crowds of Democrats lining up to shake hands with the 44th President, it became clear that Obama is still the most beloved figure in the Democratic Party – much to the chagrin of a Biden administration that has always felt belittled and disrespected by him. But going on ten years since his reelection in 2012, is all the praise an adoration really warranted? Many of the crises facing the country today are a direct result of Obama-era policies, and it was largely the targeted reversal of those policies that led to the boom times of the pre-pandemic Trump years.
The event in the East Room of the White House this week was structured around a celebration of the 12th anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature legislative victory. As Democrats’ outlook for the midterm elections looks increasingly bleak and Biden continues to sink in the polls, Obama’s appearance was clearly intended to be a break from the doom-and-gloom headlines to remember better times that stand in stark contrast to Biden’s mounting legislative defeats and a Democratic Party that is deeply divided.
But even that nostalgic vision of 12 years ago seems to be divorced from reality – and not all that dissimilar from the situation Democrats find themselves in today. After all, it was the passage of the ACA that led to what Obama himself termed a “shellacking” in the 2010 midterms. Now, a similar wipeout appears likely for Congressional Democrats appears likely this November due to even more radical policies forwarded by the Biden administration.
Moreover, despite Democrats’ continued insistence that the ACA was and is good policy, the actual results of the law on Americans’ healthcare say otherwise. Even the left-leaning Brookings published a study in 2014 that found the ACA caused health insurance premiums to increase nearly 25% beyond what they would have otherwise. Another study from the S&P Global Institute found that, between 2013 and 2015, individual medical costs increased an estimated 69% thanks to the law. More recently, a report published by the Heritage Foundation found that Obamacare more than doubled health insurance costs for workers and families between 2013 and 2019, and that healthcare costs dropped for individuals and families in states that provided alternatives to Obamacare.
Without the ACA, Obama’s legacy immediately starts to look noticeably thin. Most other notable Obama-era policies were enacted via executive order, remain extremely controversial, and were immediately reversed when Trump entered office. More than that, Trump was elected in large part on the specific promise of reversing those policies.
For example, after Congress rejected legislation giving temporary legal status to millions of illegal immigrants in 2014, Obama went ahead and did it anyway via Executive Order. That would be the first of a number of sweeping executive actions on immigration (many of which were challenged and struck down in court) that precipitated a predictable border crisis – and paved the way for Trump to ascend to the presidency by promising to “build the wall” and stop the invasion of the southern border. Now, as Joe Biden has returned to the same open borders and mass amnesty policies seen during his years as Vice President, the country is, once again, facing a tidal wave of illegal immigration.
Obama’s foreign policy failures are another area in which the 44th President doesn’t have much, if anything, to be proud of. It was the disastrous 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal that (in addition to sending pallets of cash that were used to fund terrorism all over the world) empowered Iran to begin ramping up its provocations in the Middle East, alienating key American allies, namely Saudi Arabia and Israel.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Obama administration also botched its handling of the Arab Spring, encouraging insurrections with no coherent plan to handle the inevitable power vacuum that followed the uprisings. As a result, violent extremists were able to exploit the chaos and plunge the Middle East into a state of even greater unrest from which it has yet to escape. The clearest example of this failure was of course Obama’s disastrous foray into Libya, a misadventure that cost the life of four Americans as well as hundreds of thousands of civilians (and further sullied the reputation of Hillary Clinton ahead of the 2016 election). Though Obama oversaw the killing of Osama Bin Laden, he also allowed for the formation of ISIS, who were ultimately responsible for dozens of terror attacks around the world.
Obama’s “reset” on Russia was a total flop, and it was his posturing on bringing Ukraine into NATO that first ratcheted up tensions in the country, right before Putin annexed Crimea in spite of Western sanctions (sound familiar?). It was under Obama’s watch that China began to tighten its grip on the global economy and extend its reach into Africa and Europe, North Korea grew more aggressive in its nuclear endeavors, mired the U.S. deeper in Afghanistan, and empowered the Communist regime in Cuba. All of these moves weakened U.S. global power, a decline that has continued under Joe Biden after a brief resurgence of American prestige under President Trump.
On other domestic issues, Obama’s legacy fares little better. Obama began the Democrats’ sellout to the environmental lobby and escalated the war on American energy. He stoked racial tensions by repeating false narratives following the 2015 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, lied about the extent of NSA domestic surveillance programs, and bailed out Wall Street rather than Main Street, putting the interests of big banks ahead of working class Americans (something which it seems big business continues to thank Democrats for via their new woke agenda). To any objective observer, most of the problems facing the country today clearly have their roots in the Obama years and his failings as President.
Democrats also lament the fact that “everything is politicized” now and blame Donald Trump for “polarization,” as if the 45th President invented the phenomenon in 2016. In fact, it was Obama who began this trend and dramatically expanded the use of the federal bureaucracy to target his enemies. Obama used the IRS to harass his political opponents, weaponized the Department of Justice against conservative individuals and businesses, suppressed free speech on college campuses through the Department of Education, and of course used the FBI to spy on the Trump campaign. It was Obama who refused to work with Republicans after Democrats lost control of Congress, and Obama who popularized the view of conservatives as not just political foes, but mortal enemies to be insulted, disparaged and attacked at every opportunity.
Policies and personal shortcomings aside, it’s also somewhat puzzling why Obama is still so renowned among Democrats given that they fared so poorly during his tenure. True, Obama did retain the White House in 2012, but Democrats lost the first of four straight House races in 2010 and lost the Senate in 2014. Even more damningly for Obama’s legacy, Republicans made major gains at the state and local level, picking up key governorships and other statewide offices. Data from Ballotpedia shows that more Democrats lost state legislature seats under Obama than under any other President in modern history.
Nonetheless, Democrats still revere Barack Obama, so much so that the mere association with his brand was enough to help boost a clearly ailing Joe Biden to the presidency in 2020. But just like Obama’s policies led Democrats to defeat time and again, Biden’s feeble attempt to run the Obama playbook and double down on his ill-advised policies, from the Iran Deal to the Paris Climate Agreement, now has his party facing down another historic thumping at the ballot box.
Obama’s legacy may thus not be totally sealed just yet. If history continues to repeat itself, his failures may help elect a Republican president in 2016 and 2024 – and if recent hints of Trump are any indication, it might just be the same man responsible for coming in to clean up the mess this time around.
Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @Shane_Harris_.