Obama: “Sometimes I wonder whether I was 10 or 20 years too early.”
WASHINGTON — Riding in a motorcade in Lima, Peru, shortly after the 2016 election, President Barack Obama was struggling to understand Donald J. Trump’s victory.
“What if we were wrong?” he asked aides riding with him in the armored presidential limousine.
He had read a column asserting that liberals had forgotten how important identity was to people and had promoted an empty cosmopolitan globalism that made many feel left behind. “Maybe we pushed too far,” Mr. Obama said. “Maybe people just want to fall back into their tribe.”
His aides reassured him that he still would have won had he been able to run for another term and that the next generation had more in common with him than with Mr. Trump. Mr. Obama, the first black man elected president, did not seem convinced. “Sometimes I wonder whether I was 10 or 20 years too early,” he said.
Or maybe, just maybe, you were a lukewarm centrist that just didn't take enough ground while you held the office?
There is a basic principle in American politics, first outlined for the most recent iteration of the two-party system by Thomas Frank in 'The Wrecking Crew', that holds that post-Johnson Democrats tend to balance the budget when in office and post-Nixon Republicans tend to break it. Basically, the one saves money while being accused of overspending and then the other spends it all and goes heavily into debt while claiming to be fiscally responsible. In a macro version of Charlie Brown trusting Lucy not to pull the football away every time, Democrats consistently act overly conservative policy-wise and fiscally out of fear of incessant chastisement from across the aisle, but then as soon as Republicans get control of things they blow shit up, cut taxes, start wars, or do something else that burns through a trillion dollars or so, padding their pockets and those of their donors in the defense, fossil fuel, and other industries in the process.
All the things Obama could have done - free university education for all, medicare for all, transition from fossil fuels, basically the whole Bernie Sanders agenda, would have taken only a fraction of all the revenue lost on Bush's wars, Trump's tax cuts, and whateverthefuck else they have up their greasy sleeves. And as they reverse every single piece of Obama's substantive legacy, he is being ghosted from history.
So yeah, Obama blew it. He did not take what was his. He wasted what was likely the last chance in our generation for a progressive administration changing things for the better in any meaningful way with respect to our lives. The next non-Republican after Trump may help out our kids or grandkids, but the ship has sailed for us and anyone over twenty-five or so generally. And Obama honestly has no one to blame but himself. He and the people around him got so caught up in the symbolic moment in history of getting a black man elected president, that they went limp on aggressively following through on the entire progressive agenda, and acted like they were finished when they walked thru the door and saw themselves in the mirror. Lukewarm on the environment, lukewarm on education reform, lukewarm on infrastructure, etc., they quickly became a single issue administration with healthcare, which, as has been pointed out in an earlier post, has the worst possible incidental visuals politically with sick people for ads and is depressing just to think about so is never an 'energizing' issue for any constituency as opposed to, say, the hope engendered in talking about making higher education available to all. And then when the healthcare plan got compromised and corrupted into a long-term windfall for the insurance industry instead of a threat to its existence like it should have been, they nut-kicked every left leaning politico and assured they would always have to struggle for second place.
Obama didn't come along too early, he just came too fast when he got there.