As the end of Barack Obama’s administration approaches, we ought to discuss the overall impact that it has had on the United States. While no president is perfect, I believe the overall legacy is a negative one; allow me to defend this position with a discussion of the philosophy of the Obama administration.
When discussing Obama, I am often reminded of the 1972 election when Richard Nixon won in a landslide against George McGovern. At the time, McGovern was the candidate of the far left, which had come to prominence in the wake of the Vietnam War. Nixon positioned himself as the experienced, establishment candidate against a pacifist who would have surrendered America to the Soviet Union. To many voters, Nixon was the man who would prevent the hippies from taking political control. Though we later learned that Nixon had serious ethical and political issues of his own, voters at the time awarded Nixon every state except for Massachusetts. The resulting landslide meant that the radical left was exiled from American politics for two full generations.
The only popular Democratic presidency after the ’72 election was the Clinton administration. Carter, the only other Democrat to be president during this era, was largely seen as weak and ineffectual, as well as economically destructive. The headlines of Carter’s reign spoke of “the misery index”. Economists were baffled when high unemployment appeared at the same time as high inflation, which was considered impossible under the standard Keynesian economic model. Despite the personal scandals, Clinton’s approach was animated by a moderate, “third way” philosophy that had earned respect from many of his political opponents, particularly in the economic realm with the passage of welfare reform. The ideological left made a return to mainstream American politics with the election of Obama in 2008, who was the first “New Left” American president.
Conservatives took pains to portray Obama as a Marxist in the 2008 presidential campaign, but the truth is that he only appropriates the ideology and rhetoric of class warfare when it suits him in his true agenda, which is more aptly described as egalitarian and not Marxist. Egalitarianism is the view that equality is the most important standard by which we ought to evaluate justice and morality. For egalitarians, equality is a higher value than standard of living or individual achievement. As a self-styled “community organizer” Barack Obama is a philosophical poster boy for Harvard philosopher John Rawls’ theory of “justice as fairness”. Let’s examine some of the specific instances where Obama’s policies have supported his egalitarian philosophy.
To begin, Obama has ratcheted up the traditional Democratic rhetoric against Wall Street and the banks. Along with Senators Sanders and Warren, Obama has called for higher taxes on the wealthy so that everyone is paying their “fair share” though there is little explanation for what is truly “fair” in this context. The president has done his part to convince Americans that the financial sector is parasitical, taking care to ignore the crucial role that the financial sector plays in allocating capital throughout the economy where it is most profitable and therefore most valued. When asked by the New York Times whether he would raise taxes on “millionaires and billionaires” even if it would result in less overall revenue, Obama responded that he would do so, stating that its not a matter of revenue, but “fairness”. Obama truly seems to believe that if a person possesses considerable wealth, irrespective of how they achieved it, then the government is justified in taking the “excess” and redistributing it to those “in need”. If one could custom the presidential seal for each person who holds the office, Obama’s would likely read “you didn’t build that”.
Obama’s administration is also responsible for raising government spending on “clean energy” and seeks to further restrict America’s consumption of electricity and fossil fuels. The truth is that energy is the lifeblood of an industrial, capitalist society and without it, America cannot effectively produce the goods and services that make innovations in every other field possible. At this stage, so-called clean energy is not only “clean”, but overly expensive and ineffective in generating what our economy needs to grow and expand. Any cost-conscious entrepreneur would recognize the value of efficient, renewable energy and invest in it if they thought that there was a chance for profits. Some, like Elon Musk, do this now (albeit with government subsidies). On the other hand, the Obama administration is engaged in a sort of wishful thinking: even if clean energy can’t compete with fossil fuels in terms of efficiency or yield, we still ought to invest in it at the expense of established, proven energy sources because it is “the right thing”.
The question to ask is: right for whom? Eschewing cheap, abundant energy for clean, expensive and rationed energy is not “right” for humans that seek to travel the world, mass produce medicines, generate high crop yields, and expand the reach of telecommunications. The administration’s attitude seems to be that human welfare needs to take a back seat when compared with the environment, the climate, and the mating habits of any and all non-human species on the planet which have an intrinsic value simply because they exist and therefore belong on an equal footing with humans. In other words, energy is great and all, but if it comes down to humans or polar bears, we will just have to go without and sacrifice for the sake of the polar bears. Ayn Rand put it best when she described the American left as seeking “an anti-Industrial Revolution”. To this I would add that the Obamas of the world seek an egalitarian energy policy where the welfare of humans is considered on a par with the welfare of lakes, ferrets, and redwoods.
On the international scene, the Obama administration has consistently acted to diminish America’s stature by denying American exceptionalism. The president applies his egalitarianism consistently to nations of the world as well as individual humans only to conclude that each and every country should be treated the same as every other, irrespective of its actual values and customs. Rather than serve as an eloquent spokesman for the peculiar and unique American tradition of individual rights, separation of powers, free elections, and limited government, Obama has told young people in Argentina that “there is no essential difference between socialism and capitalism” and that they should choose “whatever works”. Rather than stick up for American interests, Obama is willing to subvert American interests to those of the United Nations, an egalitarian body that gives equal representation to all nations, whether they are authoritarian or free.
Mr. Obama has also enthusiastically breathed new life into the tyrannical Cuban regime by pushing the end of the US embargo. This act does a remarkable disservice to Cubans that fled the country and further damages the cause of Cubans that remain on their home island, trying to resist the communist dictatorship. For generations, Cuban refugees have orally transmitted the horrors of communism to their children and grandchildren; they explain that it was the United States that gave them hope and allowed them to prosper after painfully leaving their homeland. The message to young Americans is clear: if Mr. Obama thinks that the Castro family is kosher, perhaps Fidel and Raul are not all that bad after all.
Obama also lacks the moral courage to openly identify radical Islam as a threat to the United States. Like his predecessor, George W Bush, Obama refuses to recognize that what motivates ISIS is not anti-imperialism gone amok but ideas, specifically religious ideas. It is not true that all religions are equal in the effects of their dogma; to see this, note that we are not discussing the threat posed by radical Jainism. Many on the left will argue that Christianity is just as bad as Islam when it comes to fundamentalism, but this is an ahistorical claim. The fact is that Christianity and Judaism have been severely weakened politically in the West after the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution relegated them to superstition among the intellectual and business class. The Middle East, on the other hand, is rife with countries stuck in the Middle Ages culturally.
Obama saw the so-called “Arab Spring” through the rose-colored glasses of his egalitarianism and mistook the political machinations of committed Islamists as the rumblings of a native people rising up against their government for an equal voice in a democratic system. The two biggest exponents of Islamism are Saudi Arabia and Iran, a nation that has been in a de facto state of war against the United States since they took hostages from our embassy in 1979. Instead, the president has opted to appease Iranian posturing by kicking the can down the road with regards to their nuclear weapons program.
What about health care, which has been the flagship of Obama’s political legacy? President Obama led the charge to institute his health care scheme as a means of correcting supposed market deficiencies in allocating health care. From the beginning, the left has sought to use health care as a means of undermining confidence in the market by driving up costs and lowering quality. In reality, the health care “market” was heavily regulated and distorted by government intervention prior to the Affordable Care Act. It started with Social Security, a program borrowed from Bismarck’s Germany to placate the middle class at the behest of socialist agitators. It continued with more guarantees in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. Occupational licensing laws were put forth to regulate “legitimate” medical care and outlaw “illegitimate” medical care, making it difficult and expensive for new doctors to enter the market. Finally, it was under Ronald Reagan that federal law required all visitors to emergency rooms to be subsidized by the taxpayers if they could not pay their own bills. The “market deficiencies” that Obama sought to “fix” with his health care bill were a result of government action, not the free market.
Obama’s solution for health care was naturally derived by applying his egalitarianism to health care coverage. The Affordable Care Act put into effect an individual mandate that requires all citizens have health care coverage irrespective of their health and ability to pay. Furthermore, Obamacare decrees that the services rendered by all plans need to be identical, even if particular aspects of the plan are nonsensical or uneconomical. For instance, thanks to Obama, a young man in his 30’s can now have his pregnancy covered by his insurance plan, and anyone diagnosed with a preexisting condition will be covered even though there is a near certain chance that the health care firm will need to pay out heavily for treatment. If we compare auto insurance to health care insurance, the mandate states that one can demand an insurer cover them after they have totaled their vehicle. Rather than treat health care as a service provided by the market, with a variety of products and pricing commensurate with consumer needs, Obama has made it clear that it would be unfair that some go without health care coverage, and that this is prima facie unacceptable.
Finally, there is the deterioration of race relations and the proliferation of identity politics that have occurred under the Obama administration. Despite the fact that Americans voted in a black president, there is a widespread belief that the majority of white Americans are racists. Opponents of the Obama administration that have legitimate criticism are lumped together with white nationalists as racist by the mainstream media and various academics. It is often taken as axiomatic by educated Americans that Caucasians benefit from “white privilege” and there is need to address “institutional racism”. The police have been slandered by Black Lives Matter activists, who claim that there is a preference for jailing black Americans over all others. If someone points out that the incarceration rate of blacks is commensurate with the rate at which they actually commit crimes, they are also conveniently labeled as racists and apologists for oppression.
While Obama has not done much to stoke these flames, he has not done a thing to refute them, even though he can easily do so. Instead, he opts to take the approach that because all people are equal, it must be the case that all cultures are equal as well, and that it would be unfitting for anyone to point out differences, let alone claim that one is better than the other with regard to a given activity or problem.
Obama is the first president to take egalitarianism seriously. Apart from the 2016 election, the Democrats lost seats in Congress in 2010, 2012 and 2014 despite Obama getting two terms as president. Obama has stepped into the fray consistently with the message that even when he is personally not on the ballot, his policies are. Americans heard that message and voted accordingly to reject Obama and his egalitarianism. Though many Americans are not philosophical in their orientation, they are discerning enough to note that the effects of egalitarianism are destructive and harmful when they are implemented.