In 2009, a man stood on stage in the centre of Prague, and discussed what he believed to be fundamental in the security of nations and world peace. People saw this man as a bastion of peace, equality, and hope as he pledged to pave the way toward a world free of nuclear arms. That man was Barack Obama. Seven years have passed since he made the very speech that won him the Nobel Peace Prize, and in that time, the Obama administration has built more nuclear weapons, more nuclear warheads, and more nuclear delivery systems. When Obama concludes his presidency, he’ll have been the highest nuclear weapons spender the US has ever seen, with his nuclear plan set to cost over $1 trillion dollars.
Thomas Sowell perhaps summed it up best when he described Obama as “A man who has actually accomplished nothing other than advancing his career through rhetoric.” Amidst the broken promises and ineffective policy, the Obama administration has evidently left America (and the world) in worse shape than they found it.
The Economic Failures
The Obama administration achieved very little, if anything, in Sowell’s eyes. However if there’s one milestone that the administration has achieved during its tenure, it’s insurmountable debt. When Obama closes the door to the Oval office for the final time, he’ll be leaving America with the highest National Debt in US history. If people were to approach this damning revelation generously, they may argue that the debt wasn’t the fault of Obama, but rather the result of the 2008 financial crash. This to a point is true, but what they may be forgetting is that one of the first things Obama did upon taking office was to pass a Stimulus Bill that not only granted him vast cash injections to the sum of $790 billion which he could spend on invigorating the economy, but also meant that he didn’t need to pass the budget through congress for the vast majority of his presidency.
Despite these newfound freedoms granting carte blanche to the American coin purse, Obama still continued to raise the debt ceiling to their highest ever levels so that he could borrow more money. This cycle of borrowing and spending has reached unsustainable levels and has had a huge impact on the stability of the economy, resulting in the total surplus deficit to reach levels not seen since F. D. Roosevelt was president in the 1940s.
Not only has the spending framework of the stimulus plan proven to be unsustainable, but there’s also the issue of what the stimulus is being spent on. The idea was to use the money for infrastructure, job-creation, and to invest in green energies and research. Despite what seemed to be a full proof spending allocation plan criticisms are continuously voiced. Whilst the US has enjoyed a growth in employment, the issue is that a disproportionate number of the jobs that are being created are of a very low-income. Further more some critics dispute Obama’s claims of successful job creations, arguing that he’s massaged the figures by adding already existing zero hours contract jobs into the economic data. Another significant issue with the unemployment rate is that it only takes into account the people who are actively looking for employment. Those citizens that choose to remain on the welfare provided by the state are disregarded from the data. When these individuals are taken into account in the labour force participation rate, it reveals that the Obama administration has actually seen a decline in employment over his presidential term.
The significant spending on welfare and health programmes exacerbated these poor results, as the stimulus has been used as a means of propping up these much criticised and largely unsuccessful initiatives, such as the Obamacare/Medicare bill. These failing programmes have been one of the key contributors of the US deficit, with costs running into the hundreds of billions.
The Domestic Failures
Under Obama many promises have been made and, in a vast majority of those cases, they’ve failed to deliver. Aside from the nuclear weapons and employment issues, there was also the promise of a fairer America where the divide between the rich and the poor was to be cut so that every family could live and prosper.
One of the largest and most significant failures in his administration’s quest for equality is the Affordable Healthcare Act. The Obamacare programme that was subsequently created had the aim of improving access, affordability, and quality care for all Americans. Whilst he may have had good intentions, reality didn’t co-operate and so the programme became a staggeringly expensive disaster. Quite what the actual cost of this failed initiative was to the American taxpayer is still something of a dispute. However, the Health and Human Services secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell admitted that the cost of the website alone (which still doesn’t work properly) has set them back over $800 million (P.13). The Obamacare failures continued as its policies were enacted. At first, it tied the hands of insurance companies into providing overly expensive policies, whilst being so rigid as to prevent people from buying as much coverage as they wanted or could afford. Instead the programme acted as an assault on people’s freedoms as the government dictated to them what coverage they could get. The result was less affordable healthcare due to rising premiums. This conundrum led to an extraordinary scenario where some chose to take the finance saving incentive of simply paying the sanction for being uninsured. Ultimately Obamacare did the opposite of what it set out to do, making healthcare less assessable for the American poor.
Budding entrepreneurs and small to medium business owners have felt the crushing blow of an Obama presidency too, with numerous tax hikes making it more costly and difficult to create jobs and improve productivity. In larger businesses it can also incentivise the use of overseas tax-exempt securities, and outsourcing of labour.
In 2009 Obama pledged that the American people will never again be made to foot the bill for their mistakes, and so he created the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Law. The idea was to create a regulating body that prevented banks from owning or investing in private equity or hedge funds for their own financial gain. It also put caps on how much money they could borrow, and regulated their lending standards. The key failing of the Dodd-Frank Law however was that it was far too long and far too complicated. Sitting at a staggering 840 pages in length, it was unintelligible, difficult to interpret and featured stifling regulation. This has stagnated the works of banks, and its lack of legal robustness has increased interest rates and bank fees. Once again (like Obamacare), it is the poorer and middle-classes that have felt the burn with this increase.
Aside from domestic policy hurting the people Obama promised to help the most, the harrowing effects of an Obama presidency can be seen outside the world of stats, revenue sheets, and the legislature. When the world saw the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama, America’s first black president, it was deemed inconceivable that Black Lives Matter would be rioting in the streets seven years later. He was a paragon of the working man, saviour of the poor. However, as time went on and poverty increased, the fabric of America started to fray. The nation became more dependent on the state to survive and an increasing number of people (particularly from the black community) found themselves on food stamp programmes.
The Foreign Policy Failures
For a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Obama has managed to amass a body count into the hundreds of thousands spanning the Iraq war, the war he engaged in Libya, and most recently the ongoing conflict in Syria. All three instances have been plagued with utter disasters and even more broken promises. In Iraq, the threat of Al-Qaeda is still prevalent, despite a long, costly war that has claimed the lives of both American servicemen and Iraqi civilians. Whilst the Iraq war was a problem Obama inherited from Bush, his policies on Libya and Syria are his own legacy to be handed down to his successor in the New Year.
Obama’s argument for the attacks on Libya comes from the fact that the incumbent leader Muammar al-Qaddafi was a criminal dictator. He claimed that the leader was an enemy to democracy that was striking terror into the hearts of his citizens and driving the country into the ground. The main issue with this is that prior to the US invasion, Libya had one of the highest standards of living in the African continent, going so far as to be referred to internationally as the ‘paradise of Africa.’ Despite much opposition from congress, Obama (with support from rebel forces) saw to it that Qaddafi was summarily killed in one of the most unconstitutional moves during his presidency. It’s a decision that to this day has put a huge political rift between him and congress.
Much to the dismay of the Libyan people however, their difficulties had only just begun. As Obama’s forces departed, they left a heavily armed rebel extremist group with the ability to make an armed acquisition of power and facilitate the setting that led to the rise of ISIS.
Obama came forward with a dubious ‘rinse and repeat’ approach to this style of policy, and once again launched an attack on Syria with textbook execution. Once again he argued that the incumbent leader (Assad) was a threat to democracy and murdered his own people. He had to go. Obama once again armed extremist rebel militia, whilst launching air strikes in the city of Aleppo. Around the world people were stunned that the Obama administration had learned nothing from their previous intervention, and so Russia decided to step in to try and stabilise Syria and the middle east. This conflict of interest worsened ties between the already fragile alliance of Russia and the US, and has exposed diplomatic hostility that could have elevated to a devastating war between two superpowers.
It seems a challenge to pinpoint the real successes of an Obama presidency outside of his media appeal. His malleable use of words have carried him this far, but in 2017 America can breath a sign of relief and say that Obama is no longer the president of the United States.
(Image by Will White from Ridgefield, USA (Obama at American University) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)