Barack Obama: An Autopsy

After eight years of Ronnie, the mood of the American masses is to expand the goodies of the welfare-warfare state (though not to increase taxes to pay for these goodies), to swagger abroad and be very tough with nations that can’t fight back, and to crack down on the liberties of groups they don’t like or whose values or culture they disagree with.

As he rides off into retirement, glowing with the love of the American public, leaving his odious legacy behind, one wonders what this hallowed dimwit might possibly do in retirement that could be at all worthy of the rest of his political career. What very last triumph are we supposed to “win for the Gipper”?

– Murray Rothbard, “Ronald Reagan: An Autopsy“, March 1989

A full month has passed since the 44th President of the United Stated of America, Barack Hussein Obama II, has stepped down from the highest office in the land. The fawning media has dutifully reported on the details of his family vacation at his billionaire buddy Richard Branson’s private Caribbean island, Necker Island. While there seems to be a big market for pictures of Barack Obama learning to kite surf, as well as gossip on Trump and Russian prostitutes, how many journalists have taken this opportunity to step back and critically examine the Obama years?

In defense of the media, their customers the American public by and large feel a great nostalgia and affection for the outgoing president: Barack Obama left the White House with a 59% approval rating. Contrast this to the rocky start for the Trump administration. While he has been maniacally focused on wrestling with his nemeses in the media and the Deep State, the public has not been amused. President Trump comes in with an approval rating of 44% at the outset of his mandate, a cause for concern given that this is when presidents should be enjoying a “honeymoon” of popularity in the wake of their election.

By contrast, Obama rode into the White House on a wave of popularity unseen since the glory days long past of Reagan. And that in the face of inheriting the world’s worst economic malaise since the 1930’s the Great Recession; the never-ending trillion dollar wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and a polarized, grid-locked, detested do-nothing Congress. In the 34 years of recording the data, a May 2008 Gallup poll showed Congress had a record low approval rating of 18%. That means there were more Americans who believed in Big Foot was real than believed Congress was doing a good job.

That’s nothing to sneeze at, everything considered. So let’s give Barry a pass and just let him enjoy his kite-surfing in peace, shall we? Not so fast. Not under this author’s watch.

After eight years of Obama, the mood of the American masses has changed (for the worse, unbeknownst to most Americans). Many Americans persisted in economic hardship despite the economic recovery that occurred on paper, in a country falling deeper into debt and deeper into expensive imperial wars, kept in line by unaccountable surveillance agencies, police brutality, and the blunt force of regulations, all the while new divisions were opened in American society to divide and conquer the tax base. As it turned out, talk about hope and change was not enough to dislodge special interests sucking the Treasury’s teats or dispel the Cold War dinosaurs’ vision of an American hegemon. The Obama years ought to be remembered as a catastrophe by anyone interested in peace and prosperity in the world. The only reprieve we can offer the former president are a few silver linings in the brewing storm cloud he left behind, in some cases reversing foolish American foreign policy that had long outlived its purpose.

Obama fans, if you didn’t already rage quit in disgust at reading a critical article of your hero and former president, do not misunderstand. This writer would love to have a beer with the former Commander in Chief, unlike most other world leaders. He is an eloquent and charming speaker in addition to a well-educated statesman, a tone and a presence not seen in American politics since JFK or FDR. He came from an atypical, exotic background with no father figure, yet he worked his way through Harvard Law School. These qualities are surely what propelled him into the highest office of the land, as being Illinois’s junior Senator for less than 4 years was surely not giving him an edge over wealthier, more connected, hard-nosed veterans like Hillary Clinton who had been waiting for her turn to be President most of her adult life. People were primed for a new face and a message of hope and change after eight tragic, miserable years under George W Bush.

Nor is it lost on me the symbolic importance of having a black man as President in a country where 60 years ago it was illegal in a large part of the country for blacks to share a lunch counter, a cinema, a bus, or a school with whites.

That said, in a hypothetical matchup, this writer would rather be lorded over by a clownish, mean-spirited pig-headed bastard that worked to efficiently roll back the American imperium than a personable, smooth-talking but ineffectual lawyer with whom other world leaders asked for selfies and gets roaring laughs joking about Predator Drones then drone strikes a wedding party anyways. Aesthetics, cosmetic differences, words, tone, appearance, other elements of the person’s identity, and the number of appearances on your favorite television program are not concerns of this article. Actions, and moreso the actions and trends put into motion that will shape the world to come, are how I shall judge a world leader’s record.

The subject of Barack Obama’s legacy merits volumes from dedicated historians, and they will surely come in due time as the West has clearly been undergoing a hitherto undefined revolution since the pivotal crisis of 2008 or perhaps even since the attacks of 2001, marked by fading trust in feeble public institutions and withdrawal into more immediate national affairs. May this article serve as a primer, written in great haste while the Obama years are still fresh in memory.

On the most important issues of the day, may Barack Obama’s record show the following:

WAR & PEACE

  • Perpetual war: Barack Obama is the first American president with the dubious honor of having presided over a country at war from his first day in office to his last, despite his campaign promises and receiving the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. No other American president in history has been at war for a longer time than Obama; Americans definitively beat the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese Army in a much quicker time than today’s conflicts. Think about it: an entire generation of Millenials will have been born, raised, and graduated from middle school living in a country that has been at non-stop war since 2001 with no end in sight.
  • The “War on Terror” expanded and inherited by Obama from Bush spanned 7 countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan) and came at the following cost:
    • 1,762 American soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2016 (which represents 70% of all American casualties in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001), with another 290 American soldiers killed in Iraq. This does not include the even greater number of soldiers wounded, or support personnel, contractors, and journalists killed in the operations.
      • And the statistics do not reflect another harsh reality of perpetual war: after being deployed so many times and being exposed to the horrors of war, post-traumatic stress disorder and difficulty readjusting to civil society have led to an epidemic of veteran suicides. In 2012, more active-duty soldiers killed themselves than died in combat. An average of 20 American veterans die from suicide every day.
    •  An estimated 400-800 civilian casualties killed in the cross fire from 2009 to 2015.
    • The Global Refugee Crisis: Nearly 60 million people were counted as refugees in 2014, which is more than the population of California and New York combined. That includes about 12 million Syrians and over 3 million Iraqis who have been displaced from the instability of the ongoing U.S.-instigated wars. The UN reports that there are more refugees in the world than at any time since WWII.
    • 26,171 bombs dropped in 2016 alone, which on average is 1 bomb dropped about every 20 minutes of every day.
    • More than 6 trillion dollars thrown down ratholes in the desert, destabilizing a vast region of the world for decades to come. Already, in the power vacuums left behind we have seen safe havens develop for terrorists like ISIS.
    • The murder of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and 3 other employees at the US embassy in Libya. This is the first time a serving U.S. ambassador has been murdered since 1979.
    • Syria: On this issue, things may have been worse had it been the neoconservatives of Team McCain or Romney deciding policy and launching a costly full-fledged nation-building invasion of Syria like they did in Iraq. Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, did however make a hell of a mess. As they so often do when they meddle abroad, American policy-makers faced the common dilemma of distinguishing freedom fighters from terrorists, or in this case, the Syrian Opposition from the Islamic State. At times, the Syrian conflict has been so incomprehensibly chaotic and violent that fighting erupted between CIA-armed militias and Pentagon-armed militias.
  • “Targeted, surgical” drone warfare as a more humane way of waging war. Obama has launched eight times as many drone strikes as Bush. The Obama Administration even had the audacity to defend the extrajudicial assassination of American citizens by drones. All it takes is that he unilaterally brands them as “enemy combatants”, done with no oversight or due process, as they have done in the case of killing a 16-year old Denver-born American citizen and his cousin at a barbecue. If Bush’s legacy will be forever tainted by torturing people like what was done in Abu Ghraib, Obama’s legacy should be demolished by the outright murder of these same populations with no due process and the untold collateral damage inflicted on civilians.
    • As only a child can tell the Emperor that he has no clothes, it took the courage of Pakistani teenager and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai for someone to call him out on these crimes.
  • The extrajudicial assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, and unceremoniously dumping his body in the ocean while fabricating many details of the murder of an old, unarmed bin Laden by Navy Seals. Hollywood did their job to help instruct the public in celebrating the murder with feature films like Zero Dark Thirty.
  • The New Cold War with Russia: Nothing is more important in modern geopolitics than maintaining the peace between nuclear powers, and no two countries have more nuclear bombs than the US and Russia. Ever since the 2004 application of Georgia to NATO, Russia has been feeling increasingly encircled by NATO adversaries that had falsely promised to leave a buffer zone between NATO and the Russian border in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Historical Russian allies Iran and Syria have been isolated and punished by the West.
    Hostilities came to a boiling point in late 2013-early 2014 with the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine and the ousting of the pro-Russian Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych. With the establishment of a new pro-West government in Kiev, unrest ensued in the eastern regions, with Crimea ultimately being annexed by Russia, leading to crippling rounds of Western-led sanctions against Russia that have destroyed the ruble and created an economic crisis in Russia.
    More recently, Russian submarines and jets have been testing national boundaries around the North Sea and Baltic Sea. NATO member Turkey shot down a Russian jet during a bombing run in Syria and the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated at a museum in Ankara. One of the Obama Administration’s last acts was to forward deploy 3,500 U.S. troops and 2,800 tanks, trucks and military vehicles into Poland.
    Now with the victory of Trump, in a bizarre New McCarthyism promoted by Democrats, Russophobia has reached new heights with the claims that Russia “hacked” the U.S. election. The deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Russia under the Obama Administration could have the most serious implications for humanity of all.
  • “Blowback” attacks on American soil committed by deranged and isolated men of Muslim faith or Arabic origin whose lives have been marginalized and whose culture and people have been destroyed by decades of foolish imperialism.
    • The most notable attacks in the Obama years: Fort Hood, Boston Marathon attacks, San Bernardino, Orlando gay night club shooting
  • “We tortured folks.” An honest admission of the horrors committed abroad by the US government, yet the impotent President Obama was not able to make good on his campaign promise and executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Not only does Gitmo remain open today with its inmates being detained indefinitely without trial, but in a further affront to human rights the Obama Administration supported the force feeding of detainees who were on hunger strikes.
  • The silver linings: diplomatic achievements undoing the vestiges of the Cold War and Iranian Revolution by normalizing relationships with Cuba and making deals with Iran, allowing those countries and the impoverished millions unfortunate enough to be born inside their borders to have more access to the modern global economy.

 

ECONOMY

  • Obamacare: the crown jewel of his legacy for many and the wet dream of American progressives. The stated goals of Obamacare was both noble and badly needed in one of the developed world’s worst and most expensive healthcare systems: lower costs, improve benefits, and increase access. It may take more time for the results to be fully known, but today many people are starting to feel the crunch: the rates of Obamacare plans in some places like Arizona will more than double in 2017 than 2016. Many insurers have left certain markets, leaving consumers with few choices of insurance plans and doctors covered by their plans. And after all the political capital expended to pass this in 2010, it looks like the Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress will soon reform (or deform) the ACA into an unrecognizable Frankenstein monster.If George W. Bush will be forever known for claiming that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, Barack Obama will be known for his fib “If you like your plan, you can keep it.” The Affordable Care Act was written by lobbyists and insurance companies, and if you think healthcare customers are going to be better served by 11,000 pages of additional regulations and millions of people added into insurance pools without adding a single doctor, then I’d like to take you to San Francisco Bay and sell you a fog machine.
  • Bailouts: For our friends in the banking industry, one of the Obama’s first major actions was TARP, Troubled Asset Relief Program. In that troubled time, the outgoing Bush administration decided the best way to resolve the problem was by quantitative easing, or in layman terms, to throw a ton of money at it. And that’s how the biggest transfer of wealth in world history of $430 billion took place.
    The young president Obama continued the bailouts (of the banks, not of the American families that were being foreclosed on for being unable to pay their mortgages). Citigroup and Goldman Sachs were kept afloat, spared from going the route of failed company Bear Sterns.There were other winners and losers chosen in this game of moral hazard: insurance giant AIG was one of the lucky ones bailed out and AIG decided a good use of the influx of taxpayer money was to pay out $165 million of bonuses. The privatization of gains and the nationalization of losses in the Bush-Obama Doctrine of Bailouts would eventually be a major factor in leading to the popular revolt from both the right and left in the form of the Tea Party in 2009 and Occupy Wall Street in 2011.

    • Outside the economic crisis that threatened to sink major players in the financial and automotive industries, other politically-connected companies were beneficiaries of the Obama Administration’s largesse such as Solyndra.
  • Income Inequality: Wall Street prospered. Main Street was losing hope; at one point in mid-2014, more job-seekers gave up looking than found work for 49 of 50 months. Wages have remained stagnant as corporate profits have soared.
  • The Food Stamp President: 44.2 million Americans received food stamps in 2016, or 13.6% of the whole US population, a number up 10.7 million people versus 2009.
  • Debt: From TheBalance.com: Under Barack Obama, the national debt “added $7.917 trillion, a 68 percent increase, in seven years.” Less Tax Revenue From Bush Tax Cuts + More Entitlement Spending for an Aging Population + More Welfare Payments and Stimulus during an economic recession + War on Terror Military Spending = a fiscal bloodbath. To be fair, he had to play the hand that the big spender decider-in-chief George W Bush left him, but he didn’t do anything to improve the financial standing of the country either.
  • The Growth of the Regulatory State: The Obama Administration was a boon to the regulatory state and numerous alphabet-soup-bureaucracies in Washington. In the first 6 years of the Obama Administration, more than twice as many major regulations were passed than under Bush, with an annual regulatory cost ranging from several hundreds of billions of dollars to 2 trillion dollars born by American industry.
  • Obama instructed Americans that “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. “Meanwhile, as millions joined the Food Stamp rolls, small businesses were being smothered (e.g. small banks implementing massive new regulations like Dodd-Frank, Gibson Guitars was raided, fined and almost put out of business by federal agents for importing rosewood from Madagascar allegedly violating the century-old Lacey Act, etc.).

 

SOCIETY

  • Society Under Surveillance, Government Under Opacity:
    • If the European contemporaries of reformer Martin Luther owed a great debt to Gutenberg and his printing press, modern American reformers owe a great debt to the Internet, its promoters, and the greatest defenders of transparency and accountability today: whistleblowers, Wikileaks, and independent journalists such as Glenn Greenwald. Without whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, there would be no voice of reason or alternative narratives to the jingoistic fervor of patriotism and economic nationalism pushed since September 11th, 2001. Thanks to leaks, every now and then Americans get to sneak a peek under the surface and peer into the machinery of the state. They have seen damning things they would never have seen otherwise: corruption, election rigging, foreign influence in American elections, war crimes, regime change scheming, and the complete, total violation of the 4th Amendment of the Constitution by the National Security Agency. On this latter point, the mass surveillance apparatus ramped up under Bush and Obama was would be enough to make Orwell blush: all Americans learned the ugly truth that every phone call they made, every email, and every communication with their doctor or banker or priest was being recorded by their government, in addition to many other criminal acts being committed, regardless if the subjects of surveillance were ever suspected of a crime or not.
      Rather than win back the broken trust of the American public by addressing the damning subjects that arose, the Obama Administration was hell-bent on making the story about the leakers, not the content of the leaks themselves, and how they would be pursued with the full force of the law. He has used the 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute more than double the number of whistleblowers than all previous presidents combined.

    • Under Obama, it became totally normal for the US to spy on everyone and everything. Most shockingly, those surveilled includes so-called friends, allied persons and allied countries like when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered American diplomats to spy on UN diplomats (and to obtain their DNA data, credit card date, frequent flier numbers), when Obama ordered the tapping of Angela Merkel’s phone, and when the CIA snooped on French presidential candidates in 2012. Recently, even President Donald Trump claims to have been a victim of the Obama Administration tapping his phones in Trump Tower prior to being elected as part of an effort to undermine his candidacy and presidency.
  • Gay Marriage and Gay Rights: In June 2015, Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples have the right to marry under law. 4 years prior, President Obama ended the military’s 20-year old don’t ask don’t tell policy to allow gays to serve openly. This was inevitable with changing demographics and attitudes, but the president was tuned into this issue and how it resonated with many.
  • Under Obama, it became normal to worship The Imperial President as if he were a sort of religious figure, or Julius Caesar, or Sun King on Earth. I never saw any of the following under Bush or Trump: people losing their mind on election night like their home team just won the Super Bowl, celebrities crying on TV at the President’s victory party, primetime newscasters saying “I want to do everything I can to make this new presidency work“, the President leading a congregation in singing Amazing Grace, or children singing a creepy song about just how great the President is. And the President went out of his way whenever he could to insert himself into popular culture, like his appearance on Man vs Wild with Bear Grylls.
  • Decline of race relations, increase of civil unrest: Despite being the first African-American President, he leaves Americans with fragile race relations ready to go off like powder kegs, the worst condition they have been since the 1960’s.
    • It started with the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, a black 17-year-old, by a white-Mexican man who was later acquitted. Protests ensued across the country, some of which devolved into civil unrest. During the protests, President Obama made a public statement of support for the protestors “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
    • It really got underway in 2014 with the shooting of another black teen, Michael Brown, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Months of protest, unrest, riots, and looting was capped off by the acquittal of the white officers, which saw more unrest across the country and over 300 people arrested in Ferguson.
    • It continued into April 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland with the murder of 25-year-old black man Freddie Gray while in police custody. The ensuing protests, looting, burning and rioting led the Governor to declare a State of Emergency and deploy the Maryland National Guard.
    • Now in 2016 at a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, a black sniper killed 5 Dallas police officers and wounded 7 more. The suspect told negotiators his goal was to kill white people, especially white police officers.
  • Class warfare: Perhaps the most odious keepsake of all from the Obama years will be proven to be the legitimization of using class warfare as a valid tactic in the US to achieve political ends. Political discourse has been replaced by an easier, more visceral sort of identity politics and cultural Marxism. Just think of the sort of vacuous, identity-fueled discourse the world heard in the 2016 presidential election: “I’m with her” “we need a Supreme Court that will stand up on behalf of women’s rights, on behalf of the rights of the LGBT community” “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables’. Right?”
    We see one group pitted against another again and again in the Obama years, with all sides that participate in the kabuki dance convinced they are fighting for their vision of social justice:

    • Occupy Wall Street’s “We are the 99%” versus the top 1%
    • Hobby Lobby (Catholics, small business owners) versus Employees Wanting Paid Birth Control (feminists, progressives, big spending liberals)
    • The cost of Obamacare premiums (going to the old and sick) being redistributed and foisted upon those who would be paying less without Obamacare (the young and healthy)
    • An Oregonian Christian couple that owned a bakery was sued, investigated by the state of Oregon and threatened by LGBT activists after they refused to bake a cake for a lesbian couple

 

Dear reader, if all this seems rather harsh and filled with invective, you have read the article correctly. I maintain that President Obama’s administration has left Americans poorer, more divided, and in a precarious situation that cannot end well. But he made many Americans feel warm and fuzzy about themselves, about their identity, proud of themselves for having elected the first African-American in U.S. history, and proud to be represented by a well-read, charming statesmen on the world stage, did he not?

Yes he did, and that makes his shortcomings all the more unforgivable. Duping the enamored masses, the average person is worse off in 2017 than in 2009 and the dysfunction of the American government has been laid on the bogeyman du jour depending on who you ask: gridlocked Congress, Republicans, Democrats, illegal immigrants, Muslims, welfare cheats, billionaires, gays, Evangelicals, gun nut rednecks etc. etc. Americans are at each others throats more than ever, too distracted by the new identity politics to see they have been robbed blind for 8 years by an unaccountable and ever-expanding colossus in Washington.

As Murray Rothbard once said, “the bad guys, the ruling classes, have gathered unto themselves the intellectual and media elites, who are able to bamboozle the masses into consenting to their rule…” Granted this, there is no more patriotic act for a writer or a journalist than to “debamboozle” the public; to bring truths out from the obscurity and into the light of public consciousness.

Humanity will be dealing with the spectre of the Obama Administration for years to come. As the various poison pills pop, Americans will see instability abroad and at home, with more economic pain, growing mistrust between groups, outbreaks of violence, the dislocation of innocents, and likely the redrawing of maps.

Yet, one cannot help but forgive Barack Obama, the man and the candidate, the youthful optimist and brilliant rhetorician that fought for the hearts of many in his hopeless endeavor to reform the broken American state. In the end, he was just playing along in the role he was given on the stage of the world, swept away in the current that is the irreversible course of an empire.

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