Tuesday night, January 20, 2017, Barack Obama gave his farewell address to the nation. The scene was a strange and disappointing attempt that failed, to replicate the hope, the energy, and optimism of his first 2008 address to the nation.
Instead of celebrating the unity of all those who joined to put him in office, the mood was downbeat, with Obama warning listeners that the country had become more divided than ever during his intervening years in office, that Democracy was threatened on many fronts – cultural, legal, and economic – and that the people to whom he was speaking, and throughout America, now had the task to take up the fight to protect what’s left and restore it–for clearly he had not been able to do so.
During the speech he listed a series of accomplishments that represent, in his view, the high marks of his presidency: As he put it, he ‘reversed the Great Recession, rebooted the auto industry, generated the longest job creation period in US economic history, got 20 million people health insurance coverage, halved US dependency on foreign oil, negotiated the Iran nuclear proliferation deal, killed Osama Bin Laden, prevented foreign terrorist attacks on the US homeland, ended torture, passed laws to protect citizens from surveillance, and worked to close GITMO.’ Sounds good, unless one considers the facts behind the ‘hurrah for me’ claims.
The auto industry was rescued, true, but auto workers wages and benefits are less today than 2008 and jobs in the industry are still below 2008 levels. So too are higher paid construction jobs. Half of the jobs created since 2008 include those lost in 2008-2010, and the rest net gains in new jobs since 2010 have been low paid, no benefits, part time, temp, ‘gig’ service jobs that leave no fewer than 40% of young workers under thirty today forced to live at home with parents. Five million have left the workforce altogether which doesn’t get counted in the official employment and unemployment rate figures.
As for ending the Great Recession, that depends ending ‘for whom’ and what constitutes an ‘end’. The US economy grew after 2009, but at the slowest rate of growth historically post-recession since the 1930s.
In his farewell address Obama also cited how the country ‘halved its dependency on foreign oil’. True enough, at the cost of environmental disasters from Texas to the Dakotas to Pennsylvania, as oil fracking replaced Saudi sources, and in the process generating irreversible water and air contamination in the US. In foreign policy, he noted he signed the Iran deal, but left out mentioning that during his administration the US set the entire Middle East aflame.
Looking farther east, Obama foreign policy outcomes are no better. The US is still fighting in Afghanistan 16 years later, the longest war in US history. And the US is still engaged in Iraq.
The media and press incessantly refer to the 2010 Obamacare Act and the 2010 bank regulating Dodd-Frank Act as two of his prime achievements.
But Obamacare is about to implode because it failed to control health care costs, now more than $3 trillion of the US total GDP of $19 trillion – the highest in the advanced economy world at nearly 18% of GDP (compared to Europe and elsewhere that spend on average 10% of their GDP on healthcare).
The 8% difference, more than $1 trillion a year, going to the pockets of middle men and paper pushers, like insurance companies, that provide not one iota of health care services.
The true legacies that will be remembered long term will be the accelerating rate of income inequality, the real basis for the growing divisions in America, and the near collapse of the Democratic Party itself.
This article has been
excerpted from: ‘Obama’s Farwell’.