It’s strange that a president who had such a transformative effect on our national discourse will leave such a negligible policy legacy. But Barack Obama, whose imperial term changed the way Americans interact and in some ways paved the way for the Trump presidency, is now watching his much-celebrated and mythologized two-term legacy be systematically demolished. This, in many ways, tells us that American governance still works.
When Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Iran deal, he could do so without much difficulty because the agreement hinged on presidential fiat rather than national consensus. But Obama’s appeasement of Iran was only one in a string of unilateral norm-busting projects that deserve to be dismantled.
You’ll remember the panic-stricken coverage we endured when the United States withdrew from the faux international Paris climate agreement last year. It’s true that the deal was oversold as a matter of policy (by both parties for political reasons), but it was symbolic of how the Obama administration concerned itself more with international consensus than domestic compromise. We know this because the president would never have won ratification for a deal remotely similar to the one he entered — nor did he attempt to. Obama, despite the hagiographic framing of his scandal-ridden presidency, had about as much interest in genuine concession as his political adversaries did.
Obama allies at home incessantly pointed to poll numbers as a justification for his executive abuse, mostly because the only polls that really mattered, congressional elections, continued to soundly reject his agenda. The defense rested on the idea that the Republican-led Congress had failed to “do its job” and act on issues Democrats had deemed vital. But Congress, of course, “acted” all the time by checking the president’s ambitions. This was not only well within its purview, but in many ways the reason the electorate handed the GOP Congress in the first place.
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