Transformed indeed — unfortunately
Any summation of Barack Obama’s domestic impact should begin with this: In 2008, he assured supporters, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” Soon he will be replaced by someone who says, “I alone can fix it.”
So, Americans have paid Obama the compliment of choosing continuity, if only in presidential narcissism.
Obama, who called health insurance reform the “defining struggle of this generation,” was semi-right, in two senses. Because ObamaCare demonstrates the perils of trying to micromanage 18 percent of the economy, it might be the last gasp of New Deal/Great Society-style government hubris.
On Jan. 16, 2008, Obama told the Reno Gazette-Journal, “I want to make government cool again.” He did not do that. On the other hand, Obama might have catalyzed a conviction already forming in the American mind, but in any case he leaves a nation that believes public policy should enable everyone to have access to insurance.
Obama has been among the most loquacious presidents, but can you call to mind a memorable sentence or even phrase of his? If power is the ability to achieve intended effects, his rhetoric has been powerless to produce anything but an empty, inconsequential reputation for speaking well.
He assured congressional Democrats they could safely vote for ObamaCare because “you’ve got me.” Seven years after he said this, it remains unpopular, and they are fewer than they were.
George Washington, Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower were world figures before becoming president and are remembered primarily for what they did before. Eisenhower rebuffed his aides’ requests that he make more use of a new medium for marketing himself: “I can think of nothing more boring, for the American public, than to have to sit in their living rooms for a whole half-hour looking at my face on their television screens.” Eisenhower left office very popular.
A former colleague of Obama’s on the University of Chicago Law School faculty described him as someone who never learned anything from anyone with whom he disagreed. He also never learned anything from anyone about constitutional etiquette.
He combined progressivism’s oldest tradition and central tenet — hostility to the separation of powers — with a breezy indifference to the Take Care Clause (the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed”) and to the first sentence of the Constitution’s first article (“All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress”).
He began pioneering new dimensions in presidential lawlessness when, taking over George W. Bush’s auto-industry bailout, he shredded the rights of secured Chrysler bondholders. He seemed to believe there is an article in the Constitution that says presidents may make or amend laws that Congress will not. Perhaps this is the mysterious Article XII that his successor has referred to.
In 2007, Obama said, “Let us transform this nation.” Judging by the nature of his successor, Obama somewhat succeeded.
George F. Will is a columnist for Newsweek and The Washington Post.