If anyone were to repeat the Obama reform mantra of 2008 — a new transparency, an end to lobbyists, no more revolving doors — it would incur laughter. A Larry Summers or Peter Orszag forgot Obama’s promises not to make millions of dollars from the influence gained during their government service. Citibank seems to be bankrolling the retirement plans of all those who worked at Obama’s Treasury Department. I think Obama will do the same when he leaves office, in the fashion of both Hillary Clinton and Lisa Jackson. Expect soon his $1 million speaking fees to lecture Citibank and Goldman Sachs on diversity and green energy.
When we recount Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the IRS mess, the AP/James Rosen affair, or the NSA disclosures, we think not of modern scandals per se, but rather in historical terms: which prior administration was more corrupt and dishonest — Nixon’s or Grant’s? Is that comparison fair to either of them? Did Obama, in compensation, give us Reconstruction or an opening to China? Has he accomplished as much as Harding?
Americans are always up for a good class war. Obama gave them one, with all the talk of the “one percent,” “millionaires and billionaires,” and the “pay your fair share” boilerplate. But to be a good class warrior also requires the pretense of populism. Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich were at least not habitués of Martha’s Vineyard, did not make second homes out of tony golf courses, did not have the family jetting to Aspen and Costa del Sol to take time off with those who forgot when to quit their profiting. How can a president so rail at the 1% and yet so wish to play, vacation, and be among those who didn’t build their wealth?
The president’s signature achievement? He has established a precedent that the president can play all the golf he wishes without being caricatured as a distracted would-be aristocrat.
Jimmy Carter’s four years had short-term consequences — almost all negative — but little long-term damage. Obama’s eight years in theory should have far more lasting ramifications, given the huge debt, radical appointees, job-killing regulations, and dismal economy of the last five years. Yet we are learning that he is proving even a more inconsequential figure than was Carter. And so likewise in years to come, even his true believers will talk more of an iconic Barack Obama before and after he was president — but rarely during.