Open Letter to School Boards Everywhere: Stop Renaming Your Schools After Obama
It was bad enough that pretty much within seconds of Barack Obama winning the presidency there seemed to be a rush to rename schools to honor the newly elected first black president. According to Wikipedia, eighteen schools in fourteen states have so far been named or renamed in honor of the 44th president. According to another Wikipedia article (which is incomplete and out-of-date) Obama already has enough schools named after him to rival John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson.
The latest school to jump on the Obama bandwagon is the J. E. B. Stuart Elementary School in Richmond, Virginia. This week, the school board voted 6-1 to rename the predominantly African-American school named after a Confederate general Barack Obama Elementary School.
When the school board first voted to rename the school, seven options were up for consideration, five of which were named for people. Of the five people considered, all but Obama were local figures, including Oliver Hill, a civil rights attorney who played a significant role in ending “separate but equal”; Barbara Johns, a civil rights leader; Albert Norrell, a long-time educator from a family of educators in Richmond for over a century; and Henry Marsh, another civil rights leader and the first African-American mayor of Richmond. Anyone of these would have been a more fitting and deserving individual to have a school named after them. This community clearly values the contributions of civil rights leaders who have had a positive impact on African-Americans, yet they honored a man whose “positive” impact on African-Americans is largely symbolic, and whose actual impact has been negative. In fact, Barack Obama was perhaps the worst president for African-Americans since Lyndon B. Johnson.
Obama’s election had been seen as a watershed moment in our nation’s history—a post-racial America is what his admirers said we’d have if he was elected. But, a majority of Americans recognize that despite Obama being the first black president, race relations took a huge step back on his watch. Instead of being a symbol of empowerment of black America, Obama reinforced racial animus by supporting Black Lives Matter, selectively enforcing laws on a racial basis, and by often falsely assuming racial motives in high-profile cases of police being accused of excessive force. By doing this, Obama deliberately exacerbated tensions between black communities and law enforcement, causing a huge spike in cop killings.
The Obama economy wasn’t easy for America, but it was disproportionately more difficult for black Americans. The Obama “recovery” was the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression but black Americans saw an even slower recovery than the country as a whole. The Trump economy has done more to lift black America than the Obama economy ever did.
Obama also gave credence to the falsehood that racism motivated his critics, even claiming that he was a victim of racism while in office. Obama’s former senior advisor David Axelrod even said, "It's indisputable that there was a ferocity to the opposition and a lack of respect to him that was a function of race.” Almost any policy disagreement with Obama was met with the play of the race card against his opposition. If the race card wasn’t played by Obama, then it was a member of his administration, Democrats in Congress, Hollywood, or the media.
Obama’s record as president is also hardly deserving of praise. Obama’s spending spree, beginning with the 2009 stimulus, did little for the economy, but added more debt than all his predecessors combined. The Obama economy was plagued with high unemployment, high gas prices, stagnant wages, a decline of entrepreneurship, record poverty, record food stamp usage and much more he wouldn’t want credit for. His foreign policy milestones read like a list of blunders: the Libyan intervention, Iran, Syria, Egypt, the Arab Spring, Israel, the Russian reset, losing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the rise of ISIS.
Contrary to popular belief, Obama’s presidency was plagued by over thirty scandals—many of which would have seen another president impeached. Naming a school after this man is as insulting as awarding him a Nobel Peace Prize despite having done nothing to earn it.
Which brings me back to my point that Obama’s presidency (and legacy) will always be remembered more fondly than it ever deserves to be, not because of any actual positive accomplishment but because of what his election symbolized. The election of the first black president was no small thing, but it was wasted on a man who used his unique status to divide the country instead of unite it. By the time he left office the world was a far more dangerous place than it was before Obama took office.
Whether it’s a school board choosing to honor Obama by naming a school after him, a municipality naming a street for him, or a state honoring him with a holiday… it doesn’t matter, they all honor a failed, corrupt presidency. It sends a terrible message to the students at these schools, who have far better role models whose contributions positively impacted the African-American community and the country as a whole.
Matt Margolis is the author of the new book, The Scandalous Presidency of Barack Obama and the forthcoming re-release of the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis