President Obama has written a farewell letter to the American people. Asked to comment on it, I read it. I found it pretty unremarkable: It is an apologia pro vita sua. Obama’s defense of himself and his tenure. It is full of spin, as such things are. In fact, it probably contains more spin than most documents of its kind.
Remember when John Edwards had the theme of Two Americas? I thought of it when reading Obama’s letter. He has one view of today’s America — America after eight years of O — and this view is probably shared by half the country, give or take. The other half think it’s nuts.
Obama’s letter can be read as a warm-up for his memoirs. It also reads like a State of the Union address, encompassing eight years. In any event, it is dull. It’s an expression of Obamite boilerplate and spin. And yet there are noteworthy lines within it, and I will note a few of them.
‐Like many presidents, Obama takes credit for positive things that happened during his time in office — no matter what. He says, “Our dependence on foreign oil has been cut by more than half.”
Yes, oil and gas have undergone a “renaissance” in America. That is the phrase of Harold Hamm, the Oklahoma oilman (and modern-day Horatio Alger figure). He talks of “the American renaissance in oil and gas.”
Obama and his party stood in the way of this renaissance. It happened despite them, not because of them. One state, North Dakota, had an oil boom, because this state is largely in private hands, not federal. I could explain why. (Has to do with the perceived homeliness of North Dakota.)
North Dakota was able to take advantage of a magnificent new marriage: fracking, which is an old technique, and horizontal drilling, which is a relatively new one. This marriage meant a bonanza.
In 2012, I wrote a report from North Dakota — a fascinating environment — and, since I am in promotional mode, I will mention that the report appears in a new collection, Digging In. (“Drilling In”?)
End of plugola — for now.
‐In his letter, Obama writes that, when he took office, “nearly 180,000 American troops were serving in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Those troops have been drawn down, to be sure. But you are entitled to ask, How has Iraq fared? Did our gains, achieved at such terrible cost, stick? How is Afghanistan faring?
Those are things that a president might address, in a summing up.
‐This letter contains a striking sentence — a radical one, a utopian one, one that comes straight from campus. Discussing economic matters, Obama writes, “We’ve actually begun the long task of reversing inequality.”
I don’t mean to make too much of this, but: In a free society, there will be economic inequality. You can’t have freedom without it. Unfree societies have inequality too, as a ruling few lord it over the many. But in a free society, prosperity overall is maximized. Do away with inequality, and you will have to do away with freedom, too.
It is — I heard this phrase for several months running — a binary choice.
‐If there is news in Obama’s letter, it is this: “Through diplomacy, we shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” Really? As they say on Twitter, “Big if true.” If Iran has indeed shut down its nuclear-weapons program, we should celebrate in the streets. And I would award Obama two, three, thirty Nobel Peace Prizes.
I wonder whether the president meant to go as far as he did in his letter.
‐In my memory, every president, on leaving office — or on leaving life — says that America’s best days are ahead. Obama says this too, in the final sentence of his letter. This surprised me a bit, and pleasantly.