The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Tonight, the Sun Sets on the Obama Administration for the Last Time

Tonight, the Sun Sets on the Obama Administration for the Last Time

This is it. The last full day of the Obama presidency.

Think about where you were when you sensed that he was going to win the 2008 election, and how you felt. Think even more about where you were when you realized he was going to win the 2012 election.

How did the Obama presidency measure up to your expectations? If your expectations are low enough, it wasn’t that bad.

Looking back, there have been fewer ISIS attacks on our soil than I expected. Fewer instances of foreign brutes indulging in blatant territorial aggression, concluding Obama wouldn’t intervene or respond. North Korea has rattled the saber, but hasn’t really pushed its luck. China didn’t invade Taiwan. Syria’s a mess, but the Iraqi government didn’t fall to ISIS.

Then again, you had this presidential belief, communicated to the public by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic:

Obama believes that the clash is taking place within a single civilization, and that Americans are sometimes collateral damage in this fight between Muslim modernizers and Muslim fundamentalists.

Even putting the casual and callous terminology beside, American victims of terrorism are not “collateral damage.” They are the intended damage. If Muslim fundamentalists were primarily focused on fighting Muslim modernizers, then the attacks in Boston and San Bernardino and Orlando would have been against mosques, imams, Quran scholars, or other voices calling for moderation in the Muslim world. But the attackers targeted Americans as a whole. They want to kill us, because we are outsiders, nonbelievers, infidels, and it’s chilling to have a president who is in denial of that basic fact.

Maybe the basic fulcrum of the 2016 election was whether you felt like your personal financial circumstances had recovered from the Great Recession or not. No doubt, millions of Americans felt like the economy was doing fine or even better than fine, but equally indisputably, millions more felt like they were treading water at best or had never made up what they had lost. The status quo worked for some people. It didn’t for many, many others.

Yes, some people who didn’t have health insurance before now have it because of Obamacare. But lots of people who thought they were going to get a better deal are frustrated with the changes: plans that were canceled despite numerous presidential assurances, doctors that patients couldn’t keep despite numerous presidential assurances, higher premiums instead of lower ones, higher deductibles, higher co-pays.

As Matthew Fleischer wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2013, “Most young, middle-class Americans I know are happy that millions of previously uninsured people will receive free or heavily subsidized insurance under the Affordable Care Act. We just didn’t realize that, unless we had health insurance at work, we’d be the ones paying for it.” The chief architect later glibly joked about how gullible the public was when the administration was selling it: “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the ‘stupidity of the American voter’ or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

The national debt is now nearly $20 trillion, but apparently there’s now a broad bipartisan consensus that we just don’t worry about that anymore.

Maybe every president has a cult of personality, but the one around Obama was particularly messianic (and more than a little creepy) in 2007-2008. The emotional fervor waned a bit, but over the course of his presidency, he grew increasingly comfortable with the notion that he and his administration alone should govern the country. The New York Times described him thus:

[Obama] sought to reshape the nation with a sweeping assertion of executive authority and a canon of regulations that have inserted the United States government more deeply into American life.

Once a presidential candidate with deep misgivings about executive power, Mr. Obama will leave the White House as one of the most prolific authors of major regulations in presidential history… once Mr. Obama got the taste for it, he pursued his executive power without apology, and in ways that will shape the presidency for decades to come.

Fundamentally, Obama’s reelection sent conservatism into a serious funk, as it challenged the faith that the country was “center-right.” The United States may never have been ready to embrace every single idea that came out of the Heritage Foundation, American Conservative Union, and like-minded think tanks and institutions, but it was wary about the power, scope, and competence of the federal government.

Donald Trump is not a consistent conservative, but his election, coupled with the wipeout of Democrats at the Senate, House, gubernatorial, and state-legislative levels smashes the idea that the country had shifted irrevocably to the left. Ramesh makes a really important point:

At no point in Obama’s presidency did his political success make Republicans consider assimilating some of his views into their philosophy, as Bill Clinton had done with Reaganism. Republicans are even less likely to make such an adjustment now. 

Who has the Obama era really been better for? Democrats as a whole, or Republicans?

‘A Year of Intense Action Is Beginning’

Yuval Levin offers his best take on what to expect in health care reform this year:

At this point, the intra-Republican health-care debate is chaotic and uneasy. There is no unanimity on substance and not much of a margin for internal dissent. And it is still unclear whether the new administration can help steer Congress toward any particular path. But major legislative efforts are always chaotic and uneasy. They proceed in fits and starts and frequently seem on the verge of collapse. The difference between success and failure often depends upon a combination of strategy, luck, and a willingness to take action.

On health care, Republicans have long lacked the latter in particular. But in that respect, at least, this time could well be different. The GOP has been preparing for this opportunity for years, and it now faces both a party electorate and a health-care system that will not allow for endless indecision. It is too soon to know what the final product will look like, and whether a series of reconciliation bills or some uneasy combination of partisan and bipartisan measures will emerge. But it does seem likely that a year of intense action on health care is beginning. 

Elsewhere on NRO, James Capretta points out that the birth-control mandate for religious organizations can be eliminated at will by the incoming administration:

The new administration could issue a regulation that provides a blanket exemption to the mandate to any organization that can reasonably claim to have religious objections to compliance. That would immediately provide relief to all of the organizations affiliated with the Catholic Church that have been battling the Obama administration in court over this issue for several years.

The Value of ISIS’s Real Estate in Sirte, Libya Just Dropped

From the perspective of ISIS in Libya, the Obama administration is going out with a bang. A statement from Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook, right before the Jolt gets sent off to the editors:

In conjunction with the Libyan Government of National Accord, the U.S. military conducted precision airstrikes Wednesday night destroying two ISIL camps 45 kilometers southwest of Sirte. The ISIL terrorists targeted included individuals who fled to the remote desert camps from Sirte in order to reorganize, and they posed a security threat to Libya, the region, and U.S. national interests. While we are still evaluating the results of the strikes, the initial assessment indicates they were successful. This action was authorized by the President as an extension of the successful operation the U.S. military conducted last year to support Libyan forces in freeing Sirte from ISIL control. The United States remains prepared to further support Libyan efforts to counter terrorist threats and to defeat ISIL in Libya. We are committed to maintaining pressure on ISIL and preventing them from establishing safe haven. These strikes will degrade ISIL’s ability to stage attacks against Libyan forces and civilians working to stabilize Sirte, and demonstrate our resolve in countering the threat posed by ISIL to Libya, the United States and our allies.

ADDENDA: Over on the home page, a look at Hugh Hewitt’s new book and proposed agenda for the Trump administration.