According to one classical definition, “legacy” is “anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor”. American presidents often consider their potential legacies as they are leaving the White House. During the waning weeks of the Obama administration this has been a focus of the President.
Since the election of Donald Trump and the defeat of the President’s Party, Obama has taken steps that are legacy focused. Perhaps the most surprising was his anti-Israeli vote (abstention) in the United Nations where he broke decades of American precedent only after there would not be political consequences. In addition, the President and some advisers have been making speeches in attempt to write history in advance. While legacies are ultimately viewed as positive or negative, they are created by history and historical facts, not political narratives.
Prior to the New Year, Obama was asked by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria about his biggest policy disappointment. Obama’s response:
“If you ask me where has been the one area where I feel that I’ve been most frustrated and most stymied, it is the fact that the United States of America is the one advanced nation on Earth in which we do not have sufficient common sense gun safety laws.”
While gun control is an issue with thoughtful people on both sides of the debate, the President placing it as his biggest disappointment shows a disconnect with the American People. According to a 2016 Pew Research poll, those in favor of gun rights is at its strongest since the study began. During the same period, support for gun control is at its lowest.
Most Americans agree, irrespective of Obama’s recent pronouncements, that race relations in the United States has deteriorated during the past eight years. On the economic front, wealth disparity in the United States has grown. Internationally, the US’s relations with China and Russia deteriorated and the Middle East has become an even greater firestorm. Given these realities it is rather incredible for President Obama to claim his greatest disappointment with his administration relates to the failure to increase gun control. If this illogical conclusion is not the result of the President being out of touch with the electorate, it then must be chalked up to an attempt to deflect from the more serious problems that have grown under his watch.
Eight years ago Barack Obama became President with great opportunity. Five days before taking the oath he said: “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” Obama’s legacy will ultimately be created by the results of the policies implemented under his watch, not by preemptive speeches.