In this election cycle, it’s been difficult to escape fawning pieces over President Obama and his legacy. They range from this lovely gusher from David Brooks from earlier this year, lauding President Obama’s character and leadership, to lamentations that Obama won’t be seeking a third term.
To be sure, I understand the place these articles come from–namely, fear of his likely successors. If pressed on the matter, I too would confess I’m marginally less terrified of President Obama than either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. But this is an extraordinarily low bar. With just two weeks to go till this awful election is over, it’s easy to forget this.
The Brooks piece above offers perhaps the best exposition on President Obama’s alleged integrity. For instance, Brooks writes that, in contrast with administrations past, President Obama’s tenure has been “remarkably scandal-free”. In a way, this is true. But it has less to do with President Obama’s actual merits, and much more to do with the fact that much of the media has redefined what constitutes a scandal.
As a reminder, these are just a few of the exceptional policies and actions President Obama has overseen. In The New York Times version, apparently none of them qualify as scandals:
- Assassinating an American citizen deliberately, without any semblance of due process.
- Assassinating that same American citizen’s son two weeks later, because he didn’t have a “responsible father”, in the words of the White House Press Secretary
- Waging an unconstitutional and disastrous war in Libya.
- Creating said failed state, which also paved the way for ethnic pogroms against black Africans
- Bombing a Doctors without Borders hospital in Afghanistan, for an hour, killing 40+ people
- Supporting an aggressive and disastrous War in Yemen to “placate the Saudis“, which continues to this day.
- And in general, asserting the right to wage limitless war, anywhere, with or without Congressional approval.
- With the help of US allies, backing the not-so-moderate rebels in Syria, in spite of internal US intelligence suggesting the policy was paving the conditions for a Salafist principality (i.e. something like the Islamic State).
Nope, no scandals there. An affair with an intern will lead to an impeachment trial. Throwing multiple countries into violent, deadly chaos? Not so much. Indeed, Brooks even suggests, apparently sincerely, that Obama “may have been too cautious, especially in the Middle East”. That’s right: the guy who bragged about bombing seven countries is just a bit too hesitant about using force for The New York Times.
At this point, you may be wondering why I’m bringing up a New York Times column from February eight months later. Admittedly, in part, it’s because I didn’t find the chance to properly rant about it at the time. And honestly, there’s an unbelievable amount of material to complain about here. As another example, this is an actual line from the article:
“Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss”
You get the idea.
But beyond my basic need to vent, the Brooks article is also important as the most explicit manifestation of the theme I mentioned at the outset–that somehow President Obama is different, and better, than the usual crop of corrupt and duplicitous politicians. He is not. The least dirty shirt in the laundry is still a dirty shirt.
The media may not have paid much attention to President Obama’s scandals. But for the countless victims of his policies around the world, they will be impossible to forget.