Often, the politically informed get particularly cynical about casual hero-worship directed at figures like Barack Obama. While I agree with their sentiments, it’s also undeniable that Obama is one of the most intelligent and progressively minded Presidents in American history (yes, I know, he’s still behind Carter – but this baby just won a second term!)
Criticisms about foreign policy and the exercise of American power are legitimate and important, but the fact is that whoever holds the reigns of U.S. government will likely be implicated in drone strikes, civilian deaths, direct or tacit support for unsavoury regimes and/or a variety of other international law breaches that, as I’ve recently been reminded by one Facebook post, would see Obama (along with every other post-war President) hanged by the standards of Nuremberg.
The fact is, American Presidents, along with all leaders and those who participate in any form of position-taking, must be judged by their actions in the context of choices, which are constrained by political reality, institutional power and systemic inertia. Obama’s re-election is of course the better result when compared to a Romney Presidency, beholden to lunatic Tea Party fanatics. But Obama can surely be judged a genuinely good President in numerous ways, not least of which are the symbolic and practical support he’s given to socially progressive causes in the United States like health care, gay rights, women’s issues and, in a combination of domestic and foreign relevance (remember that Cairo speech), not-hating-on-Muslims-quite-so-much in the wake of 9/11 and Bush’s “War on Terror”. While it’s not everything, of course, rhetoric and symbolism do actually matter.
The reality of Obama’s presidency has been disappointing, but we should judge him as U.S. President, with all the constraints, hypocrisies and compromises that inevitably entails. We should judge him as a man who wanted to run for high office with the best of liberal intentions, as somebody who obviously has the insight to know exactly how complicated things really are, but whose position often blunts the better and more precise angels of intention. We should not judge him as Noam Chomsky.
Anyway, well done Mr. President and, in the spirit of examining just how fucked up the current state of politics is and, perhaps, some of the ways it might gradually move in a better direction, please check out this piece on comedy, politics and public discourse I recently penned for EMMI, a great new online home for creative works and social commentary. While you’re at it, be sure to read some of the other features and “stranger profiles” too. It’s a veritable cosmopolitan digital wonderland over there!
4 more years!