After almost six years in the White House, President Barack Obama is undoubtedly thinking of his legacy. No question that he tries to leave a great mark on foreign policy and attempts to protect the Affordable Care Act. But his most important impact may be in the Democratic party.
During 2008, Obama was hailed as an admixture of a post-modern prophet and a return of big government. He, after all, went to Berlin and proclaimed a new era in American foreign affairs and within the United States he promised "hope." Some of his promises were specific, like the one about closing Guantanamo, but most were vague. His speeches were lofty and his message resembled an unguided missile heading straight for the ether. But he won, not only in 2008 but repeated the trick in 2012.
That he is important is unquestioned. Despite a harsh and unrelenting opposition, Obama remained true to his message throughout his first term. In his second term, he reverted to the practices of his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, in pushing a small domestic agenda. In foreign policy, guided by the choleric and often unmeasured John Kerry, he is flirting with embracing his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush's policies.
In an odd way there are similarities. Remember Bush's claims that he wanted to be "humble" in his dealings with other nations. Indeed he was to be a "compassionate Conservative," whatever that was supposed to mean. Obama is gradually going the way of Bush even if it is kicking and screaming. But unlike Bush, Obama's new path seems tragic in its dimensions.
Tragic in the sense that Obama was sincere and, for a goodly portion of his presidency, true to his creed. He did get sidetracked in Libya but he smartly awarded Syria - good thing, too, given the emergence of ISIS. As with John F. Kennedy during the Bay of Pigs, he has been manipulated by a whole host of national security mavens, eager to make him a war president by hook or by crook. His CIA Chief John Brennan, along with the National Security Agency, has violated privacy and has made a mockery of free speech. Moreover, Edward Snowden cast doubt on whether the U.S. is a country where liberty is guaranteed.
This seduction of Obama by the National Security state became evident in 2013. Just as Obama was beginning to place his Conservative critics in the corner, a Democrat won the Virginia gubernatorial race and Obamacare was gradually being accepted. Then came Kerry and Snowden and divisions within Obama's own ranks began to appear.
With a national security team like Victoria Nuland, Samantha Power, Susan Rice and the like, Obama went down the tired road taken by Democrats to political disaster. Obama began to sound as tired as Bush and as strident as John McCain. All the while, his Republican opponents did not bother to accredit him with being anything but a weakling. Unfortunately, the President ran his own ship aground and on the same rocks that wrecked other members of his party.
For 2016, Democrats might be tired of candidates who start out as measured tribunes and end up droning on like corporate lawyers.