Obama’s Farewell Tour: The Feel-Good President

He transformed politics into comedy: U.S. President Barack Obama is always good for a joke. But the summary of his tenure is not likely to be so funny, because he has disappointed many hopes.

Barack Obama is the comedian-in-chief, the president as entertainer — and if you look back on it, he is a gifted performer. You might think this is all that remains of his era: the transformation of politics into stand-up.

It was at the White House correspondents dinner that he made his point with a self-evident transparency. Small jokes, evils that were never spiteful or hurtful, were delivered with the charm of an awkward man against whose timing, rhetoric and self-irony Angela Merkel appears like a Lego piece at her own performance. And Anton Hofreiter was like a balloon with air shooting out wildly, and whistling through the room.

But the question of why there are no such politicians in Germany arises not because the answer is so obvious: You might as well ask why this country has no Duke Ellington, no Miles Davis, no Prince and no Beyoncé.

There is another question: Was that it? Or was there something else to his legacy?

So the question then is this: What will remain of this president, whose election was a miracle (or so it seemed at the time)? And what should happen after the miracle? Apparently, reality has changed. And when you wake up and remember that there are no miracles, and that reality is a “tough cookie,” it is often too late for anything to be done but to watch as the others process their own wishful thinking.

Guiding Light with Miserable Foreign Policy

This [moniker] was true even with Obama, and the tenacity with which many clung to the dream that this man could free his country and the world from the trauma of the “Bush baggage” [was undeniable]. This bears witness to the fact that the United States of America was down — politically, morally and economically — when Obama arrived. But at this level, the feel-good president has indeed achieved a great deal, and perhaps domestically even rescued the U.S. from the new great depression following 2008 — something that historians will regard as his legacy.

On the other hand, his foreign policy doesn’t look so good. You could also say it looks devastating. There is Guantanamo, which he has not closed; there is the fact that he was wrong in Libya, because of his indecisive intervention; there is the non-intervention in Syria, in which doing nothing in the civil war has allowed for the proliferation of the beast that is the Islamic State. Then there is the controversial deal with Iran, about which Israel is concerned that Obama is not a particularly good partner; and particularly, there is the drone war, which Obama has radically expanded alongside a crackdown on whistle-blowers. Obama’s heritage, as it stands in retrospect was “war without end.”

But despite this, despite the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and all other acts, there is a reluctance to see Obama and his presidency too negatively. This often has to do with his supporters’ hopes, which they don’t want to give up so easily. But this also has to do with the fact that, compared to what the Republicans did to destroy his policy during his tenure, Obama was like a classic guiding light who appeared to have a constructive policy. We still have the memory of a time when politics still worked.

And it has mainly to do with the results of the radicalization of the right, which is threatening to the president since [the right] wants to stop him. Here, one can say he has failed, though it is not his failure. There is a part of American society that can still not stand a black president, and always returns to the question: Where was President Obama actually born and is he still a front for the Muslim world conspiracy?

He wanted to be the reconciler in an era of hatred and only got the tea party with its political radical denial, followed by Trump, who runs his policy according to the logic of the comic Zack Bumm Päng. Both are classic reactionary phenomena, because they represent the fear of certain social groups against rapid change. They are also a direct response to the election of 2008. Obama’s election was symbolically a big step into the 21st century; many voters feel anything but comfortable about the 20th century.

Desperation of the Middle Class

The views on Obama’s presidency are heavily dependent on who will be his successor, Trump or Clinton. And the success of Bernie Sanders has to do with the disappointment of many voters that they did not get what they had hoped for from Obama: a more just society. Neal Gabler, in a title story for The Atlantic, described the “secret shame of the middle class,” and the fact that nearly half of Americans would not be able to quickly raise $400 if they needed it.

Anyone who describes the extremely rational-driven policy of Bernie Sanders as leftist, or “red” in this context, still has not understood what has happened in recent years. The expropriation, lack of prospects and desperation of large parts of the middle class is perhaps the central problem of today’s Western democracies, because their resolution will determine their survival. It is not about left or right; there is an obvious inequity. And currently, many young voters are skeptical that a woman from the past like Hillary Clinton will tackle these problems.

Obama couldn’t [solve the problems] and didn’t even dare address the key systemic issues. His health care reform looks more like an attempt to make up for the 1970s. Clinton promises continuity in this sense, with Trump threatening chaos and war — socially and in general. Therefore, [the reputation of] President Obama, who was not unfairly compared by many to Jimmy Carter, will no doubt grow in retrospect. The transfiguration will continue.

But he is also so personable. How harsh can one be, or perhaps should be, as the White House correspondents dinner comedian? Larry Wilmore illustrated this when he spoke after Obama and showed he was not content in criticizing Trump or mocking the journalists present. He tore up the lies of a society in which a hashtag like #blacklivesmatter is a necessity. What a statement, what an inheritance for a black president, to have to name it at all. The images of blacks killed by police are a permanent cultural memory, the sign of the times, as Prince called it. “My nigga” named Wilmore, at the end of his rush at Obama, [delivered something] tender, brutal and also rhetorically ambivalent, open and suspenseful — like the legacy of this presidency.

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