During the 2016 presidential campaign, President Barack Obama furnished much good media-copy by proclaiming that GOP candidate Donald Trump was “temperamentally unfit” for the presidency. Mr. Obama undoubtedly meant to posit himself as the exemplar of fitness for the office – although it was far from clear how he thought his own Olympian stature was somehow imputed to Democrat candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. Perhaps just by association? Or was it her forensic skill on the podium? Her competent handling of the nation’s foreign affairs? Her easy manner with the hoi polloi? Or maybe her exemplary family – especially that big, loveable lug, Bubba? (Surely I jest, you might say. She had none of this going for her. She was an empty pantsuit.)
Whatever convoluted logic made Mr. Obama believe he was establishing Mrs. Clinton’s bona fides for the nation’s highest office will forever remain a mystery to this writer, and will probably never be clear to voters, either – assuming that they even care. Perhaps Mr. Obama still believed that the word of his mouth made it so – or, at least, would make listeners believe it was so because of who he is. (For what it’s worth, I think the latter conviction has weighed his entire presidency down like millstone.)
Leaving all this aside, let’s wade into the riotous aftermath of Mr. Trump’s dramatic victory – an unexpected result that completely shocked pols of both parties, as well as multitudes of pundits, reporters, and students. A month on, some of these are still huddling in their safe-spaces, wondering how this could have happened. Hillary-partisans are pinning their fading hopes on a recount-upset, but there’s no way, Jose. History teaches that an election can be stolen only secretly, in the dark of night – never in the light of day with myriads watching every move of the recounters.
Although Mr. Obama has made appropriate noises about accepting the verdict of the people, his post-election conduct has caused more than a few observers – including Yours Truly – to wonder if he really means it. Increasingly, Mr. Obama seems to be casting doubt on his own “fitness” to be an ex-president in the traditional sense.
I have now lived through the exits of twelve presidents, ten of which were still living when they left office. I reached the age of ten on the very day in 1953 when Harry Truman gave the White House keys to Dwight Eisenhower, so I recall his departure very well. Insiders say he was not pleased that a Republican had won the office, but he made no statements denouncing the voters’ judgment or impugning General Eisenhower’s “fitness.” Ike had won the war in Europe for us, so his reputation was untouchable. Any criticism of him would have been considered absurd. Whatever Mr. Truman’s personal feelings and political views might have been, he kept them entirely to himself.
After leaving office Mr. Truman declined all corporate offers of executive positions, saying that they wanted him only because he had been president. The presidency, he said, was not for sale. He lived until December 1972, so the 20 years of his ex-presidency overlapped my own years of growing political awareness. At no time did I hear him make public statements on national policy or attempt to exert political influence in any way. He even declined the Congressional Medal of Honor, saying he didn’t deserve it. At one point he said that his two career options had been politics or a piano-player in a whorehouse. “And to tell the truth,” he said, “there’s not much difference.” I didn’t agree with Mr. Truman, politically, but you’ve got to admit that the guy had class.
Ike was followed by John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama. Mr. Kennedy was assassinated, of course, and Mr. Nixon resigned under a cloud, so he kept a low profile after he left office. Of the others, only Democrats Carter and Clinton have commented on public policy or candidates’ “fitness” for the office. Jimmy Carter, in particular, fashioned a whole new career lecturing voters on what a terrible mistake they made by rejecting him in 1980. (He never quite recovered from his landmark defeat by Ronald Reagan.)
Truman and LBJ were the Democrats who kept mum. All six Republicans have generally avoided intervening in politics, although G. W. Bush did endorse his brother, Jeb, during the 2016 GOP primary. But he has carefully avoided making any statements on Mr. Obama’s presidency or on either Mrs. Clinton’s or Mr. Trump’s candidacies.
With Mr. Obama, though, it’s a whole new ballgame. He is discarding the old (unwritten) rules and conventions on ex-presidents’ conduct. Barack O has made it clear that he plans to stick around Washington, having leased a $5.3 million mansion in the tony Kalorama section of D. C. – just a stone’s throw from the White House. (After all, where else could he live? In Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago? Are you kidding? The Murder Capital of the USA? Way too dangerous for the ex-First Fam.)
Barack Obama will be the first president since Woodrow Wilson, in 1921, to remain in Washington after he leaves office. Mr. Wilson was ill and disabled at the end of his term, but Mr. Obama is a robust 55-year-old who obviously intends to keep a (very) close watch to ensure that his “legacy” accomplishments are protected. If they are threatened, he knows that a live media-microphone and TV camera will always be available for him to denounce Republicans’ ruin of what he worked so hard to accomplish. He’ll be America’s first “president emeritus” – always ready to take the stage again, dressed in his signature Armani suit with the immaculately creased pants.
Back in the day we used to say you could do what you wanted if you were free, white, and twenty-one. You can’t say that today, of course – not in Mr. Obama’s case anyway. All kidding aside, though, Mr. Obama can certainly do whatever he wants after leaving office. Indeed, he can pretty much do what he wants while he’s still in office, as he has repeatedly shown over these past eight years – ramped up considerably in recent weeks. Right after the election he took a whirlwind “farewell tour” of Europe. It was planned as a “victory lap” to brag about his accomplishments and celebrate the passing of the torch to his “supremely qualified” successor, Hillary Clinton, who would carry on his visionary policies. But We The People didn’t quite follow the script, as one media report wrote:
“Barack Obama spent the months before the US election denouncing Donald Trump as unfit for office. Now he must eat his words. When he makes his final visit to Europe this week, Mr. Obama’s awkward job will be reassuring nervous allies that a Trump presidency will not be as bad as they fear.”
His latest blast at the incoming Trump administration was a December 6th speech on national security that he gave at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. As reported by Reuters:
“President Barack Obama on Tuesday warned that the United States would not be able to wipe out terrorism with military might, as he offered a sweeping defense of his administration's national security record. In his final major speech on counterterrorism as president, Obama argued that his administration had been able to make al Qaeda ‘a shadow of its former self’ and had put Islamic State on its heels, but said terrorism would remain a threat to the United States… Obama spoke of the importance of adhering to American laws and values and against reinstating the use of waterboarding or imposing a religious test on immigrants, two positions that Trump has supported in the past.”
There was more in the Reuters report, but these excerpts give the basic flavor. It was a remarkable display of Mr. Obama’s hubristic sense of omniscience, as he lectured his successor on how to handle matters on which his own performance stank. (Perhaps he was generously passing on what he had learned from his mistakes.)
In the past few days Mr. Obama has blamed sloppy intelligence reports for inaccurately estimating the threat posed by ISIS. This, he now claims, is why he failed to defeat this rising Islamic terrorist force during his terms. (Really? Is anything ever his fault?)
A president of real accomplishment doesn’t have to run around the country (or the world) reminding everyone of all the great things he has done. People will know it without being harangued about it again (and again). Mr. Obama must have snoozed through the class on outgoing presidential decorum during his cram-course on “how to be president.”
Back in vaudeville’s heyday, the expression “get the hook” was sometimes heard when a performer had overstayed his welcome on the stage. A long pole with a hook on the end was thrust out from the wings to haul the yawner out of the spotlight. Nothing like that is available to rid the public of a politician who still loves hearing the sound of his own voice long after his audience has tired of it. But Barack Obama is definitely that guy. He’s waaay past his expiration date. As we used to say in the old neighborhood, he needs to put a sock in it. If he doesn’t, we’ll wish we had never heard of him. Truth be told, the country might be there already. The next six weeks can’t pass too quickly.
The Obamas’ new DC-digs. (Not the White House but, hey, we all have to make sacrifices.)