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Caution: Don't Glorify Obama's Record in the Era of Trump
Description of how my initial fears about an Obama presidency--his campaign pledges to send more troops to Afganistan, his support of the Death Penalty and Charter Schools played out during his presidency. The importance of not glamorizing the militarism and neoliberal policies that characterized his term in office, in light of the monster administration that it led to.
Caution: Don’t Glorify Obama’s Record
Three days after Obama’s election, I was at a birthday celebration, and the mood was jubilant. Noticing how quiet I was, a friend turned to me and asked if I wasn’t happy about the election. Not having the confidence to explain my position at the time, I stammered, “Yes.”
The truth was that there were several stances Obama had openly taken during his campaign that alarmed me and clouded my view of him as someone who would bring about the hope and change he promised in his beautifully articulate speeches. And my fears materialized during his presidency.
Critical to me in a candidate is a commitment to demilitarization. So the most frightening and disappointing of his campaign promises for me was his plan to send more troops to Afghanistan, ramping up a misguided conflict initiated by President Bush right after 9/11. As promised, during Obama’s first few years, troop numbers in Afghanistan increased from 30,000 to over 100,000 and led to the longest war in US history—currently 15 years—and the expenditure of $740 BILLION dollars that could have addressed growing poverty and crumbling infrastructure at home. Despite his pledge to end the travesty before he left office, he recently announced that he would be leaving 8,400 troops in Afghanistan. How many are aware that Obama bombed SEVEN countries to Bushes four while in office—not to mention his extensive use of drones! (And won the Nobel Peace Prize!)
I was alarmed by candidate Obama’s stated support of the death penalty, which is tainted with racial bias and used disproportionately against people of color. In 2012, Obama explained, “I believe the death penalty is appropriate in certain circumstances. While the evidence tells me that the death penalty does little to deter crime, I believe there are some crimes that are so heinous…that the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage.” Not the moral highroad I would like in a leader.
I was disturbed by his avowed support of charter schools. Accordingly, he appointed Arnie Duncan as Secretary of Education—a man whose sole experience in education was his appointment by Mayor Richard Daley as CEO of Chicago’s public school system. His idea of improving inner-city education was to establish corporate-run charter schools and military schools. During Obama’s tenure, true to his word, the nation’s charter school numbers doubled (from 3% to 6%). With Gates Foundation funding and promotion, Common Core State Standards were established and teacher efficacy was linked to student test scores. Teachers were pressured to teach to tests and teacher satisfaction rates plunged, while inequity in school funding was never addressed.
Obama’s failings are often dismissed as stemming from an obstructionist Republican Congress. But when he took office, he had a Democratic congress for two years. He could have charged forward dynamically constructing that hope and change he gallantly promised—like Trump is currently doing devastatingly. Instead he brought in the likes of Robert Ruben who had been behind NAFTA and the demise of Glass-Steagall under Clinton. And he immediately declared Single Payer Health Care off the table, despite the fact that HR 676, a 2008 Medicare for All bill had strong congressional and public support. (Coincidentally, pharmaceuticals and “healthcare professionals” were large contributors to his campaign.) And while he provided a welcome safety net for undocumented youth with DACA, he callously deported two and a half MILLION undocumented immigrants, splitting up families, ripping parents from their children. He created detention centers to hold thousands of traumatized women and children from Central America under deplorable conditions to expedite their deportation. And where was the public outrage and impassioned protest?
So while Obama and his family look and sound noble, particularly in light of the horror of a Trump presidency, let’s continue to rise up and resist without glorifying the last eight years.
Sheila Carrillo, Retired Educator