January 11 2017
Patrice L. Onwuka
Watching President Obama say goodbye to the American public last night was tear-inducing for many, but don’t count me in that number.
I maintain that his election as the first African-American President of the United States was historic. That should not be forgotten. However, in his eight years in office he managed to divide the nation into two polar opposites. Employing stellar oratory skills that are a little bit Southern Baptist preacher and a little bit Ivory Tower philosopher, he has a knack for sprinkling truth in with divisive messages to push a philosophical point of view that maximizes the hand over government over the individual.
There was a genuine moment that was memorable: when he turned to his wife and thanked her for graciously doing a job that she never asked for (twice). Watching him speechless for a moment, crossed political lines and socio-economic divides. We can all think of the handful of people (whether a spouse, a friend, or a parent) who stood by us during rough moments.
However, overall, his farewell speech was as partisan as we could expect. Almost every point of common sense was followed by a back-handed slap or subtle slight to his opponents.
Just look at these five instances:
President Obama noted early in his speech that the Founders gave us a great gift: “The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, and toil, and imagination — and the imperative to strive together as well, to achieve a common good, a greater good.”
Yet, his policies to saddle industries with job-killing regulations and red tape stifled everyone from entrepreneurs to factory workers and made it harder for Americans to start businesses or chase their dreams.
His solution of reforming “the tax code so corporations and the individuals who reap the most from this new economy don’t avoid their obligations to the country that’s made their very success possible,” doesn’t inspire risk-takers to put it all on the line knowing Washington is waiting to tax it away.
He aptly notes: “Now there’re no quick fixes to this long-term trend. I agree, our trade should be fair and not just free. But the next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good middle class jobs obsolete.”
But his prescription to “give workers the power to unionize for better wages” is a short-term pill from a myopic perspective that does workers no long-term good. A few extra dollars now from unionizing or higher minimum wages in industries such as retail, fast food, hospitality, and manufacturing, only serve to make robots and automation much more appealing to employers. As we’ve said before, a robot doesn’t ask for a raise, paid leave, or healthcare.
We need to start thinking about the industries where human intelligence can’t be replaced by robotics and how to prepare our high school and college students for futures in those careers.
To those who continue to point to race-related hardships President Obama said, “Now I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, no matter what some folks say.”
I agree somewhat. People of color have seen wages, homeownership, education, and opportunity rise over the past three decades. Yet, his policies have not done a lot to address unemployment and poverty rates among blacks, but increased their government dependency.
Do Americans get along better now than before? Arguably no. The selectivity with which he engaged in local race-related debates such as a Beer Summit after a Harvard professor was arrested, didn’t unite anyone racially. His solution to “uphold laws against discrimination in hiring, housing, education, and criminal justice” just maintains the status quo and his encouragement to “try harder,” falls as flat as his efforts over eight years.
President Obama iterated a message that he’s made in the past: retreating into our social and economic bubbles and refusing to listen to opposing views does no one good:
“For too many of us it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods, or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions…
And increasingly we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.”
Yet, in the same breath President Obama dissed those who don’t agree with his view of environmentalism. He took a swipe at those who don’t ascribe to global warming (now conveniently called climate change) and the government’s mandates to saddle industry with overreaching environmental regulations:
“But without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, then we’re going to keep talking past each other…
Take the challenge of climate change… without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change. They’ll be busy dealing with its effects... Now we can and should argue about the best approach to solve the problem. But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations, it betrays the essential spirit of this country, the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our founders.”
Finally, thorough out his speech, President Obama elevated the citizen’s role in our democracy as the guards who must be vigilant. As part of that he implored “all of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions.”
Absolutely, let’s ensure that our branches of government are working together with checks and balances and that civil society can empower the citizen to hold those branches accountable. However, civil society (including our political parties and institutions) depend on citizens’ ability to support them financially. Obama would disagree though:
“When trust in our institutions is low, we should reduce the corrosive influence of money in our politics, and insist on the principles of transparency and ethics in public service.”
President Obama did little to truly unite Americans despite our common foes of economic turmoil, terrorism, and future uncertainty. He conveniently takes no responsibility for any of the discord in our nation, and lays the blame at the doorstep of opponents in Washington and across the country who espouse an opposing philosophy.