As of the time of this writing, President Obama delivered his farewell speech. It was one final speech to attempt to sum up eight years of work.
Not surprisingly, there are many gathering on both sides of the aisle to assess his legacy. The USA Today (January 10, 2017) described it as “Obama Leaves A Complex Legacy.” An opposing editorial simply said: “A Failure at Home and Abroad.” Similarly, the Tuesday, January 10, 2017, Wall Street Journal titled their editorial: “The Obama Legacy: A President of great promise ends in rancor and disappointment.” Peniel Joseph wrote on January 7, 2017, “Barack Obama forever changed Black America.” Gary Westphalen and Serena Marshall of ABC News entitled their piece as “The Obama Legacy: A Promise of Hope.”
The purpose of this writing is not to render my own opinion on Obama’s legacy. Frankly, I think history operates best with hindsight and we don’t have enough in the rear view mirror yet.
On the other hand, there’s a great deal we can learn from those who review President Obama’s legacy. How do we judge a presidency?
Often whether we care to admit it or not, we judge a presidency by economics. Did the president improve our economy? Did we gain jobs? Did we make and sell products? Did we prosper?
In the vein of prosperity, we judge a presidency by the state of our relationships internally. How do we get along with one another? Did relationships among citizens improve? Do we like one another?
But it’s not just the state of our internal relationships, it is also how we got along with our neighbors. We might call that foreign relationships. Were we good neighbors? Did we make the world a better place? A safer place?
Let me pause for a moment and digress. For any reader, there can be a thousand counterpoints, and I’m afraid we’ve become a nation majoring in the counterpoints. We take too much pleasure in our arguments and staunchly defending the “rightness” of our position. It is okay to have disagreements, but it is equally important to return to a place of commonality. I, for one, believe we live in one of the greatest nations in the history of the world promoting freedom. The fact that people can express counter views to that point demonstrates that truth.
And that’s where, perhaps the USA Today editorial got it right: it’s complicated. Perhaps the great intangible of measuring a presidency is how the president made us feel about our country, our fellow citizens, our mission as a country? Did they offer hope? Did they speak with optimism? Did they give us courage in the face of trial?
I suspect that any one of us can think back to iconic presidents and what they stood for, and find some measure of belief and hope. Time will tell how we will look back upon President Obama’s legacy.
But lest we be too upward looking, I find it convicting to think that the same manner in which a president’s legacy will be judged, so will mine. The same questions will be asked:
As you consider the Obama legacy, please write to share your own thoughts—on his legacy, or perhaps your view of another president’s legacy, and similarly your view of personal legacy.