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Reflections on Obama’s presidential legacy

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Abdullah Ahmed examines Barack Obama's presidency and finds a substantial legacy of reform alongside a tainted record on civil liberties.

THE REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES have been something to behold.

The field has withered from seventeen hopefuls to three viable candidates.

Ben Carson has struggled to answer basic questions on foreign policy and Ted Cruz has advocated for carpet-bombing the Middle East. The Bush dynasty has collapsed and Trumpism has risen. And perhaps most entertainingly, establishment favourite Marco Rubio has incessantly regurgitated talking points to the extent where comparison to a robot is warranted.

But despite the circus and all of the candidates’ differences, they are all of the same mind on one point: that Obama’s presidency has been an unmitigated disaster.

Now to any fair-minded observer of politics, this analysis is patently absurd. It is simply political hyperbole peddled during the primary season in order to drum up votes. But it got me thinking. What is Obama’s legacy?

He was in many ways the perfect candidate. He was young, handsome, articulate, charismatic and he was African American. And after eight years of Bush, two wars paid for through deficit spending and the collapse of the American economy at the hands of Wall Street banksters, he was the breath of fresh air America craved.

And he played it perfectly.

He was only in the senate for two years and didn’t have a record anyone could scrutinise. By appealing to vacuous concepts of hope and change, people painted what they wanted onto the blank canvas that was candidate Obama. John McCain didn’t stand a chance. Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States on 29 January 2009. And despite the Republicans’ relentless obstructionism, including shutting down the Government, Obama has gotten a lot done over the past seven years.

He passed a stimulus package which likely prevented America from depression. He saved the automobile industry from going bankrupt. He passed universal healthcare (commonly referred to as Obamacare) that Democrats had been trying to do since Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency in the early 1900’s.

Through executive action, he ensured that five million undocumented immigrants would not be torn away from their families and that background checks are mandatory before purchasing a firearm. He repealed the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Act and allowed gays to openly serve in the military. He ended the disastrous war in Iraq.

He brought justice to Osama Bin Laden, the chief architect of the attacks on 9/11. He normalised relations with Cuba and is currently planning a visit there. He negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran, which likely prevented further war and a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. And perhaps most consequentially for posterity, he led climate talks leading to the Paris Accord, assuring global action on climate change.

Not a bad legacy at all.

But there is a stain on Obama’s record. He has been the worst president in history with respect to civil liberties. Not only has he adopted the policies of Bush (notwithstanding his latest attempt to close Guantanamo Bay) but has done far more than progressives in the United States would have tolerated had it been done by a conservative Republican president.

Obama has been waging a war on whistleblowers. Only eleven people have been charged under the Espionage Act of 1917 for leaking classified information — seven of them have been under Obama. Among them are Edward Snowden, whose leaks to The Guardian newspaper revealed the existence of a global surveillance apparatus erected by the U.S. National Security Agency.

Just months before, servile Obama apparatchik and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied under oath to Congress when he knowingly denied the existence of such a program. Lying to congress is a felony, holding a five-year prison sentence and yet Clapper has never been indicted and remains at his post to this day. If Clapper can lie to Congress with impunity, who is watching the watcher?

By contrast, the book has been thrown at Snowden, with some more unlettered faeces throwers in the media calling for his assassination. Needless to say, Snowden has fled the jurisdiction and maintains political asylum in Russia.

But it gets worse. Not only has Obama usurped the power to detain U.S. citizens without a trial (see the National Defence Authorization Act) but also to kill them. On 30 September 2011, Obama ordered the extrajudicial execution of U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki. The U.S. government claimed that he was aiding and abetting terrorism. Al-Awlaki’s family claimed that he was merely airing his grievances with U.S. foreign policy and exercising his first amendment rights. And that’s the problem with suspending due process. Who knows what al-Awlaki crimes were? It’s too late — he’s already dead. No president should have the power to assassinate a U.S. citizen on his say-so.

As former constitutional lawyer turned journalist Glenn Greenwald explains, the difference between this and other U.S. Presidents’ assaults on liberty – Lincoln suspending habeas corpus during the Civil War, Wilson’s attack on free speech during WWI and FDR’s locking up of the Japanese in internment camps during WWII – is that this is entrenched and perpetual. This is the insidiousness of trademarking the global phenomenon of terrorism as a war on terror. There is no clearly defined enemy or clearly defined victory — the rules of war are applicable on every inch of the planet and constitutional rights are disposed of in the name of national security.

As James Madison, founding father and principal author of the constitution once said,

“The means of defence against foreign danger have always been the instruments of tyranny at home.”

Without the constitutional chains on the power of the presidency, who knows what could eventuate. Just imagine what a President Trump could do.

You can follow Abdullah Ahmed on Twitter @AAhmed_95.

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