Bye, Bye Barack – The Worst President Ever in American History? Review

Battle of Ideas 2016
Cinema 3
Barbican Centre
London EC2
Saturday 22nd October 2016

An interesting Battle of Ideas 2016 discussion analysed whether or not President Barack Obama is the worst US President ever. Listening to the views of Kate Andrews, Spokesperson for Republicans Overseas UK and CityAM columnist on the US presidential race; Steven Erlanger, London Bureau Chief, New York Times and Nancy McDermott, writer, one was generally left with the impression Obama is not the worst ever President, but as one who was elected on a campaign promising hope, panelists felt he could have achieved a lot more and that in the words of Kate Andrews, it has been a presidency of “wasted potential”. It is for this reason she cited that Hillary Clinton is not steaming ahead in the opinion polls. “American are fearful of four more years of this.”

For instance on gun control she argued that at the point early on when Obama had a “super majority in the Senate” he had a “golden window to do anything he wanted”. That was a bit of ridiculous statement really as she went on to point out the problem was that Democrats loved owning guns (and presumably Republicans too) which meant no main party wanted serious, if any, curbs on gun ownership. “Americans have an emotional attachment to guns that the rest of the world doesn’t understand.” Basically even if he wanted to change things radically here he just couldn’t as he’d have had no support within his own Democratic party or from the main opposition, Republican party.

McDermott made quite a prescient point which explains a lot, stating that in America, “the use of guns is primarily a leisure activity, a tool. It’s a way of life. Especially in the rural country areas. It’s only a problem in cities.” It was cited by another that Obama could have revised The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution which reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Kate Andrews, Nancy McDermott, Patrick Cusworth & Steve Erlanger

Kate Andrews, Nancy McDermott, Patrick Cusworth & Steve Erlanger

Considering the above I fail to see how it had a cat in hell’s chance of getting through Congress. I don’t accept that Obama’s reign was one of wasted potential. He did his best to get the Republican’s onside to introduce various reforms such as Obamacare but failed due to their obduracy towards him and his party.

Nancy McDermott echoed Kate’s view regarding Hillary Clinton’s failure to establish a big lead over Donald Trump in another way by saying the legacy of Obama is Donald Trump.

She cited that Obamacare had no Republican support and that it has now been shown as less a handout to those at the bottom of society, but more of a benefit to the health care insurance companies who got huge handouts to help get Obamacare through.
All were in agreement that Obama has handled himself with considerable dignity in the face of fierce racism and Republican opposition to everything he tried to do.

I think Steven Erlanger’s criticism that the plight of Syria will be a stain on his presidency was very unfair. Obama had a more hands off approach to that conflict and at the end of the day, the US cannot get itself entangled in every national crisis going. That imperialist approach has caused the US a lot of problems and backlash, so a scaling back of its international ambitions and involvement was a long overdue correction and has helped improve the status of America and the President which arguably was at an all time low when Obama took over.

It was said that Obama, by taking such a restrained approach to foreign affairs, had shown a respect for other nations and leaders, which reflect well on him, the presidency and America.

It was noted that we hear less about Afghanistan these days and it was posited that this could be deemed a measure of success that isn’t being reported. Erlanger responded that his paper is reporting on it a lot and still has a Bureau in Afghanistan.

This was a very biased discussion, with all panelists seemingly anti-Obama and whilst acknowledging his dignity and the racism he faced and Republican opposition, they failed to highlight his successes as President such as HealthCare Reform, economic stimulus, an incredible record of job creation stretching back years, 23 straight months up to 2012 at least; ended the war in Iraq and took out Osama Bin Laden, enemy #1 for America to name but a few. 50 of his achievements up to 2012 alone are detailed here by Paul Glastris, Ryan Cooper and Siyu Hu.

In the face of becoming President at a time of one of the worst recessions, stock market crises, wars galore, gun crime issues and racial tensions I believe Obama’s done the best anyone could have hoped for in the circumstances he encountered when taking office. Whilst not all major issues are resolved, such as on gun control and race relations, that says more about the peculiarities of Americans and their love for guns and the deeply entrenched racism within society that is reflected in many of their serving police officers.

Photograph and review © Tiemo Talk of the Town


  1. Bye, Bye Barack: The Worst President Ever? – Battle of Ideas 2016 topic
  2. Obama’s Top 50 Accomplishments – Washington Monthly – March – April 2012
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