You have to marvel at the twilight weeks of President Barack Obama’s reign. He seems alternately to be a bitter lecturer on Monday and a magnanimous monarch on Tuesday who is philosophically, almost happily, heading off into exile.
Early in the week, he is the angry tyrant who cannot believe his bravura legacy of social change has been left in the questionable possession of a real estate huckster who was never even been a community organizer. This damn Trump and his billion dollars; how did it all happen? These are the days when he offers his presumed astute foreign policy advice to President-elect Trump: he hopes the naïve and insouciant Trump won’t allow the sinister Vladimir Putin to dupe the free world, and continue on Russia’s road to expansionism. This despite the fact that Putin did exactly that under Obama’s enervated watch, gobbling up the Crimea, bullying Ukraine and having his way in Syria.
The foreign locales are very apropos for this globe-trotting president, as he shares his charm and good humor with anyone who will listen.
While in Germany on one more “last presidential official visit” he was especially critical of Trump in a Der Spiegel interview as he droned on about his alleged accomplishments, again imagining that his legacy will be enshrined like a piece of Mount Rushmore.
In Lima, Peru on the weekend, Obama and Putin apparently met at the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference meet and greet. The White House says they spoke for about four minutes…about Syria…and Ukraine. Do you suppose it was two minutes on each? What, nothing about the WikiLeaks, assorted cyber attacks and the ruination of Donna Brazile?
Then Obama headed for the microphone for a news conference. It initiates another Jekyll and Hyde transformation, this time back to the thoughtful outgoing president. The ever-eager liberal media again asked the president if he thinks Trump is going to lay waste to the United States and destroy American prestige abroad. It was familiar ground for the president; the mainstream media have been lobbing him softball questions like this now for eight years and they were expecting him to knock this one out of the park in an energetic moment of partisan euphoria.
But Obama sort of staggered through his answer, very unsure of himself, filling the gaps in thoughts with more than the usual series of ums and uhs. Then he finally decides that there is a difference between “campaign language” and the “language of government.”
The irony of this statement is that for Obama, the language of campaign and government was always the same. Obama’s presidency was a perpetual campaign – chronically seeking public approval not so much for policies but for his narcissistic personality. Perhaps that is why he really didn’t have a policy agenda besides Obamacare – and had it not seemed outlandish and ludicrous he would have actually named the legislation after himself instead of calling it the Affordable Care Act.
Obama’s last campaign was supposed to be for Hillary Clinton. But of course, it was really about locking up his presidential testament. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t seem particularly devastated when Clinton went down to defeat. There was just a kind of “oh crap” moment and then he was commiserating with the broken campaign staffers.
Days later he was reminding everyone about how he won two presidential elections: by working hard and visiting all those little people in Iowa. Oops. Sounds like you don’t think Hillary extended too much of herself.
No serving president campaigned so vigorously and so flagrantly at public expense for his presumed successor. Was it all in the end a cruel joke? When he called Clinton “the most qualified presidential candidate in history” was he snickering as much as we were? Was it all about Obama after all?
Well, regardless of Obama’s motivation, he has managed not only to preempt the Clinton dynasty, he has helped elect a man who will assuredly wring the Obama legacy from the fabric of America.
Follow David on Twitter @DavidKrayden