Obama Talked The Talk; But Trump May Walk The Walk

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2017/01/02/obama-talked-the-talk-but-trump-may-walk-the-walk/

As we close out 2016, and the Obama presidency, retrospectives will abound. Liberals will lament the close of the Obama “Hope and Change” era, and, to varying degrees, cower in fear over the coming Trump administration. But a review of what Obama supporters loved about his two terms — much of which is, in my view, rhetorical and not substantive, may provide a reason for hope about a coming Trump administration.

As Obama exits the stage having said “all the right things” from the point of view of his supporters, but having accomplished very little in the eyes of his critics, it is worth pondering that although a Trump administration may say “all the wrong things,” according to liberal conventional wisdom, there may well be a disconnect between the rhetoric and the results.  Consider the following:


Obamacare:  One of the greatest rhetorical achievements of the Obama administration was getting the media and much of the public to equate “Obamacare” with “healthcare,” as in, “Senator X opposed healthcare.”

Of course, Obamacare is a health care financing system, not healthcare itself, and it has been a disaster.  “You can keep your plan” and “every family will save two thousand dollars” are laughable punchlines now, but were promises of President Barack Obama.

The exchanges have collapsed, health insurance premiums and government costs are skyrocketing, and choices of plans have been reduced or eliminated in many states.  

Thus, while the media will howl at any repeal of Obamacare as “taking away healthcare,” the truth is that our healthcare financing system needs real reform. It may well be better to have a president that “opposes healthcare” (as the media will undoubted report) but achieves some much needed financial reform than one who promises lower costs, more choice, and the ability to keep your doctor and delivers on none of those promises.  Trading the nice words and bad results we currently have for a better financing system might not be so bad, even if President Trump gets pilloried for his rhetoric.


Black Lives Matter / Police Misconduct:  There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth from civil rights leaders about a Trump administration and Jeff Sessions-led Department of Justice. But the reality is, what the Obama/Holder/Lynch years offered civil rights groups was political support, not legal results.

Last time I checked, precisely zero of the high-profile police-involved shootings were prosecuted by the DOJ. Yes, the Obama administration supported hoodie wearing after the Trayvon Martin incident, sent representatives to Michael Brown’s funeral, and made other public gestures to support Black Lives Matter; but with a record of zero for eight years in successful prosecutions of police-involved shootings, it’s not like the next administration can dip into negative numbers.

Moreover, it is not the case that the Obama administration’s political machinations were cost-free. Working law enforcement officers were well aware that many of the high-profile cases were not worthy of criminal prosecution, and they stood by and watched as their fellow officers were assumed guilty, scapegoated, and vilified for years prior to being legally cleared. Communities’ expectations of prosecution were raised by the statements of federal law enforcement, leading to anger when non-prosecution was eventually announced. In addition, DOJ’s so-called “pattern and practice” authority was often dispatched to appease political constituencies, which lessens confidence that DOJ is going where it is warranted rather than where it is pressured to by interest groups.

Ask yourself: Has police-community tension lessened over the past eight years? It is hard to make that case. So, while a Trump administration may not provide rhetorical support to Black Lives Matter that the Obama administration did, it has every opportunity to provide a better substantive record. Some people may not like the rhetoric, but the results may in fact be better.


Terrorism/Drones:  One of the curiosities of the Obama administration is that he is credited by the left for “ending” the Iraq War (however ineffectively and sporadically) while expanding the covert use of drones to kill enemy combatants throughout the Middle East. Killing terrorists summarily avoids the thorny political problems of: (a) having to question them when you have opposed enhanced interrogation techniques and (b) deciding where to question them when you have pledged to shut down GITMO.  But because Obama’s peacenik credentials were established because he was not a federal senator at the time of the Iraq war vote, his extension of the drone program has not been a topic of mainstream criticism. (Legal scholars on both the left and right have howled, but the issue has not truly broken through yet.)

Now comes Trump, with promises of “extreme vetting” and “tough on terrorists” rhetoric. He has stated he supports GITMO. But if enemy combatants are captured to be questioned at GITMO rather than vaporized, the tough rhetoric may actually be a step back from Obama’s practices. Remember, when the media resurrects the Bush-era criticism of GITMO in particular and of interrogation programs generally, that a suspected terrorist in custody wasn’t the recipient of a drone strike out of public view. Once again, the rhetoric may not match the reality.

I could go on — but these examples make the point:  Just as Obama supporters loved his rhetoric and didn’t pay much attention to whether his results lived up it, Trump’s detractors, put off by some of his rhetoric, should wait and see what his results are.  If Obama is any example, when judging a presidency, deeds are much more important than words.


Robert N. Driscoll is a native of the Boston area who currently practices law in Washington D.C. The views expressed in this column are his own and not those of his firm. Nor are they the views of his wife, daughters, or greyhounds. Read his past columns here