Time to Leave Gracefully, President Obama

Obama farewell speech in Chicago

President Obama finally found his muscle on Israel, dispatching the US Ambassador to the United Nations to draw a line against the expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands. Then Secretary of State John Kerry explained why the US cannot support Israel’s own version of the American Manifest Destiny.

On Syria, Obama’s empty bravado about a “red line” that would trigger the U.S. to act against President Assad if he used chemical weapons resulted in the line being swept into oblivion by a sandstorm of empty promises and five million Syrians becoming refugees and almost half a million dead.

Obama nya-nyaed Russia’s President Vladimir Putin for the presidential campaign hacking against the Democrats by declaring a bunch of Russian diplomats as personas non grata who must leave the U.S.

In 2008, when Obama was the rock star candidate, he sent a love letter to Puerto Rico. It was dated Feb. 12, but it wasn’t the proximity of Valentine’s Day that inspired him. It was a $100,000 fundraiser and the upcoming Democratic primaries. Hillary pounced him 2-1 that time despite his Sanderesque promises.

“As President I will work closely with the Puerto Rican government, its civil society and with Congress to create a genuinely transparent process for self-determination that will be true to the best traditions of democracy. As President I will actively engage Congress and the Puerto Rican people in promoting this deliberative, open and unbiased process, that may include a constitutional convention, or a plebiscite, and my Administration will adhere to a policy of strict neutrality on Puerto Rican status matters. My Administration will recognize all valid options to resolve the question of Puerto Rico’s status, including commonwealth, statehood, and independence.”

None of that happened. Instead, in his last year as president, Obama spearheaded the effort to appoint a collection agency comprised of statehood-seeking Republicans to oversee the island’s finances.

Then there’s Oscar López Rivera, once a young man who dreamed of a free Puerto Rico and joined a small resistance group.

Puerto Ricans in the U.S. and the island have signed petitions, written letters, made phone calls and personal pleas for Obama to pardon López, 73, who was sent to prison on charges of seditious conspiracy in 1981. President Bill Clinton offered him conditional clemency in 1999, but López rejected the conditions.

Just four months ago, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill., spoke in favor of López’s release. “He was not convicted of committing a violent crime, rather he was convicted of seditious conspiracy – espousing the belief that that the Puerto Rican people are capable of, entitled to, and have an inalienable right to self-determination. He harbors no nefarious plot to harm anyone.”

As a candidate Obama was a favorite everywhere – magazines that put him on the cover sold out; the click rate on online stories about him inspired even more stories about him, even if only about his love of shaved ice while vacationing in Hawaii.

Youtube videos with him and about him went viral. He’s the subject of 29 books at last count, discounting the two he wrote about himself.

Except for Fox News, mass media was in love. And in Berlin, more than 100,000 people showed up to a rally – when he was still a candidate. Shortly after winning the presidency, he also won the Noble Peace Prize.

In liberal circles, Obama remains a star for many good reasons, and a heart-breaking disappointment for many other good reasons.

Obama’s election in 2008 demonstrated – for eight years at least – that a thoughtful candidate with a massive war chest could win the White House. This past November, we learned that making heinous statements was acceptable.

As he leaves later this month, Wall Street remains supreme ruler, unions have been weakened, Obamacare is expensive for many, and the self-aggrandizing speeches about a 5 percent unemployment rate is vinegar on a wound.

Millions of Americans still do not have comparable jobs nor pay since President W. tanked the economy in 2008. They still don’t have a home of their own, health insurance that covers them without bankrupting them. They still haven’t recovered their sense of accomplishments and pride.

While Obama wraps himself in glory and tees off on his final Hawaii vacation on the American taxpayer’s dime – unseemly, given he is a millionaire who could wait until after leaving office – millions remain hurting.

They’re frustrated with pollsters, politicians and the media for having become a chorus that did not sing to them, much less about them.

Recently, Obama suffered from trumpitis, declaring he could win a third term because he alone knew how to get out the vote.

Time to leave gracefully, Mr. President. That is your touchstone.

Addendum: Watch President Obama’s farewell speech here.

This column appeared originally in The Daily Hampshire Gazette on Jan. 10, 2017