When President Obama dropped the mic at his last White House Correspondents Dinner, it was the first time I realized how much I would miss him. "The end of the republic has never looked better," he joked that night. At least he knows the republic should be mourned, I thought. That's something.
There's more to it, of course. On the issues I care most about, Obama kept things from becoming truly terrible.
When Obama passed his somewhat shambolic health care reform, it was an amazing feat. It took every greased palm and kickback. And it cost the Democrats their congressional majority. But somehow, Obama was able to save the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance from single-payer or market-oriented reform. It didn't matter that this relic of a deduction is over 80 years old, or that it was conceived as a loophole to FDR's wage and price controls, or that it makes any rational reform of America's health care politically or fiscally impossible. Obama saved it. I suppose by doing so he saved the last link to market-provided health-care. The worst link possible, but still.
Or how about the culture wars? Supreme Court arguments revealed that the Department of Health and Human Services instituted ObamaCare's contraception mandate precisely to highlight how unpopular my own religion's tenets on birth control are and to prod Republican politicians into talking awkwardly about IUDs and rape. It was a mean-spirited thing to threaten nuns and religious schools with crushing fines to get a little advantage over the GOP. And yet, it could have been worse.
And likely, soon it will be. The Clintons had a way of dealing with religious conservatives whose politics they didn't like; they portrayed them as a violent criminal conspiracy and used anti-mafia RICO laws to bankrupt them. The Obama era will be remembered as a relatively peaceful time in the nation's culture wars.
Obama's foreign policy has been a disaster end to end. He has expanded the dubiously legal, certainly immoral drone war. He put more troops in Afghanistan, and it's hard to say what they accomplished. He keeps returning American forces to Iraq, reopening the very disgraceful chapter of American life that he was elected to close. Even though Obama touts his decision not to intervene in the Syrian civil war as his bravest decision in office, the truth is that Obama's CIA and Pentagon have each been arming different factions in the Syrian civil war, and sometimes they fight each other. At least that's creative.
Obama also knocked over Libya's government, ultimately making that space safer for ISIS. He has implicated America's honor and power in the slow starvation and destruction of Yemen, at the behest of our Saudi allies. Basically, Obama's foreign policy has empowered the most evil men in the Middle East, further sullied our nation's name in history, and generally been the sort of unjust enterprise that would normally call down divine chastisement on our country. In other words: very presidential.
Clearly Obama is ashamed about this, to some degree. He leaks out his "frustrations" with Saudi allies to sympathetic outlets. He gives a long interview in which he charmingly pretends to have implemented the wisdom of the foreign policy he campaigned on. I'm sort of thrilled that this level of misrule is accompanied by even a tiny bit of self-awareness.
And yet, I can't help but think that if Obama were not president, American foreign policy would be even worse. Given his rhetoric over the past eight years, it seems clear his 2008 Republican rival John McCain might have sent 20,000 ground troops back to Iraq to fight ISIS, and then another 25,000 ground troops to fight as ISIS allies in Syria. Although, there's a chance we would have been relieved of that particular shame by now, since President McCain might have gotten America vaporized in a thermonuclear exchange over the integrity of Ukraine's border. When you put it that way, I guess we should be glad at the relatively middling trail of human dead and the overall manageability of the geostrategic disasters Obama bequeaths to us.
But we have to close the book on this era of meh-feelings. We have to contemplate America after Obama. An America where a debauched liar's foreign policy includes dipping bullets in pig blood and sending octogenarian billionaires to renegotiate trade with China. Or where a desiccated liar's domestic policy is dictated by the speaking fees it will generate her family's globalist grifting scheme, with the aim of making herself an octogenarian billionaire.
Obama, don't leave me. I'm going to miss the America of beer summits and Joe Wilson shouting "You lie." They weren't the best of times, but they weren't the worst of them either.