Barack Obama was a mediocre president and is now a terrible ex-president

Despite some vague gestures towards progressivism early on in his life, Barack Obama clearly saw that being a Wall Street-loving neoliberal while spouting lofty rhetoric was his ticket to bigger things. After largely squandering away his chance while president to strive for major accomplishments, since leaving office, he has been indulging in extremely ostentatious self-glorification, as Liza Featherstone writes.

He’s distinguished himself as an enemy of labor and friend of racist cops. NBA players began to go on strike last August after Jacob Blake, a black man, was shot by police seven times in front of his kids, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Amid a national uprising over the shooting and many other acts of racist police brutality, Obama called LeBron James and players’ union leader Chris Paul and urged them to get back on the court and finish the playoffs, which they did.

We wouldn’t expect Obama, a centrist, to become a convert to socialism in his late middle age (though as a young person he did attend the Socialist Scholars Conference). But as a liberal he’s been badly deficient, squandering his considerable public platform and influence, providing little leadership on any of the major issues of the day, like income inequality, voter suppression, and climate change. Instead, when he’s not actively agitating against social and environmental progress, he’s been lounging on the Vineyard and on Branson’s yacht.

With the obvious exception of Trump, who has used his ex-presidency mainly to whine about his personal grievances and fuel far-right conspiracy theories, Obama might be even less public-spirited than many other modern ex-presidents. All of them are war criminals who faithfully served the capitalist class when in power. But Ronald Reagan at least had the decency to retreat from public life into a tasteful (and sadly relatable) senility. Jimmy Carter built houses for poor people and defended democracy in Venezuela. George H. W. Bush declined to serve on corporate boards and engaged in humanitarian activities, raising funds for victims of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Granted, Bill Clinton’s business and foundation dealings in Haiti were a travesty, and he has, like Obama, amassed an indecent amount of wealth since leaving office, but he has also, more than Obama, spent time on humanitarian causes like disaster relief. Clinton also did work hard on his wife’s effort to defeat Trump in 2016. George W. Bush has kept a tactfully low profile, becoming an amateur painter.

And then there’s the Obamas’ love of ostentatious displays of wealth, starting with his plans for a lavish birthday party during the pandemic. (What does it say about a grown man throwing a massive birthday party for himself?)

The distinguished memoirist was too busy planning a ginormous sixtieth birthday party for himself on his vast and vulgar Martha’s Vineyard estate, a sprawling 6,892-foot tumor on a beautifully spare coastal landscape, which the Obamas bought in 2019 for $11.75 million.

In addition to his appalling Vineyard manse, Obama is also planning to live in an additional ecological monstrosity in Hawaii — owned by close crony Marty Nesbitt, chair of the Obama Foundation board — and developed for the Obamas.

Like most people with way too much money, the Obamas own way too many homes for the health of the planet. In addition to the Hawaii and Vineyard estates, they have an $8.1 million, nine-bedroom mansion in the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, DC. All this real estate necessitates an unconscionable amount of flying, sometimes on Richard Branson’s private jet, at a time when many middle-class Americans and even corporations are cutting down on air travel because of its climate impact.

And let’s not forget Obama’s awful museum in Chicago. The three-memoir author is erecting a garish monument to himself on Jackson Park, which community activists argue will wreak havoc on cherished green space and a fragile ecosystem, as well as upon the legal scaffolding for the very idea of the public interest.

Featherstone ends with a devastating rebuke.

Ex-presidents would be nothing without the trust the public once placed in them by electing them to the presidency in the first place. After the presidency, all their earning power and cultural influence stems from the fact that people once voted for them. Obama has not only largely opted out of using his high profile to serve the public interest, but he’s also chosen insultingly to flout it. It’s long past time to end the cult of hero worship around this narcissistic plutocrat.

It is astonishing to me how many Democratic party supporters had a reverence for Obama when he was in office and still do. I was not that impressed with him while he was president and think even less of him now.


  1. says

    Expanded the drone murders and surveillance state, and his campaign promise to close Gitmo was hot air. Covertly invaded Syria and let the CIA torturers bury their crimes. Another motherfucker in a motorcade.

  2. invivoMark says


    And almost all who called for voting for him at the end of last year remain suspiciously silent. Most likely explanation: they realize by now that their votes hardly made a difference.

    I don’t know what planet you live on but it isn’t the same one I inhabit. Here on Earth, we have a global pandemic that has left millions dead and uncounted more permanently debilitated. The disease is highly preventable, we have multiple highly effective vaccines, and a small array of medical interventions that can save lives when given appropriately.

    Those of us who urged Americans to vote for Biden did so because in spite of all these facts, the US was almost leading the world in death rate. The previous administration was committing genocide through misinformation and incompetence, and if they had been allowed to continue, things were going to get worse.

    No one is silent just because there’s a new administration. We’re fighting a goddamn pandemic when half our population is too stupid to get vaccinated. It was too late to prevent the seeds of stupidity from being planted, but at least we’ve stopped the flood of misinformation coming from authority. If you think that doesn’t matter, you’re delusional.

    Do you think four additional years of Trump-controlled FDA, USDA, EPA, and NOAA couldn’t do more damage? Pull your head out of your ass.

  3. jrkrideau says

    @ Marcus
    Covertly invaded Syria
    One of his lees successful ventures. Turning Libya into a failed state was a more successful one.

  4. garnetstar says

    @2 mnbo, oh yes, our votes made a difference. They made all the difference. @3 points out some of them.

    The biggest difference is that America is not yet a outright fascist/authoritarian state. We have always had such elements in the goverment, but Trump was going to actually do the quiet part.

    It’s not as if all of those who voted for Biden really wanted him, as their favorite candidate. But, in an emergency, you vote for whomever you think can win, and you don’t have the option to vote for who you think is the best.

    If Biden manages to preserve democracy in America (as much of it as we ever had, at least), I’m fine with that. Democaracy here is still hanging by a thread and may well disappear forever in the next election.

  5. garnetstar says

    The right wing politicians, mainstream ones, are now talking about letting only “quality” voters vote, and letting only people who have children vote. They’re serious.

    All that would be law right now without our votes for Biden.

  6. Reginald Selkirk says

    Hey fine; Obama was mediocre and Biden is worse than mediocre. The bar has been lowered over the preceding 4 years so that mediocre looks pretty darn good and my vote helped to keep things from getting even worse.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    We might attribute some of Obama’s failures to his having spent only four years in DC before winning the presidency, and not having learned sufficient tricks and tactics to push things through (an excuse unavailable to Joe Biden).

    I’ve long suspected BHO had another problem, one that the journalism I’ve seen has barely touched upon: Obama did not indulge in the blatant egotism of his predecessor or successor, but very possibly suffered from enjoyed the illusion that he personally could charm enough Senators and Representatives to get his way. He couldn’t, but worse yet, he took six years to figure that out, and accomplished practically nothing except Heritage Foundation-care as a result.

    Another, partially contradictory hypothesis, needs consideration in every Democratic administration: what I call the Black Sox scenario, of throwing the game on purpose for the sake of multiple payoffs. US journalists don’t give this one much ink (or pixels) either, but a look at the Dems’ big-donor list and a tally of the many constructive proposals which Pelosi, Schumer, et alia have nominally endorsed but never quite gotten through makes a strong case even without closely connecting all the dots.

    Biden has played that game many times, but he probably does really want history to see him as a second FDR, so -- as ever -- we have a tiny sliver of justifiable hope even as the US ship of state lists and leaks.

  8. Reginald Selkirk says

    @8 and accomplished practically nothing except Heritage Foundation-care as a result.

    Consider, and disagree if you like: a better, NHS-like “public option” was not possible at the time. Every previous effort had failed. But since we now have something, as inadequate as it is, it has changed the conversation. Many people see aspects of Obamacare that make sense: those with preconditions should not be excluded, health insurance is not good if it is not affordable and does not provide sufficient coverage, etc. And they see aspects of Obamacare that do not make sense: that health care should not be dependent on employment status. So, if at some future time we are able to pass a decent national health plan, some credit should be given to Obamacare for showing us what is and is not workable, and some credit should be given to Obama for getting Obamacare passed.

  9. Pierce R. Butler says

    Reginald Selkirk @ # 10: … a better, NHS-like “public option” …

    Huh? The “public option”, like “Medicare for All”, did not propose anything remotely like the UK’s NHS.

    And I, for one, would not trust the current federal government to administer anything like NHS.

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