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As Obama exits political stage, assessment of his rule is mixed

By Bryan Crawford -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Jan 10, 2017 - 3:28:42 PM

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(L) President Barack Obama ponders a question during an interview with a news magazine onboard Air Force One en route to giving the commencement address at Arizona State University, May 13,2009. (R) President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their daughters, Sasha and Malia, sit for a family portrait in the Green Room of the White House, Sept. 1, 2009.

Following the outcry over the shooting of Michael Brown by a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, the President invited young civil rights leaders to a meeting in the Oval Office Dec. 1, 2014. Many of them had protested in Ferguson. A 30-minute scheduled meeting lasted more than an hour. As the meeting broke up, the President continued the conversation for a few minutes and a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. Is in the foreground.

CHICAGO—Barack Obama’s term as the 45th president of the United States, and first Black president in the history of this country comes to an end in a matter of days. In his eight years as Commander in Chief, Mr. Obama has been one of the more polarizing presidents of all time.

While the president certainly has his supporters, many who feel that his election in 2008 and re-election in 2012 was a sign that Blacks had achieved a measure of post-racial progress in America. Others have been highly critical of Mr. Obama and many of his policies over the last eight years.

President Barack Obama hugs Rep.John Lewis, D-Ga., after his introduction during the event to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., March 7, 2015.
“If you’re happy about neoliberalism and a president who carried and represented that, then I think you’d say he was a good president. But if you’re concerned about the increased surveillance state, all of the proxy wars, American imperialism and him carrying the water of White supremacy, then I think you have issues with him as president,” Kenneth Montgomery, a noted civil rights and trial attorney from Brooklyn, New York, told The Final Call. “He did nothing to remedy the social, political and economic alienation that people who look like myself, as well as other minorities, who are still suffering in this country. He did nothing at all concerning that.”

Mr. Montgomery echoed what has become the foundational anti-Obama argument in that the president did more to advance the rights of other groups in America, particularly those of the LGBTQ community, than that of Black Americans who continue to suffer various forms of oppression—including the continued expansion of mass incarceration and state sanctioned violence at the hands of police—despite being his biggest base of political support which overwhelmingly helped him serve two terms in office.

Those in his hometown of Chicago have felt particularly ignored over the years, especially as gun violence on the South and West sides of the city have continued to escalate, especially in 2016 when the city saw a spike in both the number of shootings and homicides that hasn’t been seen in 60 years.

Warren Ballentine
“He’s from Chicago and he’s seen what’s going on in the city. Had he created some sort of economic development platform in Chicago, I think a lot of the violence stops, or at the very least, goes down,” said Warren Ballentine, nationally syndicated radio host, attorney and Chicago native. “If you create economic opportunity, it changes the mindset and hearts of men. The truth of America is we are a capitalistic society, and in order to maintain capitalism you must have a poor group, a middle-class group, and a wealthy group. To maintain this system, poverty and violence has to exist, and this is why he’s done nothing in Chicago and other major cities.”

Mr. Ballentine was an early and vocal supporter of Mr. Obama during the run up to his first election victory and his first term. He visited the White House and met with the president in the early part of his administration.

Barack Obama has also been heavily criticized for his foreign policies. The president supported the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, which sent the North African nation into a state of turmoil and instability.

His Middle East policies included heavy drone strikes in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, that have killed countless numbers of people—many of whom were innocent men, women and children—and has contributed heavily to the current refugee crisis taking place in that part of the world.

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), considers Mr. Obama a “war hawk,” based on his foreign policy initiatives during his time in the White House.

“Empirical data shows that President Obama has used extrajudicial drone strikes more than President [George W.] Bush,” Mr. Walid said. “He supported the military action in Libya, and has backed up the Saudi’s right now as they bomb Yemen to bits. The irony in all of this is he was given the Nobel Peace Prize one year into his first term as president and since then, he’s been involved in violent regime change in the Middle East.”

“How gangster is it that this country was able to put a black face on white supremacy, American imperialism, and then give it the appearance that it was fair?” asked Mr. Montgomery. “Obama did that artfully.”

Many of those who were once supportive of Barack Obama and his presidency early on, have now become some of his primary detractors, noting what they consider to be multiple failures during his time in office. However, there are still considerable numbers of those who see his two terms in office as a progressive win for Black Americans.

“Despite facing a Republican Party determined to subvert and undermine him, President Obama has achieved many good things, both at home and abroad,” Congresswoman Robin Kelly told The Final Call. “He inherited the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, and still oversaw the creation of more than 11 million new U.S. jobs. That’s five times the number created under President George W. Bush and one of the longest stretches of uninterrupted economic growth in American history. Abroad, he rebuilt our nation’s standing and increased confidence in the U.S. presidency from below 20 percent, to now, more than 75 percent.” The congresswoman represents the Second Congressional District which includes Chicago.

Congressman Danny Davis, another Chicago Democrat, echoed the sentiments of Congresswoman Kelly.

“There will be lots of different views relative to the impact of President Obama,” said Rep. Davis. “Had the banks failed, had housing foreclosures continued to go up, and had he not saved the U.S. automobile industry, I think African Americans would’ve been irreparably harmed had he not found a way to change that phenomenon. I also give Barack Obama a lot of credit for having a positive impact on the health of African Americans in conceptualizing the Affordable Care Act and getting it passed. So, if you look at all of those things, you’ll see where Black folks made some progress under Obama.”

However, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said any gains Black people think they may have made in the last eight years under Obama are not secure. And the racial polarization in the country does not denote better times to come. “We have fallen in love with our open enemy because we have hope that one day they will receive us as an equal or treat us as an equal,” the Minister said in a recent interview with The Final Call. “The Honorable Elijah Muhammad said to us that is not going to happen. Any kind of unity with our former slave masters and their children has to be on their terms and not on ours … After eight years in office the lullaby of what [Barack Obama] represented is now leading to a rude awakening, and White people are now lashing out because making America Great Again, to many means, Make America White Again.”

Despite the Minister’s prophetic words of the “mask of civility” coming off with respect to the relationship between Whites and Blacks in America, particularly as Mr. Obama leaves the White House and Donald Trump comes in, Rep. Kelly feels that seeing a Black man holding the highest office in the land is both inspirational and aspirational for current and future generations of Blacks.

“Because of President Obama, young black boys and girls can look at the list of American presidents and for the first time, see someone who looks like them. President Obama really did bring hope to millions of Americans and billions of people around the world,” she said.

As the country prepares to say goodbye to Barack Obama, Congressman Davis feels that despite the outspokenness of many of his critics, the president achieved what many considered to be an impossibility in America, and for that, he should be celebrated and honored.

“Even though he will no longer hold the office of president, the fact that he has been president will always have a place in the heritage of African Americans, both in this country and abroad,” he said. “I understand there will be people who will evaluate his presidency based on their level of expectation from him, as well from a knowledge- and hope-base. But Barack Obama carried the torch of African Americans one day reaching the promised land in this country a great distance. Now, as a people, we have to carry on and keep struggling until we get to the finish line.”

Intellectual Cornel West, who has been excoriated for his critiques of the Obama administration, shared some thoughts in an opinion piece. He pointed to domestic policy, saying “Obama’s education policy unleashed more market forces that closed hundreds of public schools for charter ones. The top 1 percent got nearly two-thirds of the income growth in eight years even as child poverty, especially black child poverty, remained astronomical. Labor insurgencies in Wisconsin, Seattle and Chicago (vigorously opposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a close confidant of Obama) were passed over in silence.

“In 2009, Obama called New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg an ‘outstanding mayor.’ Yet he overlooked the fact that more than 4 million people were stopped-and-frisked under Bloomberg’s watch,” said the professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at Union Theological Seminary. His piece, “Pity the sad legacy of Barack Obama,” was published by the UK-based Guardian newspaper online.

“Yet the mainstream media and academia failed to highlight these painful truths linked to Obama. Instead, most well-paid pundits on TV and radio celebrated the Obama brand. And most black spokespeople shamelessly defended Obama’s silences and crimes in the name of racial symbolism and their own careerism. How hypocritical to see them now speak truth to white power when most went mute in the face of black power. Their moral authority is weak and their newfound militancy is shallow,” Dr. West added.

Once he leaves the White House, Barack Obama will transition back into what is sure to be a very lucrative life as a civilian. It goes without saying that he will be a sought after public speaker and author, and as such, he is sure to be paid handsomely for it.

However, Jared Ball, an associate professor of communications studies at Morgan State University, would like to see president Obama use his executive power to grant a reprieve to many of America’s Black political prisoners as one of the last things he does before he leaves office.

“People like Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, Sundiata Acoli, Assata Shakur and Jalil Muntaqim should all be pardoned or released,” Mr. Ball told The Final Call. “All of these people who are the most popularly known political prisoners should be forgiven, thanked and offered reparations in some way for what they have suffered under this American system. That would be a great way for him to leave office. To me, for him to do that, it would actually bring something meaningful to his eight years as president, and it’s something he should do immediately. But I just don’t think he feels he owes Black people, or anyone for that matter, anything. I think he feels that he’s done us a favor by being the first Black president and for that he should be—for the rest of his life—praised and congratulated.

“But you can see, from the beginning, that the groundwork had already been laid to say that whatever he was unable to do as president in eight years would be the fault of the Republicans, or because Black folks didn’t organize enough to make him do anything. And that’s what I think the hustle will be as he transitions out of the presidency and becomes one of the most highly paid and sought after spokesmen in the world.”