When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell endorsed Donald Trump last month, he provided this rationale: “Republicans are committed to preventing what would be a third term of Barack Obama.” With President Obama enjoying his highest approval rating in years, it’s a curious way to suggest a Hillary Clinton presidency would be a bad thing.
McConnell was not the first—and certainly won’t be the last—Republican to raise the specter of a Hillary Clinton presidency as a “third term of Obama” as though that would be a scary and terrible thing for the nation.
Now, first of all, let’s address that this is a demeaning construction. As Hillary herself has said: “I’m not running for my husband’s third term; I’m not running for Obama’s third term; I’m running for my first term, but I’m going to do what works.”
She is running for her first term. Diminishing the importance of that—of anyone’s first term, no less the first term of the first woman president—by calling it the “third term” of someone else’s presidency is unnecessary.
Particularly when it’s entirely possible, as Hillary did, to note that she has taken a good long look at what worked (and what didn’t) during Barack Obama’s presidency, and during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and plans to expand on those successes. Obama has a legacy to protect—and part of the reason many people support her, among other reasons, is the knowledge that she will protect and build on it.
To insert the requisite caveat: President Obama’s presidency has not been perfect. No presidency is—even when a president doesn’t come into office in the middle of an epic financial crisis with the dual challenge of a reactionary, obstructionist Republican Congress and a centuries-old national legacy of entrenched racism.
And yet, despite these significant roadblocks, President Obama has an extraordinary list of accomplishments of which he—and Democrats—can be proud.
Milt Shook has compiled a list of 358 (!!) of Obama’s accomplishments so far—and it’s not even a complete list. Which is not a knock on Shook’s impressive collation skills, but a comment on how many accomplishments Obama has actually had.
That list largely represents his accomplishments as head of government—but the US President is also head of state, and President Obama has solidified his stature as one of the nation’s most esteemed and valuable statespeople over the last 7.5 years, too.
He has been both reliably competent and unfailingly dignified in foreign relations. If you don’t appreciate how important that is, consider that one of his many accomplishments has been restoring the United States’ reputation around the globe, after his predecessor had been a disastrously incompetent embarrassment.
It matters that we have been able to trust President Obama to be a representative of the nation of whom we can be proud.
And then there are all the (seemingly) little gestures, that pass unnoticed by the people to whom they aren’t relevant, but are so deeply appreciated by the people to whose experience the President is speaking.
— Melissa McEwan (@Shakestweetz) June 1, 2016
His presidency has been filled with things like that—and the casual normalization on his uniquely visible platform of issues and language and experiences of marginalized people is a part of his legacy of which he can and should be proud, too.
It’s a legacy of which Hillary feels protective, and deservedly so. She recognizes his many achievements, and she recognizes how important they’ve been to Democrats. She’s reached out to his supporters, promising to protect and build on that legacy, to take what he has started and run with it as far as she is able, while bringing her own unique policies and advocacy into the mix.
This is a good thing. President Obama has overseen an economic recovery, a declining unemployment rate, the expansion of health insurance access, the legalization of same-sex marriage, greater access to contraception, a declining teenage birth rate, and numerous other successes. He’s popular for a reason.
Saying Hillary will continue his legacy, as though that’s some sort of indictment of her candidacy, only communicates that the person saying it fails to appreciate how much progress we’ve made under President Obama.
Add that to the impossibly long list of things about which the Republicans are infernally wrong.
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)