Counting the Things Obama Didn't Do

By Jamie Stiehm

May 22, 2019 5 min read

WASHINGTON — Let me count the ways, Barack.

You did so much right as president, sir, and made us proud.

It's the things you didn't do that made us end up in this place. You left your legacy undefended. For legions of starry-eyed admirers, it's heartbreaking to see it trampled.

As a prelude, you vowed to close Guantanamo but never did. You'd end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Are they over yet?

1. Let's start with Merrick Garland, your Supreme Court nominee. For most of 2016, the federal judge languished on ice, blocked by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who refused to hold hearings. A president has to fight and win such a battle, but you did not try. McConnell dared you to a tug of war that President Lyndon Johnson would have relished. Your passive stance left an open court seat for President Donald Trump to fill upon taking the oath. What a gift. That emboldened McConnell.

2. Even more serious in consequence, you failed to be fully frank with the American people about the federal investigation into Russian tampering with the 2016 presidential election while it was going on. That was kept tight as a drum. You went to McConnell and suggested a joint statement about the foreign power interference. The Senate Republican leader got the best of you, saying he'd condemn that as a partisan move in election season.

McConnell played you again, and we, the people, lost the truth we deserved to know in a democracy. Here's what you thought: Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, would win anyway. Your stardust would help her win the day.

3. You never fired FBI Director James Comey for the zealous pursuit of Clinton and her private batch of emails. And why even hire him, a Republican, in 2013? Comey's public statements ("extremely careless") violated FBI protocol. He did it twice, once just days before the election. Electoral sands shifted. Comey says he never believed Trump would win, but that is a terrible excuse. So Trump got to fire Comey — who pretends he resigned in protest. When you're president, sir, it's good to stick to your own kind, even if you are elegantly above the fray.

4. This points to poor leadership of the Democratic Party. You let wounds fester in the Clinton-Bernie Sanders clash in the primary. They were out in the open in Philadelphia, at the convention to crown Clinton. The Democratic National Committee got hacked that summer. You still considered the election a breeze. But it's harder to elect the first woman president than the first black president. You didn't campaign that hard for her, especially to turn out the vote in cities in the heart of states she lost: Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, Cleveland. At stake was your own legacy, under brutal attack. Nonchalant, you failed to shore it up.

Word has it you express surprise to this day about Trump's populist victory coming.

5. You gave sparkling, soaring speeches (and even sang at the funeral for nine murdered black churchgoers). We loved that voice when you ran for office. But we didn't spot the crack in the beautiful surface. What a solo rock artist, sir.

Remember Abraham Lincoln's "Team of Rivals"? John F. Kennedy had his brother Bobby Kennedy. Virginians Thomas Jefferson and James Madison relied on each other. Richard Nixon had Bob Haldeman and John Dean. Almost all presidents are associated with close advisers.

In private, your demeanor is different: cool, brusque and businesslike. You fly solo. You don't like to listen to other people's speeches or soliloquies. Former Ambassador Richard Holbrooke learned that harsh lesson.

Let's cut to it, dear Barack. You're no team player, nor a captain, a tragic flaw simply because politics is a team sport. You didn't hang out with members of Congress or call them, like former President Bill Clinton did, to win close votes. That would've been slumming. Obamacare passed by the grace of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

In a world of gregarious extroverts, President Obama was a bright, shining loner, the moon and not the sun. There's nothing he loves better than writing a book about himself.

And we have loved — and lost.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit the website

Photo credit: janeb13 at Pixabay

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