Goodbye to all that

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What a waste of eight years. Our first African-American president, elected in a time of war and economic crisis, he could have been the great unifier. Instead, he leaves the country weaker and more divided than any president in my lifetime. Yes, Democrats, even more than George W. Bush did.

The first time I watched Barack Obama on TV, giving that speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention, I knew I was looking at the man who would be our first black president. Such soaring rhetoric, such promise. All that seemingly counter-intuitive talk on how the faith of Blue America and the tolerance of Red America shows how much we really have in common. That quote from the Declaration of Independence, those calls for national unity. It was powerful.

That would turn out to be the *only* time I ever saw in Obama what his fans saw in him. Already in my first published comment on Obama–a June, 2007 blog post on a speech he gave in Hartford (http://bit.ly/2j5slX3)–I could see what would become the pattern: the pleas for unity were not in good faith and he considered those who disagreed with him to be stupid people following cynical leaders. That is now the conventional wisdom about why the Democrats lost in 2016, but it wasn’t when I wrote it ten years ago.

Still, he was our first African-American president and I wanted to root for him too. I was totally on board when Tom Hoopes wrote a controversial piece right after the 2008 election warning pro-lifers not to set their face against the enormous good will engendered by the election of our first black president. The first political post I ever shared on Facebook was a pro-Obama AP story arguing that, as a “late” baby boomer–someone born a decade after “classic” boomers like Clinton or Bush–Obama would be less ideological and more prone to seek consensus.

Did anything ever turn out to be more untrue than that AP story? Within a few days of his inauguration Obama had overturned the pro-life Mexico City Policy, and I thought, “Ok, so no late boomer consensus presidency, then. It will be just like the Clinton presidency.” In fact, it was far worse.

But the opposition rose up almost immediately, in some of the most impressive grassroots manifestations of democratic citizenship that I have ever seen.

On one level, the Tea Party was a disappointment. They showed up the day after doomsday, after we had already lost. The real fight for our culture and for constitutional government was the fight against same-sex marriage. But the conservatives didn’t listen to Sarah Bramwell (http://bit.ly/2jCRbOQ) and the libertarians didn’t listen to Jennifer Roback Morse (http://bit.ly/2j5v4zD) and so here we were.

Yet there were worse places to be. The Tea Party was more impressive than the taxpayer groups that preceded it or the gun rights activism that followed it. It was a broad-based attempt to return our republic to limited government through citizen action and it had an effect, winning the U.S. House in 2010, the whole Congress in 2014 and, finally, the White House in 2016. Here in Connecticut seven years ago, it brought down a U.S. Senator and gave us a State Senator who is the most articulate voice for conservatism in our state. I have iconic memories of early organizing meetings with them and of confronting then-Congressman Chris Murphy at a town-hall meeting on abortion and Obamacare. (And so does Murphy. He put a photo of it in a campaign mailer.)

It would be impossible to mention everything that was wrong with the Obama presidency in one post. But two items deserve special mention.

One is the Obamacare contraceptive mandate. It was a dramatic escalation of the culture war. Abortion had been an issue for 40 years, same-sex marriage for 10 or 15. But, religious liberty? The idea that the federal government could coerce religious colleges, nuns, all of us, to be complicit in newly-minted legalized evils? In the 225 years since the Bill of Rights was enacted we’ve never seen an attack like this on our first freedom, not on this level. Even those who disagree with us on life or marriage should have spoken against these outrages. But they didn’t.

The other item was Obama’s call to his supporters to “argue with neighbors, get in their face.” I first became a conservative 20 years ago. I have friendships from childhood that survived Bill Clinton, survived George W. Bush, but did not survive Barack Obama. Some of that is the invention of Facebook. But not all of it. It is one thing to disagree with someone, another thing to assume that everyone you disagree with is evil or racist and to publicly accuse them of it. A republic requires a citizenry capable of civil disagreement. So does friendship. But calling someone a racist or a bigot in the 2010’s is like calling someone a communist in the 1950’s. It is just about the worst thing you can accuse a person of being, it can have professional repercussions for them, and it poisons the well, making friendship impossible.

Before they unfriended me, I warned old acquaintances that approaching disagreement in this way would have far-reaching consequences, that the country would eventually react against it. They didn’t listen to me and so here we are.

But that was the thing about Barack Obama. He said he would “fundamentally transform” our country and he did. He turned us into the country that elected Donald Trump.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org

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16 Comments

  1. Some of us are Catholic, not conservative. I’m sorry that this website does not realize that.

    For starters, your introduction is ridiculous. To pretend that Obama is worse than the president who brought us the Iraq War (in direct violation of Church teachings on just war) and its resultant hell, torture (direct violation of Church teaching on intrinsic evil, that is, if you care about all Church teachings) and the Recession (truly fun for those of us who graduated college in ’08, let me tell you) requires one to bury their head in the sand. What did Obama do that was worse than these cataclysms?

    Regarding the contraception mandate: does the religious liberty to use a health care plan belong to the employer, or to the employee? Since as an employee I pay for my health care plan, why do the religious liberty rights only pertain to my employer, and not to me? Can my Muslim boss tell me I must use my health care plan in accordance with Muslim teachings? Yes, or no?

    Regarding your claim that Obama reduced civil discourse, I’m not really sure how you draw a causal effect based on your own Facebook friends. Perhaps you’ve heard of something called anecdotal evidence. I’m sure you have a media study you can show us, because you wouldn’t just spread falsehoods to make a political point, right?

    Again, being Catholic does not require us to be Republican. I’m truly sorry that being Republican is more important to you than being Catholic.

    • Rob, To be Catholic is NOT to be ignorant of the truth that Obama is a total disgrace to the Constitution of the United States and to all of Christianity, Catholic or otherwise. B. Hussien Obama is by far the worst president our dear country has ever had. His actions demonstrate he is a traitor to our Constitution and our country working to make it both Socialist (Anti-American) and Anti-Christian. Obama is a worse traitor than was Benedict Arnold who is comparison with Obama would be considered a patriot. No one, NO ONE, has done more to worsen race relations than has Obama.

        • Rob: The fact that you totally dodged Mike’s comments, based in fact, says it all, too.

          Just war doctrine may be debated; the promotion of the killing of millions of innocents is not debatable.

          Being Catholic requires one to be faithful, honest, and in touch with reality, and reason.

      • I kinda agree that Barack “Hussein” Obama is a coincidently odd name given the Era. But the important element of his tenure was his mission and how well we, the people, grasped it. We understood some of his main accomplishments…

        Obama completed the massive TARP financial and banking rescue plan, and recovered virtually all of its costs
        .
        Obama oversaw the creation of more jobs in 2010 alone than Bush did in eight years.

        He oversaw a bailout of General Motors that saved at least 1.4 million jobs, and put pressure on the company to change its practices, resulting in GM returning to its place as the top car company in the world.

        He implemented an auto industry rescue plan, and saved as many as 1 million jobs.

        He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, restoring basic protections against pay discrimination for women and other workers. This was after the GOP blocked the bill in 2007. Only 5 Republican Senators voted for the bill.

        Ordered and oversaw the Navy SEALS operation that killed Osama bin Laden.

        So, we can see that O’s accomplishments are many and strong. Without a wisp of acknowledgment, Sean Hannity called the President an “abysmal failure”. It appears that the reason O frequently use Executive Orders to have his measures advanced was the Congress was made up on McConnell’s “Party of NO”. In 2009, O’s first year in office, the Republican leadership ordered their minions to vote NO on any and all O legislative proposals. With his unconstitutional SCOTUS order and rejection of a hearing for Judge Garland, McConnell reaches a new low. My suggestion… if Senator Puff NO goes LOW, he must GO!

    • Rob, Against non-negotiable authoritative Catholic teaching, you are defending not only artificial birth control, but you’re also defending the Obama administration forcing it on others, including the Little Sisters of the Poor. A catechized Catholic could not turn a blind eye to Obama’s promotion of abortion (which continues to kill as many Americans every day as the Iraq war did in total by the time Bush left office). Not to mention Obama’s promotion of the desecration of the Catholic (and natural and historical) definition of marriage. Look up the word “subsidiarity.” Better yet, read the Catechism of the Catholic Church from cover to cover. Wolfgang wasn’t actually saying you have to be “conservative,” but if you’re honest and knowledgeable about the Catholic faith, you have to admit Bush was a far more Catholic-friendly president than Obama on all these counts.

  2. This is the problem with much of conservative thinking on race. It seems that according to the writer, the bigger concern isn’t racism, but calling out racism when it occurs. This isn’t new. Every generation of civil rights activists is told that they’re the problem, and if they stayed silent, these injustices wouldn’t exist.

    No, it’s not the rise of hate groups in this country that’s problematic, the vitriolic anger directed toward the first black President, or the Republican presidential nominee playing footsie with white supremacists as he runs the most racist campaign in recent memory. Or commenters on this very website, snarkily emphasizing the president’s middle name in order to “otherize” him.

    No, the bigger issue is apparently calling out racists for being racist.

    It’s why MLK wrote “[T]he Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to the positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

    The writer seems to prefer a negative peace, where inequality exists but those harmed by it don’t have a voice. A truly Catholic website, regardless of political biases, would advocate for a positive peace and the presence of justice.

    • Abortion is the most horrific defiling of human rights possible. Millions of people have not been able to have a life because of people like President Obama. Planned Parenthood and the Democrats trade money back and forth in contributions and funding. A person CAN NOT be a real Catholic and promote abortion. Every person who knowingly promotes abortion is in danger of going to Hell.

  3. On the whole, Obama was one of our better recent presidents. I absolutely disagree with him on abortion, but even on that he pretty much followed the standard Democratic line and didn’t push anything radically new like getting rid of the Hyde Amendment or pushing for a Free of Choice Act. (Remember all the ink spilled about that on this site circa 2008?) He even compromised on abortion, angering many liberals, when negotiating for the final votes on the Affordable Care Act. There were moments when he over-reached trying to advance his agenda through executive actions, but that was in the face of unprecedented stonewalling by Republicans who rejected everything he proposed even when he was proposing something that they had previously supported (e.g. insurance mandates). He tried time and again to compromise and meet the other side half way (e.g. dropping the government option from the ACA, nominating Merrick Garland, etc.), but unfortunately the Republicans just would not bend an inch. They made it their top priority from day one of his presidency to oppose him at every turn. Compromise is essential for a democracy to function. Unfortunately too many people have come to view politics as a zero sum contest between the parties rather than a quest for the common good.

  4. The discussion of Obama’s encouragement of his supporters to “argue with neighbors, get in their face.” is pretty disingenuous.

    First of all, go back and watch the clip. In context he is absolutely not advocating being uncivil. He actually was encouraging his supporters to be willing to engage in dialogue with people who don’t share their views. As part of that engagement Obama says it may be necessary to challenge people when they repeat falsehoods about him. Basically, he was saying not to let people get away with it when they tell lies or ignorantly repeat untruths.

    Second, he said this once and at a small campaign rally. How many dozens or hundreds of times in much more high profile settings did he encourage people to have civil discussions and debates, to “disagree without being disagreeable”? And that’s precisely what he did. When did you ever see Obama get in somebody’s face. (Contrast that with, say, Trump.)

    This is a cherry-picked line from the ’08 campaign, taken out of context. It hardly merits being considered one of the 2 most egregious things Obama did. How about when he agreed to spend 1 trillion dollars over the next 10 years to update our nuclear weapons systems? You would think a site which purports to represent Catholic Social Teaching would have something to say about that, but I’m not holding my breath. You see, the Republicans agreed with Obama on that one, and as has often been pointed out, this site tends to be a bit more faithful to Republican doctrine than Catholic doctrine.

  5. William F Cavender on

    From his acceptance speak walking out the runway as though he ought to have a laurel wreath on his head began my assessment of Obama as a narcissist–a true narcissist..
    He has continued to behave and speak as such a serious personality disorder ever since
    That includes his last speech.
    His eight years are more than enough.
    Go.
    WFC

  6. “What a waste of eight years.” Wow, I couldn`t agree more! Still, let us hope that God will bring some good out of it, such as making us wiser in the future. GOOD RIDDANCE to the most anti-Catholic president in history!

  7. Michael, I suppose you think Trump is the second coming of Christ. He couldn’t be more opposite our Lord and His preaching. You’ve be duped by the Prince of Darkness

  8. I am glad that there are Catholics on here that are fighting CV’s open hostility to everything associated with Obama. He will go down as one of the better Presidents of our time who faced unique situations that other Presidents never had to face, and did so with grace, discretion, and obvious care for the US. That Obama angers far right Catholics is a sign that he has done well. If any of my fellow Catholics want a better perspective on the intersection of Catholicism and politics, go read Michael Sean Winters at National Catholic Reporter. He is unafraid to challenge the left on its stance on abortion, and equally unafraid to challenge the right’s economic and social justice stances.

    • You must be 20-something years old.

      We’ve had war before, we’ve had recessions before. Nothing “unique”.

      The right isn’t against social welfare programs. They do differ from the left, who thinks that a perpetual underclass is just fine.

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