You’re probably familiar with the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, an effort launched by veteran right-wing activist Grover Norquist nearly twenty years ago to promote, in perpetuity, the idea that Reagan was the modern-day equivalent of the Founding Fathers. (I first heard about this project in early-2007, when then-Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick rejected Norquist’s call to issue a proclamation naming February 6 “Ronald Reagan Day” in the Bay State).
Those who endlessly promote Reagan’s “accomplishments” argue that they have to do so because progressives have a vested interest in tearing Reagan’s legacy down. (Of course, what they don’t acknowledge is that there’s so much to tear down!) The right’s argument is pure projection. In reality, it is progressives who must go the extra mile in defending the legacy of Barack Obama.
This November marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of Reagan’s victory over President Jimmy Carter. For the past thirty-five years, Carter’s legacy has been relentlessly vilified by the right, with insufficient defense from the left. Sometimes, it seems as though progressives are ashamed of Carter—a man whose foresight on energy was remarkable, a man whose commitment to peace was unshakable.
Progressives cannot allow Barack Obama’s legacy to be relentlessly trashed the way Carter’s legacy was. Quite frankly, we need a Barack Obama Legacy Project, one that will recognize, today, tomorrow and forever, his true significance to America and the world.
With two years remaining in his term, a compelling case can be made that Barack Obama is one of the greatest presidents of all-time. Look at the track record: an economy resurrected, Osama bin Laden brought to ultimate justice, the Iraq War ended, millions of Americans finally accessing health care, dramatic advances in equal treatment for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans, two brilliant Supreme Court appointees, sweeping economic reform, and an energy policy that, while imperfect, nevertheless takes the climate crisis seriously.
He accomplished all of this despite raw hatred from “birthers” and Tea Partiers who went to bed every night dreaming of seeing Obama’s black body swinging from a tree—as well as that of his father, for being uppity enough to marry a white woman. He accomplished this despite hyper-partisan media entities that smeared him as a Marxist from Mombasa. He accomplished this despite being unfairly blamed for the dementia and depravity of a right-wing Congress.
Obama hasn’t been perfect. (We’re still waiting for that Keystone XL veto, sir.) Sometimes, he has frustrated those who seek more peace and more justice. Yet on the whole, he has been a blessing for humanity.
He has brought us through the worst financial heartache since the Depression. He has brought us through incidents of shocking gun violence. He has brought us through racial discord sparked by those who so obviously killed Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner because they saw these men, subconsciously, as proxies for the President.
Generations from now, children should read about the courage and conscience of Barack Obama, his passionate love for this country, his commitment to the hurting and the hungry and the hopeless. Generations from now, Obama’s name should grace public schools and federal buildings. Generations from now, his name should be honored in the same way we honor the names of Washington and Lincoln and Roosevelt and Kennedy.
Those of us who were honored to live in the Era of Obama have a moral obligation to inform those who will be born after this era of just how great this man was, just how proud this man was, just how wise this man was. Did your grandparents tell you about how FDR boldly led this country? You must tell your grandchildren the same story about Obama’s equally bold leadership.
We must never allow what Obama meant to this nation to be forgotten or distorted. A courageous man shattered the ultimate glass ceiling. A man who recognized the insanity of Iraq concluded that wayward war. A man who understood the risks of a warming world fought for solutions to the problem of carbon pollution. A man who recognized the importance of health care reform brought millions of Americans from the savagery of sickness to the hope of health. A man who knew the immorality of injustice sought equal treatment for the LGBT community as well as communities of color.
Obama’s legacy must be cherished and defended. It is the legacy of a black man who worked tirelessly to protect Americans of all colors. It is the legacy of an American who tried to expand the blessings of liberty to every citizen. It is the legacy of a man who overcame the vicious lash of hyper-partisanship. It is the legacy of a man who was crucified over and over, but rose from the grave every time.
The hope and the change were real indeed. Barack Obama’s accomplishments must always remain in the forefront of the American mind. Is this a project progressives can accomplish?
Yes we can.