Nearly two years ago, I suggested that Democrats and progressives had an obligation to ensure that President Obama’s legacy was not destroyed by right-wing revisionist history. I noted that right-wingers invested time and money in protecting Ronald Reagan’s legacy in the name of advancing their agenda, and that Democrats and progressives should protect Obama’s legacy for similar reasons.
The need to prevent Obama’s accomplishments from being annihilated by right-wing historical revisionism is more evident than it has ever been. Donald Trump won the Electoral College by brainwashing enough voters into believing that the last eight years have been a disaster–and if Trump’s political and cultural allies are allowed to get away with it, more and more Americans will fall for the lie that Obama brought damage, not dignity, to this country.
Democrats and progressives cannot allow Obama to be turned into a punchline. That’s what happened to President Carter, who right-wingers continue to depict as a failed President despite his clear accomplishments (qualified, enlightened and racially diverse judges appointed to the federal courts, efforts to nurture clean energy and prepare for the impacts of human-caused climate change). Right-wingers were able to rewrite history about Carter in part because Democrats and progressives would not defend the good he did; it’s a profound shame that one of the most virtuous men to ever step foot in the White House has now been permanently and falsely smeared as a failure. (Even if you thought Carter was too cautious and centrist, comparing Carter’s character to that of Donald Trump’s is like comparing Michelle to Melania.)
The Obama years were good and positive ones for this country, and Democrats and progressives should not hesitate to defend this man’s good work in the face of the right’s well-financed efforts to smear his administration as an embarrassment. Obama gave his supporters plenty to be proud of: a resurrected economy, an expansion of health care, aggressive efforts to reduce carbon pollution, enlightened federal district, appellate and Supreme Court judges, Osama bin Laden brought to justice, protections for LGBT citizens, a competent and scandal-free administration. The Obama years were not perfect, but in many respects they were golden years for this country.
Right-wingers have an obvious vested interest in destroying public nostalgia about Obama. If they can convince a majority of Americans that the Obama years were bad, they can further delegitimize the Democratic Party in the minds of these Americans. Linking Obama in the public mind to American failure and decline would be more beneficial for the right than the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and Shelby County v. Holder rulings. Convincing the masses that Obama was a do-nothing excuse for a President, and that his party cannot be trusted to lead, would be a most effective form of suppressing turnout for Democratic candidates in future Presidential elections.
Will Democrats and progressives allow Obama’s legacy to be contaminated in the public mind? Will they timidly shrink back as the right-wing media empire does to Obama what it did to Carter? Will blatant lies about Obama’s accomplishments go unchallenged?
Remember when Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders suggested that the Democratic Party establish its own fact-based alternative to the Fox News Channel? If Democrats ever bother to take Sanders’s advice, perhaps they’ll launch the channel with a documentary about the Obama years, and the successes of his gallant man–how much he accomplished in the face of fury and falsehoods, how he worked tirelessly to bring our divided country together. Democrats and progressives must realize that if they don’t tell the truth about Obama’s legacy, nobody will.
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