President Barack Obama gave his farewell address Tuesday night. But, as he made clear, he really isn’t going anywhere.
The president went to Chicago to deliver his farewell address in front of a cheering crowd of 20,000 or so fans and supporters.
It wasn’t a bad speech, exactly. It’s just ... well, do you remember any of it three days later? Even though I watched the speech live, it occurred to me shortly afterward how unmemorable it was, except for a few occasions when the president responded to outbursts from the crowd.
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“Four more years! Four more years!” they chanted.
“I can’t do that,” he replied.
“Can’t” being the operative word. You know Obama would have run for a third term if the Constitution allowed it. (The 22nd Amendment limits the president to two terms.) Whether he would have won is very much an open question. He certainly thinks so, telling his pal David Axelrod at CNN last month he could have beaten President-elect Donald Trump in a heads-up fight.
Yet governing didn’t seem to interest Obama very much. The thrill of the campaign and the adulation of the crowd was what fueled him.
That – and certain trappings of power.
For all the talk of Republican “obstructionism” to Obama’s agenda, few of the president’s partisans have much to say about his failure as a politician and his abuse of executive authority.
Yes, failure. Obama set the tone of his administration his very first week in office, during what turned out to be one of the few meetings he held with Republican congressional leaders. After listening to Republicans’ concerns about the president’s proposed economic stimulus package, Obama replied simply: “I won.”
Well ... alrighty, then!
And when Congress refused to roll over for the president on immigration reform, or the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, or on his climate change rules, he simply reached for his “pen and phone.”
Like just about every U.S. president of the past 100 years (with the possible and notable exception of Calvin Coolidge), Obama did almost everything he could to expand the power of the executive, stretching his constitutional prerogatives to the limit and beyond.
Yet it wasn’t enough. Asked in 2013 by a reporter why he couldn’t reach a deal with congressional Republicans over automatic spending cuts, he replied: “I am not a dictator.”
Autocracy weighed heavily on the president’s mind. “This is something I’ve struggled with throughout my presidency,” Obama said during a Google hangout event in 2013. “The problem is that I’m the president of the United States, I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed.”
It never seems to have occurred to him to compromise, to deal, to engage in give and take. Instead, partisan intransigence only increased over the past eight years.
Donald Trump’s election is at least a partial repudiation of Obama’s brand of governance. Trump has promised to undo many of Obama’s executive actions on “day one.” Live by the pen, die by the pen. Obama’s tenure is also a warning to Trump. Governing by sheer force of will and personality doesn’t work.
As I listened to Obama go on and on the other night about his hope for a more progressive future, I couldn’t help but think how the man is incapable of speaking without lapsing into platitudes and clichés. Maybe his farewell address didn’t resonate because it wasn’t really a farewell.
“I won’t stop,” he said near the end of his hour-long remarks. “In fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days.”
Yes, Mr. President, we know.
That’s what we were afraid of.
Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness (www.amgreatness.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @benboychuk.