Monday, January 25, 2016

President Obama's legacy and the 2016 presidential elections

This article was originally published in the Viet Tide on Jan. 22, 2016, and is posted on this site with VT's permission. It was written by Ness white and has been updated, edited accordingly.

With President Barack Obama in his final year of office, scholars are pointing to the implications his legacy could have on this year’s presidential and congressional elections. They are also saying his legacy could itself be impacted by the decision made on who assumes the presidency.

Speaking on a Jan. 15 Brookings Institution podcast, Brookings senior fellows in governance studies Bill Galston and Sarah Binder agreed that a Democrat being elected president this year would depend on whether voters view President Obama’s policies as having been beneficial to them overall. However, if voters think the president’s policies have worked against them, a Republican will likely be elected.

Binder said, specifically, that Democrats will use the president’s record to rally voters and affirm their own platforms on healthcare and financial regulation. Galston added that the president’s two-term job approval ratings would largely shape the political playing field to the Democrats’ advantage or disadvantage. For example, during the 2008 elections -- following former president George W. Bush’s two terms in office -- Republican candidate John McCain failed largely as a result of the public’s perception of Bush’s policies as insufficient. Wishing not to continue such policies, Americans elected President Obama, a Democrat.

“He presented himself as a healer,” Galston said of President Obama, adding that while the president’s push for hope and change has been praised, it might have actually hurt his legacy a bit.

President Obama’s policy changes in the healthcare field, as well as executive actions to make reforms in the areas of financial regulation and environment were definitely seen as progressive actions, Galston said. However, because of their progressiveness, the changes served to widen the political gap between Republicans and Democrats.

Binder agreed, saying that President Obama can be credited with turning around the economy -- which was at its worst since the Great Depression -- after Bush’s two terms. However, policy changes like the federal expansion of healthcare were too big, turning off half of the American public.

The president’s legacy, then, Galston said, will be considered successful if voters elect a Democrat to the office this year but repudiated if they elect a Republican. If a Republican becomes president, and Republicans keep control of the House of Representatives (lower house of Congress) and Senate (upper house of Congress), the party will likely enjoy a full two years of undoing many of the executive actions and policies President Obama put into place during his eight years in office.

Whoever, then, becomes the Democratic nominee for president will have to build on President Obama’s legacy, not run away from it or on it, Galston said. Currently, based on surveys, he added, voters are not indicating that they want more of the same when it comes to policy.

According to a Gallup poll released this month, the U.S. government -- including President Obama himself -- was named the most important problem facing the country. Further, according to a year-end CNN/ORC poll, 75 percent of Americans are not satisfied with how the U.S. is governed, 69 percent are angry at its direction and 52 percent disapprove of the president’s handling of his job responsibilities.

Moreover, the president’s approval ratings are at 45 percent, Galston said. If they decrease before the end of the year, Republicans could have a better chance in November; though if they increase, Democrats will hold advantage.

But is there another option? For example, while running as a Democratic candidate, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is an Independent. Could his election be a true win for Democrats or a true blow to Republicans? Would Republicans vote for him as a Democratic candidate? Could he help bridge the gap between the two parties? Might his perspective as a longtime Independent help him bring about the changes President Obama was unable to?

The government won’t improve until the American people demand with a loud voice that improvement occurs, Galston said. As long as political parties are rewarded with public votes for the status quo, it will persist.

Remember, this is just what some scholars say. Based on your own experiences and/or research, what do you think?

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