Barack Obama has a lot to do after he leaves office. Outgoing presidents traditionally start planning presidential libraries -- Obama chose the South Side of Chicago as the location for his archives, and the project has gone out to bid for architects.
Arrangements must be made for a new residence after two terms in the White House, and Obama has hinted at a number of locations, including New York, North Carolina, and home to Chicago. His post-presidential career will almost certainly include writing and speaking tours, the common vehicles for outgoing presidents to secure their retirement wealth. Obama has a head start on a writing career, having already authored two books.
Still, the President has insisted that he wants to remain in the political mix rather than sit on the sidelines, although he has ruled out any more electoral campaigns. If he won’t run for another office, what about an appointment – say, to the Supreme Court?
“What a great idea!” Hillary Clinton gushed at a campaign event in Decorah, Iowa on Monday night when an attendee offered the suggestion. “No one has ever suggested that to me, I love that, wow,” Clinton continued. “I would certainly take that under advisement. I mean he’s brilliant, and he can set forth an argument, and he was a law professor, so he’s got all the credentials."
A great idea? Hardly.
The big trend in the 2016 cycle thus far has been passionate populist anti-establishmentarianism. The nomination process in both parties has proven susceptible to this anger and backlash to years of partisan gridlock and failed promises. The Republican nomination race has been affected more overtly, as more experienced leaders have either faded or disappeared entirely to the benefit of outsiders such as Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and until very recently Ben Carson -- all of whom have a combined single term in elected public office among them. But Democrats have seen Clinton fall from foregone conclusion to embattled underdog in Iowa and New Hampshire with much less competition, seemingly outclassed by a self-proclaimed socialist backbencher.
The frustration driving Bernie Sanders’ rise as a legitimate alternative to Clinton can be traced in significant part back to Obama himself. Obama beat Clinton in 2008 for the nomination by posturing himself a break with the Democratic Party establishment, a fresh voice for a more progressive party. He promised to end the Iraq war and win in Afghanistan, take on the “Too Big to Fail” financial institutions, and take action on a broad front of progressive social-justice issues. In September 2011, Obama pitched his rhetoric even sharper and helped promote the Occupy movement as a counter to the conservative Tea Party.
Almost eight years later, most of those promises went unfulfilled. Obama was yanked into openly supporting same-sex marriage by Joe Biden after spending nearly four years “evolving” on the issue. Obamacare passed, but it enabled the biggest insurers to gain a captive market. Dodd-Frank has reinforced “Too Big to Fail,” while not a single Wall Street executive has faced criminal charges for the financial-sector meltdown that helped create the Great Recession. Obama hasn’t passed punitive taxes on the rich as he once championed, and he has made common cause with globalists on trade.
Other than his expansion of the regulatory state, progressives have plenty of reason to feel ignored – which is why they have flocked to Sanders’ populist campaign. Clinton has tried tacking to the Left in the primary without much success, at one time trying to keep arms’ distance from Obama. Suddenly, though, she has chosen to embrace the current status quo, and Obama has in some ways turned his back on 2007-8 to embrace Clinton and the status quo ante. Promising to perpetuate Obama as a policymaker doesn’t make much sense in a primary marked by passionate demands for major change from the present.
It makes even less sense for someone preparing for a general election. Despite the disappointment and frustration on the Left with Obama, he remains a fairly popular figure. Among voters in general, approval of Obama’s work runs significantly lower. Gallup’s weekly polling has him consistently in the mid-40s for the past year or more. Even the suggestion of nominating Obama for the Supreme Court will likely unite Republicans on two of their common passions – judicial appointments and the desire to retire Obama from public life.
In fact, Clinton provided a welcome reminder of the important stakes for the GOP and conservatives in this election, especially those who do not feel excitement for any of the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. Four of the current justices are over 70 years of age, two from each wing of the court. The next president will almost certainly need to make one or more nominations to the nation’s top court, and the Senate will have to confirm those nominees. The lifetime appointments may provide the most significant legacy a president can create, one that keeps adding to their public role for decades after leaving office.
Obama has already established his legacy on the court through the appointments of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The two can be expected to engage in an activist policy role over the next several years, attempting to extend decades of precedent in which the court has encroached on legislative turf.
No stranger to executive action that treads on Congressional prerogative, Obama would be only too glad to pursue his policy goals in the same manner. But even if Clinton thought better of putting Obama on the court, it is clear that she will appoint judges and justices of the same ideological and activist bent.
Let this serve as a wake-up call to those who wish to see Obama enjoy a long and happy retirement from power and reverse as many of his policies as possible in the next four years. It will take a unity that has so far eluded Republicans in this cycle to succeed in this mission. Anti-establishment populism has its place, but complete nihilism on the Right will result in what they oppose most.
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