Judging a president’s term in office is a monumental task. Trying to break it all down into a single grade, sentence, or soundbite really does no justice to the enormity of the job, but we writers have to try anyway. Think about the sheer size of the United States, and the diversity of its people, and how quickly lives can change, and the way it all interacts with the rest of the world—and then think about being in a position where you’ve got a ton of power over all of that. Makes your head spin, right? Give me a second to pick myself up off the floor.
But seriously. How do you do it? You can’t boil it all down to a number like sabermetricians do with baseball players. There’s no Value Over Replacement President (although—nerd alert—I would read and share the shit out of an article that tried to establish that metric). How do you judge whether inaction in Syria outweighs the benefits of expanded health insurance? How do you balance the scales between the expansion of government surveillance and the stimulus package that helped bring us out of the recession? You kind of can’t, in part because you’re comparing apples to oranges and in part because we still don’t know how such decisions are going to effect us longterm. Some parts of our lives are better than they were eight years ago. Some parts are worse. Trying to tally it all up is silly.
But the nation is still standing. The United States of America is still the world’s preeminent superpower and our enemies and rivals hate us cuz they ain’t us. You and me and everybody else still has a shot to make something more of ourselves. Maybe that sounds like I’m setting the bar pretty low, but there are a zillion ways this thing we built could all unravel. It didn’t, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to any time soon. George W, the only other president I can remember really well, left us in a big steaming cloud of uncertainty. Obama’s leaving us with hope for a bright future (yes, even despite all the bullshit the Trumpalumps are trying to pull). In that regard, I’d say he did a fine job.
There’s one more thing that’s even harder to quantify that I think will lead us to look back on Obama’s presidency as a great success: that is one inspirational dude. If you look at this guy and don’t get a little warm and fuzzy because he’s a great human being, your heart’s either made of stone or you seriously need to lay off the conservative Kool-Aid and see a doctor immediately. He’s a rare combination of patience, thoughtfulness, and dignity that we should all strive to emulate, regardless of our political beliefs. He’s just a good dude. Fuck, he even makes me want to be less of an asshole. His rise to the presidency proved that nice guys don’t always finish last, that racism and prejudice can be overcome, and the legions of young people he’s inspired will likely grow up to do great things. Some are concerned for Obama’s legacy as the Republicans gear up to tear down his work, but they can’t ever touch his real legacy—that positive spirit he instilled in so many—and their obsession with wiping him away might actually add even more fuel to that fire.
Some Americans look back at the last eight years and wonder where all the hope and change is. It’s coming; it’s just a slower burn than we thought it would be. Thanks, Obama. For reals. If you’re ever in town I’ll buy you a beer and a couple games of Keno.