As with all modern presidents, Barack Obama’s post-White House career has the potential to impart tremendous influence on policy and the American public. In a recent conversation with Doris Kearns for Vanity Fair, Obama made it clear that he would take an activist role once leaving the Oval Office, looking forward to being freed of the “institutional constraints” of his position.
In seeking an active position in the public discourse, Obama is hoping to fulfill those goals made unattainable by the D.C. quagmire. As with President Jimmy Carter, the politics of the time, the clustered national crises and the state of international affairs have handicapped President Obama’s role as an agent of socio-political change.
Committing oneself to a post-presidency of tireless activism is noble. As expected, the move has stirred detractors. Matt Laslo, writing for the Guardian argued: “Obama’s plan to team up with divisive former attorney general Eric Holder to combat conservative gerrymandering through liberal gerrymandering is troubling. It reveals Obama has now become the very establishment he ran against in 2008. Maybe one shouldn’t drink the water in Washington after all.”
Laslo referenced President Obama’s plan to work with former Attorney General Eric Holder to promote Democratic politicians and causes in coming years. Though Laslo argues this confirms President Obama has lost all aspirations for change, it is hard to see how a president seeking to combat nefarious fringes with the promotion of progressive politics is confirmation of his own establishment mindset.
The GOP, as a cohesive movement, is on life-support. Though Democrats have largely bemoaned their choice of candidate for this upcoming election, unity within the Democratic base is superior to that of the GOP. Seeking bipartisan ends to a problem of a wounded GOP would be a wasted effort. The GOP never had any intention of working with President Obama or Attorney General Eric Holder while in office. It is not clear why that would change—especially in this time of enormous division—once he is a former president.
President Obama has, through the rigors of eight years with a largely-ineffective Congress, learnt to handle problems in a methodical, focused manner. In the years following the passage of the Affordable Care Act and prior to the GOP’s declaration of War against the President, Obama sought to create bipartisan progress.
In a 2010 interview with the National Journal, then Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said, of the election, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
President Obama has spent eight years attempting to work with an ineffective Congress. He has spent the days following school massacres attempting to get the GOP and pro-gun Democrats to budge on common-sense gun reform. He has spent years being demonized for taking a long-term approach to foreign policy, in which his strategy aims to create regional stability built by regional states, abandoning the myopia of the past. He has attempted to pass laws and regulations to address the harbinger of death, global climate change, only earning the ire of snowball-wielding Congressmen.
Partisan politics have halted the Washington machine; however, telling a man who has been made to sacrifice, substitute and abandon legislation and major policy for the sake of K-Street corruption to ameliorate his relationship with hostile elements ignores his presidential experience.
Eric Holder and Barack Obama are two of the sharpest political minds to pass through our government in decades. They are also, as we have seen in commentary, two men unsatisfied with a spectator role in socio-political activism. These are men who wish to use their influence, their intellect and their ideas to improve the nation.
In an ideal world, Barack Obama would have left the White House having achieved most of his intended goals, giving him the opportunity to focus on mending the deep wounds of partisanship. However, with only one remaining viable political-party in the United States, Obama’s post-presidency could be a force for progressivism, ensuring the GOP reemerges as a modern party, not simply a reincarnation of the Know Nothings of more than a century ago.