According to polling data, I am not supposed to like President Obama. I am white, I live in the South, I am an evangelical, and I am a conservative. But contrary to these demographics, I have always had a a measure of personal appreciation for the President. I am no fan of his politics, but I have always felt positively toward him as a person. Maybe it’s because our childhoods were so similar (his father was also absent and he was raised in part by his grandmother as well). Maybe it’s because he is a huge college basketball fan like me. Or maybe because, by all accounts, he is a faithful husband and devoted father. I judge politicians on a personal level by the “could I envision going to a ballgame and having a good time with him/her” test. And on that test, President Obama passes with flying colors.
In view of the final day of his presidency, I wanted to offer some reflections on his time in office. I thought about entitling this post Thinking Through Faith as a Citizen. But there are broader issues to discuss regarding Christian citizenship, topics I hope to address in future articles. Instead I decided to call this post Eulogy for the Obama Presidency. I am a preacher, after all, and writing eulogies is part of my job. Literally, eulogy means “good word.” And I intend to say some good words about the President’s time in office. But eulogies are usually delivered at funerals, a time of great sorrow, and a sense of sadness pervades my thoughts about the Obama presidency as well.
So, let me begin with some “good words.” On foreign policy, I think President Obama’s instincts have been far more prudent than the neocons and the neoliberals who control both parties. His biggest mistakes have occurred when he ignored those instincts (such as his intervention in Libya and his “redline” pronouncement in Syria). But on his extraction of most U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, his containment strategy for ISIS, and his negotiations with Iran, traditional conservatives are more likely to appreciate the President that the hawks in each party.
On domestic policy, President Obama made some tough calls that I think were correct. For instance, while the bailout of the auto industry did cost the American taxpayers $9 billion, it saved state and federal governments from over $100 billion in lost tax revenue, unemployment benefit costs, and other long-term liabilities. That kind of judicious use of government is the sort of humane economics traditional conservatives can appreciate (even if they would have opted for a different solution).
But as I reflect on the last eight years, for the most part I feel a great deal of sadness. Much of this melancholy is not the President’s fault, but the fault of some fellow professed Christians and conservatives who have lost all sense of decorum and decency when attacking the President. “He was born in Kenya!” “He’s a Muslim!” “He’s a Muslim terrorist operative who intends to bring down America!” “He’s the antichrist!” “Some old boy should shoot him!”
I have actually heard people who are supposed to love Christ, care about the truth, and respect the government, say these sorts of things. This is a cause for mourning. And these sorts of hysterical and unfounded attacks only undermine the very legitimate criticisms that should be brought to bear against the President.
Rather than bringing Americans together, President Obama instead succumbed to the suffocating stranglehold of radical ideology and needlessly alienated devout religious adherents. He did so with the clumsy, heavy-handed HHS mandate, all in the service of radical feminism. And with the onerous edicts from the Department of Education regarding school bathrooms, all in the interest of the radical transgender movement. Instead of working toward mutually acceptable solutions, President Obama has been almost tone deaf in his treatment of religious freedom.
But my greatest criticism of the President is for what he has not done. Just as it took an ardent anti-communist in President Reagan to establish peace with the former USSR, and just as it required a southerner – Lyndon Johnson – to push through civil rights legislation, President Obama was uniquely positioned to speak to the African-American community about the problem of fatherlessness. Every social pathology facing that community (and the white community as well) can be traced to the lack of fathers. And earlier in his administration, the President spoke forcefully to this issue.
We can all agree that we’ve got too many mothers out there forced to do everything all by themselves. They’re doing a heroic job, often under trying circumstances. They deserve a lot of credit for that. But they shouldn’t have to do it alone. The work of raising our children is the most important job in this country, and it’s all of our responsibilities — mothers and fathers…
We’re also going to help dads who get caught up — we want to make sure that they’re caught up on child support payments and that we re-engage them in their children’s lives. We’re going to support efforts to build healthy relationships between parents as well — because we know that children benefit not just from loving mothers and loving fathers, but from strong and loving marriages as well.
But then the President shifted his views on marriage, and herein lies the problem. President Obama said that children need “loving mothers and loving fathers.” But in same-sex marriages, children do not have loving mothers AND fathers. They have two mothers or two fathers, but not both. But children don’t need interchangeable parental units – they need what mothers and fathers uniquely provide. Sadly, the President yielded to the demands of radical ideology, and in so doing, eliminated the very rationale for fatherhood he once espoused.
My hope is that once he is unencumbered by the demands of political pressure, the President once more will feel free to speak about fatherhood as he did so eloquently in the past. Imagine the powerful influence he could have in black communities which desperately need an advocate for and a model of what good fatherhood looks like. If he will devote himself to this cause, then his legacy will extend far beyond his eight years in office.