Liza Featherstone recently wrote an article for Jacobin entitled “Barack Obama Has Been One of the Worst Ex-Presidents Ever.” In it, she argues that Obama’s post-presidency has been “strikingly bereft of public-spiritedness,” the most recent example of which was his opulent 60th birthday bash at his Martha’s Vineyard mansion amidst surging Covid numbers.
She also points out that Obama, in the early days of the Trump presidency, was largely absent from public life. He was photographed on Richard Branson’s private island shortly after Trump’s inauguration – a time when his liberal base was wrought with fear about the days, weeks, months, and years to come. Rather than stay engaged and reassure his supporters that he would join them in their “resistance efforts,” he took off to the British Virgin Islands, where, according to Branson’s autobiography published months later, Michelle Obama actually exclaimed “We’re free!” Ironic that the former First Lady would feel this way just when a supposed fascist dictator just became her husband’s successor as the most powerful person on the planet.
Featherstone also cites that Obama’s two most notable interventions in politics, both of which took place over the phone, have been to protect the status quo.
First he intervened in the 2020 Democratic Primary in the days leading up to Super Tuesday, when Bernie Sanders was poised to effectively clinch the nomination. Obama convinced Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar to suspend their campaigns and endorse Joe Biden, which they did, and this last-minute Hail Mary to stop Sanders proved successful.
Then, later that year, as protests erupted nationwide in response to the murder of George Floyd, NBA players, in a show of solidarity, walked off the court and went on strike. Obama convinced them to get back to work and continue the season.
Liza compares Obama’s vacuous ex-presidency to those of his predecessors, who, awful as they were, at least made attempts at public acknowledgment of their continued responsibilities as public citizens. Obama, on the other hand, has rarely flexed his moral authority as an ex-president, and when he has, it has been against the interests of ordinary people. She concludes, “Obama has not only largely opted out of using his high profile to serve the public interest, but he’s also chosen insultingly to flout it. It’s long past time to end the cult of hero worship around this narcissistic plutocrat.”
Liza Featherstone joined us to discuss Obama’s post-presidency and other topics on episode 121 of the Due Dissidence podcast. Listen to our full conversation by clicking the player below, and subscribe to the Due Dissidence podcast on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or any major podcast player.