Barack Obama: A Conservative Perspective In Retrospect

Illustration by Allen B Thangkhiew

For most of my life, I have not held a negative view of our first black President. Muslim, Anti-Christ, Socialist, and Tyrant were terms I repeatedly heard religious leaders, conservative commentators, and family members associate with the President. At the time, their criticisms made sense. If a politician is too dumb to not spend more money than what the country makes, acts like a tyrant, and desires to de-Christianize America, then why should I like him? From the best I could tell, Barrack Hussein Obama’s charismatic smile, energetic personality, and skin complexion were the only reasons why he became President. There was nothing exceptional about the man that I found admirable…

My evaluation of Obama was classically Republican, but was it fair? Did I take the time to read his biographies? Had I ever studied his domestic or foreign policies? Did I consider what he had to say during his speeches? Did I have a proper understanding of the functioning of government and politics? Did I give the man a real chance?

No. I did not. But as far as I was concerned, I knew all I needed to know to objectively assert that Obama must have been one of the worst Presidents the United States ever had.

Or so I thought…

The Era of Trump has moved me to reevaluate Obama’s Presidency. Is Obama really the socialist that hates America as conservatives make him out to be? Or is he a picture of America at its best? And regardless of the merits and shortcomings of his presidency, how will he be remembered?

Here are five things to think about as I answer those questions.

  1. Barrack Obama Was Born in America.

Shocker. I know. But Obama’s origin of birth was a major issue for over a decade.

In 2007, theory conspiracists called “birthers” questioned whether Obama was really born in the US. Rush Limbaugh, a conservative commentator with over ten million listeners, discussed many of the birthers’ speculations on radio his talk show—speculations like Obama being a Kenyan “Arab”, an Indonesian citizen, and even secretly being a British citizen. The man took all these prejudice theories seriously.

If Obama was not born in the United States, he could not run for President! Which is why Conservatives hoped the theories were true. In their determination to undermine Obama’s campaign, birthers around the country sued Obama, and insisted that he released his birth certificate. Conspiracists reasoned that if Obama refused, then he must not be US citizen.

In 2008, as many as 25% of adult Americans did not think Obama was born in the United States.

In response to the growing public curiosity, Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign released a photocopy of a “short-form” birth certificate. While the document was not his official birth certificate, the document did prove there was one on file and that Obama was a US citizen.

Though every major media outlet and public official from Hawaii confirmed that Obama was born in the United States, people continued to undermine his presidency.

In March 2011, America’s most prominent birther, Donald Trump, continued pressed the issue. Not only did he promise to hire a top team of private investigators to “find the truth”, Trump also offered a donation of $5m to a charity of choice if someone could prove that President Obama was born on US soil.

In April 2011, Obama settled the birther question. Obama’s administration released his original “long-form” birth certificate—proving he was in fact born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on 4 August 1961.

Throughout the years of constant harassment and slander, Obama has consistently responded with amusement and class. For instance, shortly after revealing his birth certificate, Obama referenced Trump during his White House Correspondent’s Dinner speech stating, “Now, I know that he’s taken some flak lately, but no one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter—like, did we fake the moon landing?”

Despite being ridiculed across the country, Trump was proud. Trump insisted he did the country a great service and did not recognize the certainty of Obama’s citizenship until after winning the election in 2016.

Today, tens of millions of Americans still do not believe Obama was really born in the United States.

  1. Barrack Obama Is a Christian.

Any insight on an American President would not be complete without discussing the individual’s religious background. Though many Republicans and Evangelicals attack the authenticity of his claimed Christian faith, his trust in Jesus Christ is evident. Few Presidents in history has had a testimony of faith as unique and candid as Obama’s.

President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Though not a Muslim himself, Islam played an important role in Obama’s childhood. Both his Kenyan father and atheist stepfather from Indonesia came from Muslim backgrounds. During his childhood, Obama spent four years in Indonesia and attended a predominantly Muslim public school where he received religious instruction. Obama today sees Islam as a beautiful religion that promotes peace and love.

Though certainly influential in Obama’s life, Islam was never the basis for his religious beliefs or values.

Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, was the most influential spiritual guide in Obama’s life growing up. She taught him how to be a healthy skeptic of organized religion while not discarding the truths and values it teaches. In his biography, The Audacity to Hope, Obama comments that:

“In her mind, a working knowledge of the world’s great religions was a necessary part of any well-rounded education. In our household the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita sat on the shelf alongside books of Greek and Norse and African mythology.”

Obama’s mother believed that she had given her son all the tools he needed to earnestly pursue truth and find the spiritual resources needed to nurture his own soul. Though always believing in a higher power, Obama adopted her mother’s skepticism and remained religiously unaffiliated throughout his youth and young adulthood.

Obama did not seriously consider American Christianity until he started working with poor religious blacks in Chicago. In 1987, Obama tried to help rally the residents of Altgeld Gardens so to pressure Chicago’s City Hall into improving public housing conditions in the community. When Obama first engaged with the locals, several pastors approached him and suggested he start attending church. They reasoned that joining a congregation would give him more opportunities to be involved in community members’ lives. Taking their advice, Obama chose Trinity United Church of Christ, a large black congregation with strong historical ties to the Civil Right Movement, as his home church.

In 2007, on the day of United Church of Christ’s 50th anniversary decades later, Barrack Obama shared with the nation how he became a Christian while attending the Trinity United Church of Christ:

“He [Rev. Jeremiah Wright] introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ… I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in Him. And in time, I cam to see my faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my life. It was because of these newfound understanding that I was finally able to walk down the aisle… and affirm my Christian faith… I submitted myself to His will and dedicated myself to discovering His truths and carrying out His works.”

In his biography The Audacity to Hope, Obama explains in more detail how the Black Liberation Theology that Reverend Wright preached persuaded him to become a devout Christian. The issues that Obama wrestled with such as identity—white vs black, poor vs rich; belief vs knowledge; spiritual transformation and societal change—were finally reconcilable to him. Trinity United Church of Christ presented him with a form of Christianity that was not concerned with just the personal salvation and the avoidance of sin, but also the imminent suffering of those within his community. To Obama, his faith has provided him with the moral basis for his fight against economic inequality and social justice.

Despite his numerous statements of faith, Americans among the political and religious right still question his Christianity—three reasons being chief among them. First, skeptics use his Islamic heritage and time in Indonesia to suggest he is secretly a pious Muslim. Second, the political Christian Right asserts that he cannot be a Christian because his support of gay rights and abortions are manifestly contradictory to traditional Christian morality. Lastly, theological purists assert that his beliefs regarding sin, hell, and the inerrancy of the Bible are too unorthodox for him to be a “real” Christian in essence. To them, Obama simply does not understand what it really means to be a Christian.

Illustration by Allen B Thangkhiew

Obama’s response?

“I have a job to do as president, and that does not involve convincing folks that my faith in Jesus is legitimate and real. I do my best to live out my faith, and to stay in the Word, and to make my life look more like His… What I can do is just keep on following Him, and serve others…”    

  1. Barrack Obama Is Not A Socialist.

Had you listened to Conservative commentators during Obama’s first term in office, you would have thought Obama was transforming America into the USSR and that calamity was evident.

In 2009, in a cover story entitled “Prime Minister Obama”, the writer warned, “Most Americans don’t yet grasp the scale of the Obama project … we’re all doomed.” After listing all the different ways Obama was turning the US into Europe, he asserted that “total societal collapse” and “global conflagration” were coming “sooner than you think.”

Another example is the critical work of Newt Gingrich. The former Speaker of the House authored a book entitled Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine where he rails against Obama’s “socialist” agenda and warned his readers that they must act now if they were to protect the Constitution and the US as they know it.

This false dichotomy was presented throughout Obama’s presidency. Branding Obama with the term “socialist” was another way Republicans tried to smear Obama’s presidency. But this scare tactic is nothing new in American politics.

Ever since the Great Depression, Republicans have made it a tradition of presenting Democratic values as socialist or sympathetic to communist agenda. During the 1934 election, Republican President Herbert Hoover portrayed the New Deal as “a disguise for a totalitarian state”. Hoover, like Gingrich, asserted that the American people were voting for either “free enterprise” or “collectivism.”

Contrary to popular understanding of economics and Republican portrayal, there is no society that is strictly “free enterprise” or “collectivist”. No country, whether it be the Cuba or United States, micromanages or has a laissez-faire attitude towards the national economy. There is a spectrum between a free market and a command economy. There are no absolutes.

At any rate, Obama’s policies have not moved the country towards socialism. Obama’s presidency did two things: increase the size of government and slightly expanded the welfare state. Obamacare, moderate taxes increases on the rich, establishing more banking and corporate regulations through the Wall Street Reform Act, bailing out large private companies, and implemented Keynesian Economics were actions any Democratic would have taken. Had Obama held to socialist principles, Obama would have advocated for the nationalization failing industries and healthcare.

Somehow, after eight years of “Prime Minister Obama”, the country is still standing just as much as the world is still spinning.

  1. Barrack Obama Embodies America’s Principles.

Another important aspect of Obama is his idealistic view of America. If a foreigner wanted to understand what it means to be an American, he or she needs to look no farther than America’s first black president.

Unlike his conservative colleagues, Obama does not see Christian Nationalism as foundational to American society. For Republicans, what makes America “great” is the Judeo-Christian values upon which the country was founded; the belief that allegiance to God and enacting legislation based on the Bible is what allows a society to prosper. Obama staunchly spoke out against this concept during his 2004 Democratic Convention Speech where Obama overtly challenged that idea:

“Given the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of non-believers.”

Obama’s speech was not Anti-Christian or overtly secular. He simply stated the facts. By 2004, one-fourth of Americans did not identify as Christian. America was becoming not just less white and Protestant, but less Christian. Obama was stating a reality that many Conservatives saw a as destructive to America. There was no longer one set of religious principles that bound the country together.

Though himself a devoted Christian, Obama does not believe that America becoming less Christian is of much consequence. Why? Because explicit Christian values is not what makes this country great.

In a speech celebrating the 50th anniversary of a significant Civil Rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Obama explained what it meant to love America and to be an American,

“…what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?…

It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruptions, the willingness to speak out for what is right, to shake up the status quo. That’s American…

Selma shows us that America is not the project of one person. Because the single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We’. ‘We The People.’ ‘We Shall Overcome.’ ‘Yes We Can.’ That is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone.”

Obama believes that what makes America “great” is not a unified national religion, but a dedication to universally held principles. America is the only nation in the world that defines itself by its fidelity to a shared set of ideals—that all men are created equal, that all men should have the liberty to pursue his own happiness, and that all men have an obligation and duty to stand up for the oppress, speak out, and actively protect and pass down those values to the next generation.

In 2008, Obama’s presidential campaign ran on promises of Hope and Change not because he believed he alone could fix the nations problems. Only the America, together, as a people, not defined by race or religion, but a shared set of principles and values, can create a brighter future.

  1. A President That Wielded His Phone and Pen.

When Obama became president, he had the luxury of having a supermajority in both the House and the Senate. With a blue Congress, Obama was able to sign bills such as The Affordable Care Act, Hate Crimes Prevention Act, $787 billion stimulus bill, and a bill that repealed the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Act into law. However, after losing both the House and the Senate, Obama resolved to arguably unconstitutional methods to get what he wanted done.

For starters, Obama refused to perform one of his primary functions as president—enforcing the law. In 2012, Obama announced that his administration would not deport noncitizen spouses of gay Americans or illegal citizens under the age of 30. While Obama called Conservative agenda as “un-American” and Democrats applauded Obama’s political resistance, Republican asserted that Obama’s administration was a state of lawlessness.

(c) The Atlantic

Trey Gowdy, a prominent Republican Representative, stated the following:

Mr. Chairman, we are not a country where the end justifies the means, no matter how good our motivations may be. We all swore an allegiance to the same document that the President swears allegiance to…What do we do when this President, or any President, decides to selectively enforce a portion of a law and ignore other portions of that law? What do we do, Mr. Speaker, regardless of motivation, when a President nullifies our vote by failing to faithfully execute the law?… While you are free to stand and clap when any President comes into this hallowed Chamber and promises to do it, with or without you, I will never stand and clap when any President, no matter whether he is your party or mine, promises to make us a constitutional anomaly and an afterthought. We make law.”

Another critique Conservatives had of Obama was his abusive use of executive orders. DACA and the Iran Deal are prime examples of how the President simply made up laws and made treaties without the consent of Congress. “I’ve got a pen and a phone,” Obama asserted in 2014. “And I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward…”

Gowdey again blasted Obama and pointed out what he perceived to be hypocrisy by echoing statements the President made during Senator years in Congress, “These last few years we have seen an unacceptable abuse of power—having a President whose priority is expanding his own power.” Gowdey asserted that as far as Obama was concerned, abusive use of power was only “unconstitutional” when a President of the other party did it.

Regardless, the Supreme Court never challenged his use of executive orders. Whether not or Obama’s actions were really “unconstitutional”, the broad use of executive orders is now a set precedent that future Democratic and Republicans will use to accomplish their agenda.

Concluding Thoughts

In time, I believe Republicans and Democrats alike will appreciate the American ideals that Obama pursued during his presidency. There will be staunch recognition of the contrast between the civility that Obama promoted throughout his presidency with the hateful rhetoric that his predecessor used to obtain votes and power. As America continues to move left and rejects Christian Nationalism, the issues that Obama fought for such as LBGT rights and immigration will be revered. With evangelical power reaching the twilight zone, history will remember a virtuous President who faced reactionary forces of fear and religious bigotry. Obama will be remembered as an ineffective president not because of his own shortcomings or failures, but because the American people were not ready to share a bathroom with a transgender or see their neighbors get a piece of paper saying their married.

History will look upon Obama’s shortcomings with kindness. Obama’s legacy will be like that of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. Because of the circumstances in which he lived, his overreach of power will either be excused or forgotten. His motivations, not his methods, will be judged and remembered.

American students in classrooms will watch his speeches and be moved. They will see not just his charismatic smile or hear his eloquent words, by most importantly how our first black President tried to live out and perfect the American principles upon which this nation was founded. The evangelicals and political conservatives who opposed him will be remembered as the bad guys. People who could not accept change, and resorted to fear and resentment in a desperate effort to regain power and maintain a version of America that no longer exists.

 

 

 

 

Author: Zane Merkle

Zane Merkle currently studies Political Science and has worked as a Research assistant at a Fundamental Christian University called Cedarville. He identifies as an evangelical conservative and plans on commissioning as a marine officer in the United States military after graduating in 2019.

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