Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne? And days of auld lang syne, my dear, and days of auld lang syne. Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne? I have to admit, I never really understood either why this song was sung on New Year’s or what on earth it means. It comes from a Scottish poem written by Robert Burns in 1788, and roughly translates into “days gone by.” Traditionally, this poem is recited or the song is sung at Scottish New Year’s gatherings, but according to TodayIFoundOut.com, the tradition in America owes its roots to Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadian Band. Guy Lombardo once the “Dick Clark” of New Years, and in 1929 he and his band performed live from the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City on radio. At midnight, the song they chose to play was Auld Lang Syne.
I celebrated Christmas at my sister’s restaurant. There, alone, libertarian John was thrust into an environment of socialists and self-proclaimed progressives. My sister is a community organizer of the Obama variety, so I respect her positions – they don’t need to be logical, they are her job – but I was overwhelmed by the hostility toward the President-elect and admiration for the outgoing President. Always the peacemaker, I asked the assembled socialists what they liked so much about President Obama. In other words, what was his legacy. Amazingly, they had little to say.
It really takes years and history to sort out whether or not much was accomplished during a President’s term. But lets take this New Year’s opportunity to look at what the liberal elites are claiming to be his legacy and see how it stands up to scrutiny.
According to Jonathan Chait a liberal commentator and writer for New York Magazine, President Obama will be remembered as a transformational success. He goes on to opine on three areas that he believes the country will look favorably upon the current President: Economic recovery, health-care reform, and a response to climate change.
First let’s take a look at the idea that President Obama helped guide the country to economic recovery. While the economy has grown in all but three quarters of the Obama presidency, this is mainly due to the nature of the business cycle itself. The 2008 recession had lasted for about a year, which was fairly long. It was not; however, as Mr. Chait claims and as many pundits have reported, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. It was a recession very similar to the one that occurred in 1981-82, and the 1973-74 recession. Suggesting that Mr. Obama’s policies including a massive program of borrowing and transfer payments, a bailout of certain American auto makers, and massive regulation of the financial system led us out of recession is akin to suggesting that Pharaoh made the Nile River flood, or that the Mayan priests caused the rains to come. It is a belief, but it is not a fact. The economy would have rebounded if Senator McCain were President just as it would have under President Obama. That is how recessions work. We could argue that many of Mr. Obama’s policies actually harmed the recovery, but we are looking at legacy here, and saying that the sun continued to rise during the Obama Presidency is not really a claim for legacy.
The second item that Mr. Chait (and many so-called progressives) cite as President Obama’s legacy is the set of health care regulations that are now known as Obamacare. It is true that a major goal of the Democrat party has been to socialize medicine in America, and the Affordable Care Act was a step in that direction. However, suggesting that this is an achievement really rewrites history. The Obama Administration came to power with a veto-proof majority in both houses of Congress. The Democrats could have easily passed legislation actually socializing medical care across the country, but what they ended up with was a gigantic hacked together bill. Obamacare not only did little to socialize health care, but rather created unsustainable insurance markets that are now leading to higher costs, less care, and bizarre forms of micro-HMOs that promise fantastic health care, but only have three participating physicians (and they are all located in Kuala Lumpur).
It is true that the law has led to a large decrease in the uninsured population; however, most of this has been from an expansion of the government’s Medicaid program for the poor. The same result could have been done simply by expanding Medicaid to cover more people – and at a much lower cost. What is a legacy from Obamacare is that it was one of the few major bills that the President was able to actually pass through Congress. As such, it is going to be difficult for the incoming administration to easily tear this up, or even modify it in a meaningful way. More likely is that the whole house of cards that Obamacare is built on will fall apart under its own weight, and Congress will eventually be forced to act and drastically modify the program.
For example, President John Adams passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 and that legacy expired in 1801. The Alien Enemies Act, which was also part of this package remains today. A legacy indeed, but probably not one of a magnitude that Adams might have wanted, and Obamacare will not likely last in a way that supporters would consider an important achievement.
Finally, Mr. Chait suggests that there is Obama’s legacy on climate change. Here I do think that much of what the President has done will both survive and will have some positive legacy benefits – but not for the same reasons claimed by proponents. Whether one believes in the religion of climate change or not, one thing is true, and that is that pollution is not a great thing. While much of what the Administration has done has been guided by corporate favoritism or an irrational belief in the ability of man to engineer the weather (for example, $90 billion in so-called green-energy subsidies, and more stringent fuel economy standards) much of this agenda came in the form of expensive rules on industry that will have little effect on reducing pollution. In addition, various agreements that the President signed that are being called treaties by supporters like Mr. Chait, were never sent to Congress for ratification and are therefore not binding. That said, while the ultimate goal of much of the Administration’s work was not viable (changing the climate) some of these rules will stand, and there will be long term reductions in pollution because of them. This is a lasting legacy that we will likely look back on and give President Obama credit for.
In addition to these claims, I would also give President Obama a lot of the credit in helping to change the somewhat tribal nature of American society. Truly most of the credit to the fact that Americans are today much more tolerant of race, religion, sexual preference or personal appearance than they were eight years ago is due to the nature of the millennial generation; however, this generation came of age in a time where America had a bi-racial President who promoted a more tolerant agenda towards these differences. As a libertarian minded person, I look upon this as a very good thing. Allowing the government to blatantly discriminate against someone because they are homosexual, or a woman, or because they wear a beard does not live up to the ideals of this nation, and it is good to see the great strides that have been made toward a more tolerant society over the past decade. This too will likely be a legacy of President Obama, and could be his greatest.
President Obama will leave the White House in three weeks. The so-called progressives that I was surrounded by on Christmas should look back on their good old times with some pleasure. Maybe not because of what they think the President accomplished, but for what he really did do.
Happy New Year.