Panel Examines Obama Legacy, 2016 Election

panelists at Annual review of presidency event
April 12, 2016

President Obama will leave office with a legacy of significant accomplishments, but also with a vestige of disappointment among voters who once invested too much hope in his historic victory, according to panelists at the 35th annual IGS/Matsui Center Review of the Presidency.

The panelists – Tom Mann of IGS, Julia Azari of Marquette, Lanhee Chen of the Hoover Institution, and Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times – agreed that many voters expected too much of Obama when he was first elected in 2008.

Perhaps because of his campaign rhetoric, perhaps because of growing political dysfunction, or perhaps because of Obama’s status as the first African-American president, voters hoped for someone who could transform American politics and heal bitter partisan divides. But that cannot be accomplished by any one president, since much of the partisan rancor of American politics is based in our institutional designs and ideologically divided and nationalized parties.

Still, Obama accomplished much during his presidency, including the economic stimulus at the beginning of his first term, an expansion of health insurance coverage, and a variety of changes implemented through executive power, such as enactment of many provisions of the DREAM Act, environmental reforms, and the provision of paid sick leave for employees of federal contractors.

Chen, who disagreed with many of Obama’s policy prescriptions, said that sometimes his conservative colleagues say that Republicans do not want to elect a conservative version of Obama, but he notes that actually that is exactly what the GOP should do, given the president’s widespread policy achievements.

The panel also discussed the 2016 election, including the surprising phenomenon of Donald Trump’s candidacy. Panelists agreed that Trump is in many respects an anomaly, but they also noted that his support reflects a frustration on the part of many voters with politics as usual.

None of the panelists was willing to predict the outcome of this most unusual campaign, and Sweet even said that she believes former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is not yet the surefire Democratic nominee, given the relatively strong recent campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

A recording of the discussion is available on the event page

Event photos by Farrah Kazemi