Not Acting Is a Decision: The Obama Legacy's Empty Spaces

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., Dec. 6, 2016. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times) President Barack Obama delivers remarks at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, December 6, 2016. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

The farmer imagines power and place are fine things. But the President has paid dearly for his White House. It has commonly cost him all his peace, and the best of his manly attributes. To preserve for a short time so conspicuous an appearance before the world, he is content to eat dust before the real masters who stand erect behind the throne. 

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Having endured eight long nightmare years of George W. Bush, preceded by the media-driven priapic frenzy of the Clinton administration, and bearing fully in mind the unvarnished calamity to come, it is safe to say without shame or hesitation that I will miss the presidency of Barack Obama. Whatever else he may be, the man is cool. He is funny. He is breathtakingly intelligent, and more subtle than a subharmonic beat you feel without hearing.

Only a fool or a bald-faced liar could claim the president lacks any accomplishments after his eight years. He saved the US auto industry, nailed down a tepid but very real global agreement on climate change, passed a health care law that allows many previously uninsured people to access insurance, signed the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and supported same-sex marriage, established relations with Cuba, commuted the sentences of more than a thousand victims of the failed “war on drugs,” placed a pair of non-Scalia justices (both women) on the Supreme Court, signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and all the while managed to run through the raindrops in DC without even the vaguest hint of scandal.

As a public speaker, President Obama rose to the occasion so often and so well that, for the first time in generations, exceptional political oratory became commonplace instead of rare, and that is something we are all going to miss in very short order. When he spoke words of comfort in my home city of Boston after the Marathon bombs…

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