Obama’s Empty Promise
Out of all the writers in your special “Obama Years” issue [Jan. 2/9], I align myself with Robert L. Borosage [“Was Barack Obama a Transformational President?”] and Eric Foner [“Teaching the History of Radicalism in the Age of Obama (and Bernie)”]. As bright and charming as Obama is, he never conveyed a passionate urgency about progressive causes. He was cautious, centrist, and nonconfrontational. Hundreds of thousands of people of color are still serving out draconian sentences from the awful War on Drugs. The primary skill set that Obama brought to the job was his amazing rhetorical ability. I always had the sense that he knew the importance of the civil-rights movement but was not a protester at heart. Yes, the difficulties he faced were huge—and he will doubtless look very good compared with his successor—but something was missing. And that something extended to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, thanks in large part to her embrace of Obama.
Lessons in Privatization
As a retired educator, I was delighted to read Dana Goldstein’s comprehensive evaluation of Barack Obama’s legacy in education [“The Education of Barack Obama,” Jan. 2/9]. His appointment of Arne Duncan as secretary of education and his choice to continue the test-and-punish model with his Race to the Top initiative were big disappointments to those of us in the field. These decisions signaled that the privatization of public education, as pressed by the Broad Foundation and others, was going forward.
It took a while for the president to realize that the high-stakes testing model was damaging real instruction, and he made a good change of course by signing the Every Student Succeeds Act. However, public education now faces a new adversary in the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Trump’s secretary of education. DeVos is even more committed to dismantling public education in favor of for-profit charters and vouchers for private schools. (In a recent tweet, she called public education a “dead end.”)
As Goldstein predicts, it will be up to state and local governments to resist this latest movement for “reform.” Bravo to her for shedding much-needed light on this controversy.
Gloria C. Endres
The Jan. 2/9 issue of The Nation, which explored the legacy of President Barack Obama, was superb. In particular, the article “Climate Changed” by Mark Hertsgaard was exactly on target. I want to add a few thoughts to his point that “corporate media…deserve a special circle in hell for sustaining the lie that climate change is more a matter of political opinion than of scientific fact.” The scientific evidence is settled. Peer-reviewed papers in the field have clearly established that global warming is real and caused by human activity. It’s not a hoax, and it’s not normal cyclical variation. The real issue for all of us is whether this world will survive as we know it. Many knowledgeable scientists are already quite pessimistic about this.
Charles D. Hawker
la quinta, calif.
Race and Class
Leaders of the Democratic Party would do well to read Joan Walsh’s article on the 2016 election and its aftermath (“The Arc Bent,” Jan. 2/9) over and over again. This part in particular is worth studying: “We can’t accept false dichotomies between race and class. The speed with which so many progressives—most of them white and male—have seized on ‘identity politics’ as the problem with Clinton’s campaign is puzzling. The fact that we’re seeing a battle between ‘identity politics’ and ‘class politics’ seems a little overwrought—especially based on an insanely close election in which we can easily name a dozen things that would have made the difference—and it suggests that the forces against racial and gender diversity, equality, and inclusion are seeing their opportunity.”
M. William Howard Jr.
I was very disappointed that The Nation’s assessment of the Obama years paid scant attention to his shameful decision to say of George W. Bush and the officials in his administration who authorized the use of torture and committed other violations of international and US law: “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backward.”
In December 2009, Obama boldly declared during his Nobel Peace Prize lecture that he believed that “the United States of America must remain a standard-bearer in the conduct of war” and that “we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it’s easy, but when it is hard.”
“Those regimes that break the rules,” Obama continued, “must be held accountable.”
Accountable? No one in the Bush administration, beyond a few soldiers at Abu Ghraib, has ever been held accountable for torture and other crimes against humanity—despite mountains of evidence contained in reports from the CIA, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and committees of Congress. It was Obama’s sworn duty under the Constitution and the United Nations Convention Against Torture to investigate and, if warranted, prosecute these crimes.
By squandering the last eight years without pursuing Bush-era torturers, Obama has ensured that his true legacy will be that of a mere placeholder between Presidents Bush and Trump. He set a dangerous precedent that will allow future presidents to reinstate torture and say truthfully, “Bush did it, and Obama never held him accountable.”
Stephen F. Rohde, Esq.
The Looming Monument
I was jolted by the incredible photo featured in “Ringing the Freedom Bell,” Erica Armstrong Dunbar’s piece on the new National Museum of African American History and Culture [Dec. 19/26]. Behind the museum stands the specter of the Washington Monument, looking very much like a hooded Klansman. Intentionally or not, the photo really captured the monkey on this country’s back: racism. Thank you for your insightful articles—and photos!
In “Diplomacy Over War” by Phyllis Bennis [Jan. 16/23], an editorial error resulted in the omission of one of Moscow’s allies from the list of US and Russian allies in the Syrian civil war. That ally is the Syrian government. Apologies to the author.