On November 6, 1962, following his stinging defeat in the race for Governor of California, Richard Nixon convened one of the most famous press conferences in history. It is remembered for two reasons: First, because Nixon said it would be his last, and it wasn’t. Second, because, after bitterly complaining about biased press coverage, Nixon spat out the immortal sentence: “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”
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Barack Obama, of course, can hardly complain about press coverage, at least from what is now known as “mainstream media.” In fact, at his “last” press conference last week, he praised the media and defended its vital role in preserving democracy. As for other critics, however, all those detractors and haters, including Donald Trump, most of the Republican Party, the right-wing media and far too many Israelis – Nixon’s assertion fits Obama like a glove. From now on, they don’t have Obama to kick around anymore.
He was far from a perfect president, of course, and it’s valid to claim that he wasn’t very good at all. But Obama was never as bad as most of his critics asserted. Even if one discounts the immense symbolic value of Obama’s election as the first black president and even if one ignores his admirable personal conduct in the White House, the gap between the real Obama and the one his detractors portrayed is as big as the one between reality and the dystopian America concocted in Trump’s shameful inauguration speech.
One can argue about Obama’s failures abroad, though he’s given no credit for just about anything and blamed for every evil under the sun, as if America is still as omnipotent as it never was. In the domestic arena, however, there is no doubt that Obama handed over on Friday an America that is far healthier and more prosperous than the one he received eight years ago. I mean in the real world, not in Trump’s feverish fantasies.
Nonetheless, Obama got no respect. Throughout his eight years, he was the right wing’s main whipping boy. He garnered extra measures of hate and hostility because of his color and his middle name, but then, when this repugnancy was mixed in with growing political polarization and social intolerance, Obama became a scapegoat for everything that’s wrong in the world, and for a lot of things that aren’t really wrong at all, but right-wingers pretend that they are.
From mayhem in the Middle East through crime in the streets, the rising costs of health care and the rise of China and the Far East to globalization and the movement of jobs abroad, from oil spills to the Ebola epidemic that wasn’t, that was all Obama. As the famous phrase had it, in the right tone of voice: “Thanks, Obama.”
The same is true for Israel, especially for its ungrateful and ungracious right-wing government. Fourteen Security Council members voted for Resolution 2334 that denounced settlements, but the only foreign leader who was defamed and maligned was Obama. The entire world detests Israeli settlements, but only Obama is castigated for criticizing them.
For eight years he had Israel’s back, defensively and diplomatically, but he was excoriated almost day and day out. Because he didn’t accept Israel’s worldview as gospel truth, he was labeled and appeaser and branded an anti-Semite. It goes without saying, almost, that Israel’s attitude toward Obama was one of its ugliest hours.
Obama allowed his Israelis disparagers and American denigrators to suspend introspection and shelve responsibility. He was their opioid of choice. If Obama is responsible for Palestinian rejectionism then Israel can turn a blind eye to the fact that it has done nothing by itself to advance peace. If Obama is to blame for the rise of ISIS, then Republicans can forget that it was their disastrous Iraq War that got the ball rolling.
If China is moving up and jobs are going overseas then let’s pretend Obama could have prevented it, and if Obama is handling the American economy in a sane and sensible way, than let’s just ignore the statistics and make up that things are terrible - and then blame Obama for the hell we just invented.
Well, those days are now officially over. America has elected a new president who portrays himself as America’s savior and who promises to fix everything, all by himself. Israelis, for their part, are kvelling over a president that is being portrayed, with no significant evidence to back it up, as a far better friend to Israel than Obama ever was.
And even though administrations often get to blame their predecessors for their troubles for a while – Obama did so for his first four years in office at least – Trump promises to carry out such unequivocal and revolutionary change that the refrain “It’s all Obama’s fault” won’t hold water. If Trump will be as radical as he promises and as disastrous as many people expect, the consequences will be immediate and undeniable. If he moves the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and blood is spilled, Obama won’t be there to catch the blame.
As for Obama, there can be no doubt that Trump’s inauguration speech confirmed his worst fears. Perhaps it even caused him to reflect on the wisdom of his gracious transfer of power. And while he is no doubt troubled by the probability that much of his legacy will be dismantled in the next four years, and while he is justifiably concerned for the safety and prosperity of the United States as well as its standing in the world, he can at least comfort himself with the thought that he will no longer have to tolerate the arbitrary, bigoted, unreasonable and unmerited attacks on him and on his performance.
The right wing will just have to find another scapegoat to kick around whenever it needs distraction or relief. It could be the media, perhaps liberals, possibly Muslims, and if all else fails, there is always the tried and tested fail-safe – the Jews.