It’s the chaos, stupid.
Nothing more clearly marked the intended mission of Barack Obama’s presidency than his own words, spoken shortly before the 2008 election: “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”
Two markers from his final month in office are the concluding grace notes of his presidency, and dovetail perfectly with his stated mission:
- His assertion of a scandal-free presidency.
- His early-January unleashing of the National Security Agency to share “raw signal intelligence information” from globally intercepted personal communications—including the names of American citizens—with other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.
Obama’s presidency was a successful one, as measured by his stated purposes. Thinking otherwise misses the head fakes during his two terms, the scandals and related abuses of power that violated the sovereignty of the American people, and the residual damage that he leaves behind.
It was a successful presidency because realizing a fundamental transformation first requires the creation of chaos.
The political IEDs that have delivered chaos during the last eight years and are embedded to deliver further turmoil include:
- Weaponizing the administrative state to act against American citizens deemed political enemies (e.g., the IRS targeting scandal).
- Undermining the rule of law so there is no level playing field of justice.
- Nearly doubling the national debt to roughly $20 trillion.
- Enabling a more chaotic world by undermining allies and dealing passively with enemies while weakening America’s ability to defend itself.
- Dividing Americans against each other on issues of race, religion, sex, speech, and immigration, all while not actively discouraging violence.
- Enabling global and national elites while nearly destroying the Democratic Party’s electoral strength across the country.
In the 1965-1970 Get Smart television show, KAOS were the bad guys. The good guys had to “get smart” about the ways KAOS was creating chaos in order to put their plans into play. Today all of us need to get smart and realize that the creation of chaos during the Obama years was not an indicator of its failure, it was the unifying purpose of his presidential actions and his likely post-presidential plans. In other words, he meant to do that.
We also need to be sufficiently self-critical and acknowledge that our weakened culture contributed to making it possible for Obama to get away with acting this way.
align=”right” Obama’s presidency was a successful one, as measured by his stated purposes. Thinking otherwise misses the head fakes during his two terms, the scandals and related abuses of power that violated the sovereignty of the American people, and the residual damage that he leaves behind.
Obama’s presidency was yet another long march through our political, legal, and cultural institutions. Our already structurally weakened foundations were vulnerable due to, among other things, our lack of knowledge of and belief in Western Civilization and the American Founding.
Without a meaningful course correction, the next step in this long march will likely be some form of increasingly radical upheaval, a nihilistic and potentially violent struggle for power. We have already seen disturbing violence since the election in Washington, D.C., Berkeley, and, of course, on campuses such as Claremont McKenna and Middlebury College. We have also heard talk in the short time since Trump’s inauguration about a military coup and impeachment, as well as other plans for getting him out of office. There even has been talk about secession. And now we are experiencing use of encryption to thwart oversight, lawfare—including what some are calling a judicial coup against Trump’s executive orders—and further claims about spying.
As a CEO and student of organizational change, I have been scratching my head for years trying to explain Obama’s actual behaviors in a way that is not just another speculative theory about his past or partisan sniping over policy disagreements.
Three recent Obama actions crystallized my thinking, which yielded the clarifying insight:
- Unleashing the NSA in the last weeks of an eight-year term can only be described as a malevolent act certain to increase spying, leaks, and targeting of political opponents, all with less traceability—conveniently kicking in only as Obama left office—thereby making a “shadow government” more viable.
- Underwriting perpetual protesting through Organizing for Action (OFA) and more will reinforce an already emotionally charged and heightened culture that undermines civil society by focusing on agitation, not persuasion.
- When the Left can’t win through intimidation, they will subject their opponents to costly, drawn-out lawfare.
Obama had eight years to “secure a traditional legacy,” but that was not how he measured success. It was then that I realized that the creation of chaos was the common thread across all of Obama’s actions. This is taking the United States into new territory.
“The Old Head Fake Trick”—Governing Was Never The Goal
Effective leaders who create positive value build and guide strong teams, do strategic deals with partners, and take products or services to market, while upholding their fiduciary responsibilities to ensure the proper use of assets. None of these qualities were characteristic of President Obama or the efforts of his administration. Instead, we note the following characteristics of the Obama era:
- No Teambuilding: Unlike Bill Clinton after the 1994 midterm elections, which saw an historic Republican resurgence, Obama was strikingly indifferent to the record net loss of 1,042 Democratic officeholders across the nation, losses (16-24 percent at the congressional level; 23 percent at state legislature level, leading to 44-54 percent loss in state legislative chambers and 43 percent decline in number of governors) which have been occurring regularly in elections since 2010. Furthermore, Obama has left behind a Democratic Party leadership vacuum at the national level.
- No Strategic Policy Dealmaking, Other Than Obamacare: Obama had the least productive legislative record of any modern president, signing fewer bills in eight years than Jimmy Carter or George H.W. Bush signed in either of their four-year terms. This paltry outcome frequently is blamed on the Republican-control of Congress for the last six years of Obama’s presidency, but the senior Bush dealt with a Democratic-controlled Congress for all four years of his administration and signed 1,275 bills over two congressional sessions. Obama signed only 385 bills in the 2009-2010 session, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Recall that Obama focused on getting Obamacare, his signature piece of legislation, out of that one session, spurring greater government-induced chaos in one-sixth of the American economy and adversely affecting the finances and clinical care of many American families.
- No Fiduciary Responsibility: Obama submitted budgets late to Congress an unprecedented six out of eight years and routinely missed mid-year statutory financial reporting requirements. Over 1,000 days passed with no approved budget. His budgets were not serious—as evidenced by the lopsided Senate votes (1-98, 0-99, 0-97) and House votes (0-414, 2-413), restricting spending direction and oversight by Congress. The United States lost its AAA bond rating in 2011. The lurking time bomb will be the increasingly large mandatory interest payments that will crowd out other spending priorities in future years.
- The Head Fake Tricks: Building a governing coalition through teambuilding, specific policies, and fiscal responsibility was never Obama’s mission. Rather, he sought to build a lasting far Left activist network whose power would become greater than that of the political parties. He succeeded at both, creating such a network and weakening his party. The various iterations of OFA provided the organizational foundation for constructing the network.
Along the way, Obama often declared certain social issues “settled” in order to shut down political dialogue in the moment until such issues were deemed unsettled, such as gay marriage and transgender bathrooms. Policy reversals on such polarizing cultural issues were then used as flash points to create conflict that energized the activists and expanded the network.
Obama’s failure to enforce existing laws became a means of enabling the activists’ disruptive behaviors to be carried out consequence-free, encouraging further bad behavior.
His rhetoric was rarely about persuasion and aligned perfectly with a chaos strategy: “I won.” “The election’s over.” “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.” “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them…”
Meanwhile, Congress found that Obama’s Department of Justice extracted large sums of money from banks and corporations, directing those settlement funds to activist groups through backdoor channels that evaded Congressional spending authority and oversight, enabling further building out of the activist network.
Some thought that reversing executive orders would end the “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone” charade instead of realizing that the value of the orders was not in their permanence but in their transactional value, of creating an initial rallying cry on the Left and then causing polarization as they are reversed.
All of this meant Obama never led from behind. It only looked that way to people with a constitutional government worldview. And that was the ultimate head fake trick, because Obama was always about creating an alternative power base capable of stirring up the societal chaos necessary to realize a fundamental transformation.
Americans need to understand Obama and his compatriots as they understand themselves. Community organizing has never been about charity formed at the local level through Tocquevillian voluntary associations. Rather, community organizing is about blaming others and stirring resentments that then divide communities, resentments that evolve into overt hostility when demands are not met, and even violence when sufficiently provoked. The object is to find ways to contribute to the moral, intellectual, and physical chaos that will aid in the attack on the foundations of a free society. In other words, fundamental transformation.
Many well-intentioned Americans have been busy living their lives while Obama has led the creation of a well-funded and well-organized far Left activist network, and he is not going away like other former Presidents. Get Smart’s Agent 86 was the bumbling star of a scripted slapstick show where the good guy always won in the end. But, right now the far Left is writing the script, directing the show through their influence over the many elements of our popular culture, there is nothing funny about it, and the good guys are losing control. This is a blueprint for tyranny that will end badly if we do not get smart to Obama’s understanding of himself and his definition of success. We can’t win if we don’t even know what we are fighting.