Amid Defeat, Obama Stands Out as the Grown-Up

Amid Defeat, Obama Stands Out as the Grown-Up
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Hillary Clinton’s loss in the presidential election was devastating to her, an apocalypse for Democrats and the worst thing to have happened in President Obama’s entire public service career. With the election of Donald Trump, Obama is by far The Biggest Loser, as his successor vows to overturn most of his accomplishments, yet somehow staggering defeat seems to have brought out the best in the president.

Inspiring patriotism amid the corrosive divide, Obama called upon the nation to embrace and support the president-elect, and the next day graciously welcomed a man who worked hard to delegitimize and embarrass him. That would be beyond the capability of many.  

Surrounded by Clinton supporters’ angry, overheated reactions, and some thumb-sucking as well, Obama has remained the picture of calm, magnanimity and grace. To weeping aides at the White House, the New York Times reported, Obama is playing peacemaker and perspective giver, telling them they don’t need hope when things are going well, only when things are not. Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called Trump “a sexual predator who lost the popular vote.”

Obama also stood taller as both victor and vanquished indulged in a bit of self-pity. Trump tweeted that the demonstrations against him in major cities were conducted by professional protesters incited by the media and “very unfair!” while Clinton is blaming her loss on James Comey.

Trump apparently prefers campaigning to the job he sought and is insisting on holding rallies and  returning to his penthouse in Trump Tower as much as he can.  Clinton and her aides, reeling and defensive, aren’t willing to accept much complicity in the loss and have credited the FBI director’s letter 11 days before the election with turning enough voters to Trump to tip the scale against her.

“There are lots of reasons why an election like this is not successful,” Mrs. Clinton reportedly said on a donor call Saturday, adding, “Our analysis is that Comey’s letter raising doubts that were groundless, baseless, proven to be, stopped our momentum.”

Momentum is an interesting word for what was a diminishing lead for a candidate whose negative ratings were as bad as Trump’s. The revelations from the WikiLeaks email dumps as well as drastic hikes in Obamacare premiums had already started to erode her lead before Comey went public Oct. 28 with word that the FBI’s email investigation was being reopened. It will surprise no one that the words “private server” don’t have a home in Clinton’s vocabulary.

Clinton’s flaws as a candidate, and the Democratic Party’s willingness to anoint her despite them, will haunt Obama for the rest of his days. The first African-American president saw enough African-American voters stay home last Tuesday and thereby help elect a man he deeply believes will set their lives back. But he is not talking about any of that. Instead he is focused on calling on, and counting on, the best of America. In his Veterans Day remarks Friday, Obama said reflecting on the sacrifice of our vets can unite us in mutual respect, and that we can connect through love of country once more if we love our neighbors as ourselves.  

“We can practice kindness, we can pay it forward, we can volunteer and we can serve,” Obama said in his final Veterans Day appearance as president. “Whenever the world makes you cynical, whenever you seek true humility and selflessness, look to a veteran.”

Of course, as Obama attempts to will healing, he is excruciatingly aware he is accountable for what is largely a repudiation of his presidency. It’s clear he helped pave a path for Trump as he refused to adjust to profound resistance and rejection manifested by the GOP routs in both the 2010 and 2014 midterms, let alone the terrorist threat. On his watch, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has formed and grown into the most powerful global terrorist network, but Obama continues to downplay it no matter where ISIS attacks, citing how much more of a chance Americans have to be killed in automobile accidents. Though he won re-election in 2012, Obama’s presidency has helped decimate the Democratic Party -- during his two terms  Democrats have lost 900 state legislature seats, 12 governorships, 69 House seats and 13 Senate seats.

Though most of the electorate doesn’t like Obama’s policies, a majority still likes the man, far more than Trump or Clinton. His approval rating was 56 percent on Election Day, according to Gallup, and exit polls from that day showed 54 percent of voters approving of Obama even as Trump won.

So while Republicans will work to cripple the legacy of the 44th president in the next few years, throwing out everything from Obamacare to the Iran deal to Dodd-Frank banking regulations to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, even Democrats who blame Obama will miss him. Out in the wilderness, they will likely blame Clinton more for their predicament, and for years, memories of Obama will be all they’ve got.

A.B. Stoddard is associate editor of RealClearPolitics and a columnist.

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