Obama Wonders If He Was "10 or 20 Years Too Early" for America

Created: 04 June, 2018
Updated: 21 November, 2022
3 min read

According to a new book by the 44th president's longtime adviser, Benjamin J. Rhodes, shortly after the 2016 elections, Obama wondered aloud to aides in an armed presidential limousine:

“What if we were wrong?”

But what sounded like a moment of humility turned out to be a prelude to the ultimate humblebrag, consistent with the soaring hubris of Barack Obama's personality that enamored so many Americans, and left so many others bristling.

In his new memoir, The World As It Is, Rhodes relates the moment after Obama had read a column averring that liberals did not realize how important identity is to people, and as Peter Baker puts it in the New York Times, "had promoted an empty cosmopolitan globalism that made many feel left behind."

As Rhodes recalls, Obama continued:

"Maybe we pushed too far. Maybe people just want to fall back into their tribe."

After his aides reminded him that he would have defeated Trump had he been able to run for a third term, Obama said:

"Sometimes I wonder whether I was 10 or 20 years too early."

"What if we were wrong?" really meant, "What if we were just too good for America? What if we expected too much of Americans?"

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These statements sound self-aggrandizing and hubristic on the face of it, even without any knowledge of the role Barack Obama played in stoking tribalistic divisions among Americans such as identity politics and hyper-partisanship.

In the 2004 DNC keynote speech that launched him to the White House, he said: "...there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America."

Though he presented himself in his 2008 presidential campaign as a political outsider above the fray of partisan politics, and a world-historical transformational figure of unity, hope, and change– upon assuming office, Obama set to work presiding over one of the most partisan White House administrations in U.S. history.

In his first private meeting with congressional Republicans three days after his inauguration, he matter-of-factly told the legislators, "I won." It wasn't unity he sought, but uniformity. It wasn't about people with a shared polity working together, it was about competing parties winning and losing.

Obama would go on to push a massive federal overhaul of the entire health insurance industry, the Affordable Care Act, his hyper-partisan signature legislative accomplishment, without a single Republican vote.

In December 2009, the U.S. Senate voted 60 to 39 for "ObamaCare" without a single Republican vote. By March 2010, the U.S. House voted 219 to 212 for Obamacare, and again, every single Republican, along with 34 House Democrats, voted against passage of the bill.

The Washington Post reported:

"It has inflamed the partisanship that Obama pledged to tame when he campaigned for the White House and has limited Congress's ability to pass any other major legislation, at least until after the midterm elections in November."

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By May 2010, Obama was telling guests at a private White House dinner "that race was probably a key component in the rising opposition to his presidency from conservatives, especially right-wing activists in the anti-incumbent 'Tea Party' movement that was then surging across the country."

This is the same president who said a year earlier:

"I do think that, as I said last night, we have to get to the point where we can have a conversation about big, important issues that matter to the American people without vitriol, without name-calling, without the assumption of the worst in other people’s motives."

But that's exactly what Obama did – make the assumption of the worst in other people's motives– or more likely, he was willing to impute the worst motives to his partisan enemies for political gain. He didn't push people away from tribalism before they were ready for it– he unscrupulously fed the tribalism and division.

Tribalism is the agenda of the two party system and its leaders, and Obama was no different than the Washington insiders he castigated for hyper-partisanship as a presidential candidate.

He wasn't 10 or 20 years too early– he was 10 or 20 years behind a major trend of Americans, including millennials, leaving the Democratic and Republican Parties to become independent voters.

Photo Credit: Evan El-Amin / shutterstock.com