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The Green Lantern Theory of the Post-Presidency


Monique Judge says most of what needs to be said about Hamilton Nolan’s unfavorable comparison of Obama’s 18 months of post-presidency with Carter’s nearly four decades. But I can’t get beyond this claim from the Nolan article:

For a president with true moral and political convictions, post-presidency is a chance to build upon and reinforce the projects he worked on while in office. It is a chance to tackle problems free of the constraints of Congress and polls and elections. It is a chance to use the most high profile public platform in the world to direct resources and money and attention to the places it most needs to be. It is a chance to do more meaningful work than you could accomplish in the White House. It is, in a very real way, a chance to pay back America for its belief in you—to use the incredible gift you have been given to do the maximum amount of good that you can in the time you have left.

Judge has dealt with the “true moral and political convictions” and “Obama owes America angles.” I’m struck by the “more meaningful work” assertion. Is there something Obama could be doing right now than that does more to improve people’s lives than the ACA or ARRA or the national legalization of same-sex marriage made possible by his Supreme Court nominations?

Well…I suppose there’s one possible answer. He could be devoting himself to, say, a foundation with a global health initiative that uses the fundraising powers of an ex-president to save large numbers of lives. Can anyone explain why Obama did not plunge immediately into such a project? I’m at a total loss.

This is even more baffling:

Obama was a far more popular president than Jimmy Carter. But in the year and a half he’s been out of office, he’s been a profound disappointment. First, and most important, his voice has been almost entirely absent. He has rarely spoken out directly about everything that Donald Trump is doing to undermine our democracy.

OK, so Obama goes out and gives some anti-Trump speeches. So now what? Whose mind does this change? If his presidency not only didn’t represent the end of the political political potency of white supremacy but in significant respects increased it, what are post-presidential speeches going to accomplish in terms of undermining Trump?

I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the most common and durable campaign tactics just-so stories is Bill Clinton and 2000. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people assert, not even as speculation but stated as fact with absolute 100% confidence, that if AL Gore had only used Bill Clinton more he would have won. Well, we’ve now seen another extremely close presidential election in which a Democratic nominee was seeking to replace a popular Democratic incumbent, only she used the popular incumbent (who had much less potential baggage for marginal voters than Clinton) extensively. And this was worth…apparently not very much. Indeed, Clinton did most of what Gore didn’t do but should have done according to people who are confident he ran the worst campaign ever: beat up her opponent and all three debates and win the media spin wars after, run on a progressive platform, aggressively attacking her opponent, get the popular Democratic incumbent out on the trail a lot. The result was a seamless transition by the same people who have spent 16 years arguing that Al Gore ran the worst campaign ever to the claim that Hillary Clinton ran the worst political campaign in the history of politics itself. It’s almost enough to make me think that 1)retrospective campaign tactics tautologies are not very useful and 2)the assumption that outgoing and ex-presidents can alter the political landscape neither makes sense in theory nor any empirical evidence to support it.

If Obama giving BLISTERING speeches about Trump could change the political landscape, Trump wouldn’t be president. He can’t save the country by giving speeches.

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