Who’s running the federal government?
The president often seems barely there. It strains credulity that a man who can hardly put a sentence together at this point is fully carrying out his duties as commander in chief.
A recent Tablet magazine piece by David Samuels—in which he interviewed historian David Garrow, author of the lengthy book “Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama” in 2017—sheds some light on what’s happening in the White House and explains who is really directing the executive branch.
Headlines and commentary about the Tablet interview focused on the more salacious commentary by former girlfriends. America’s mostly fawning media did little to reveal who Obama really was before being elected president. He was treated as a quasi-messianic figure who emerged in American politics to bring “hope and change” alongside racial reconciliation.
Many of the details discussed in the interview should have been revealed or at least explored before Obama became president—not in 2017 or 2023.
And that gets to the more serious charge in the Tablet piece as far as what Obama is doing right now to influence our government and the country.
It’s been more than six-and-a-half years since Obama left office, and the United States is far from being unified. The notion that there are “no red states or blue states” is even more of a farce than it was in 2008. Americans are bleaker about their future than at pretty much any other time in our history.
Instead of a post-racial America, racial and gender identity are becoming the only things that matter to elite institutions.
Those are trends that began in earnest during Obama’s second term and have only accelerated under Biden. Of course, America’s institutions are mostly ideologically captured, but they are being guided along by the federal government, too.
So, who is directing this fundamental transformation of America? Obama, according to Samuels.
Samuels wrote that while the legacy media have generally portrayed Obama as somewhat aloof from the politics of today and uninterested in power, the former president and his most loyal lieutenants are heavily involved in directing the federal government and politics in general.
The Obamas never left the nation’s capital. “Instead, they bought a large brick mansion in the center of Washington’s Kalorama neighborhood—violating a norm governing the transfer of presidential power, which has been breached only once in post-Civil War American history, by Woodrow Wilson, who couldn’t physically be moved after suffering a series of debilitating strokes,” Samuels wrote.
The excuse the Obamas gave for staying in Washington was that their daughter Sasha was still in high school, and they wanted her to finish her education at the posh Sidwell Friends private school. But Sasha has since left for college, but the Obamas stayed in Washington.
Samuels wrote that it’s clear that their decision to stay was not just a “personal matter.” Instead, Obama remained to orchestrate resistance to his successor, President Donald Trump, and to continue the work he’d been doing while in office.
To an extent that has never been meaningfully reported on, the Obamas served as both the symbolic and practical heads of the Democratic Party shadow government that ‘resisted’ Trump—another phenomenon that defied prior norms.
The fact that these were not normal times could be adduced by even a passing glance at the front pages of the country’s daily newspapers, which were filled with claims that the 2016 election had been ‘stolen’ by Russia and that Trump was a Russian agent.
The Tablet piece paints a picture of a former president pulling the strings to orchestrate the federal government’s domestic and foreign policies, with Biden reduced to being a “Weekend at Bernie’s”-like puppet.
“When Obama turned up at the White House, staffers and the press crowded around him, leaving President Biden talking to the drapes—which is not a metaphor, but a real thing that happened,” Samuels wrote.
A powerful, charismatic politician with no official power but ruling from the shadows is common for countries with a long tradition of authoritarian government. For instance, that was how Vladimir Putin held onto power in Russia when he was constitutionally barred from serving a third consecutive term in office. Dmitry Medvedev became president, but Putin was the man in charge.
It was a good way to uphold the illusion of a free society without having to deal with the whole “government of the people, by the people, for the people” business.
Again, these sorts of arrangements aren’t unusual throughout the scope of history. At one time, our way of government was seen as merely an experiment. Over time, we proved that it wasn’t just an experiment, but the best way to organize a society.
Obama once dismissed the idea of American exceptionalism. Thanks to him, maybe that’s closer to being true.
Political commentator Ben Domenech wrote in The Spectator that we appear to be living through Obama’s third term, yet the D.C. press corps is entirely uninterested in digging into who is really in charge or how this historic departure from American norms is happening.
A free press worth its salt would be pressing this administration for answers. So, will that happen now? The White House is purging reporters en masse from the White House press corps who might ask uncomfortable questions, so I wouldn’t count on it.
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