I’m surprised at how many Republicans and Democrats are running for President. Jeb, Hillary, Rand, Bernie, don’t you realize what huge shoes you have to fill?
Tuesday’s Iran deal confirms something that has been clear for a while now: Barack Obama is one of the most consequential presidents in American history — and he will be a particularly towering figure in the history of American progressivism [Dylan Matthews, “Barack Obama Is Officially One of the Most Consequential Presidents in American History,” Vox, 2015.07.14].
Towering. Consequential. Yes, really: Iran, Cuba, guaranteed health coverage, financial reform, pay equality… and if all that isn’t enough Hopeful Change, now he’s going to take on the racially significant issue of mass incarceration:
Roughly one-third of the Justice Department’s budget now goes toward incarceration — one-third. And there are outstanding public servants at our Justice Department, starting with our outstanding Attorney General, Loretta Lynch — (applause) — and we’ve got some great prosecutors here today — and they do outstanding work — so many of them. But every dollar they have to spend keeping nonviolent drug offenders in prison is a dollar they can’t spend going after drug kingpins, or tracking down terrorists, or hiring more police and giving them the resources that would allow them to do a more effective job community policing.
And then, of course, there are costs that can’t be measured in dollars and cents. Because the statistics on who gets incarcerated show that by a wide margin, it disproportionately impacts communities of color. African Americans and Latinos make up 30 percent of our population; they make up 60 percent of our inmates. About one in every 35 African American men, one in every 88 Latino men is serving time right now. Among white men, that number is one in 214.
The bottom line is that in too many places, black boys and black men, Latino boys and Latino men experience being treated differently under the law [President Barack Obama, remarks to NAACP Conference, Philadelphia, 2015.07.14].
(Talking about putting fewer people in prison… on Bastille Day! How appropriate!)
I’d think the high bar Barack Obama has set would scare candidates off. Maybe the Republicans are so appalled to see a Democratic President succeeding in so many ways that they think persuade their base with promises of Thunely do-nothingism. And maybe the the five Dems are all thinking, “Heck! President Obama has done so well, I don’t need to come up with my own agenda; I just need to ride his success and make sure no one stops it!”
But be forewarned, candidates: whichever one of you wins, you’re going to have to work awfully hard to not disappear into the historical shadow of your monumental predecessor, like Johnson after Lincoln, like Taft after Roosevelt, or Bush after Reagan.