Obama’s legacy wrapped up in Clinton’s success

President hopes to seal his mark by helping his one-time adversary win

PHILADELPHIA – PRESIDENT OBAMA’S night at the Democratic National Convention was all about legacy lengthening.

He warmly embraced party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at the conclusion of his speech when she appeared on the stage to the cheers of delegates.

But for Obama, if Hillary loses, his presidency stands at risk as being perceived as an isolated event. It might be interpreted that voters abandoned his presidential leadership direction and are now seeking a new course under Donald Trump. So Obama gave a superlative address that put advanced his claims that he has led the party well and that there are good reasons for the continuation of his policies into the Clinton administration.

In his final address to a Democratic National Convention as president, Obama stated the party’s accomplishments under his political leadership. They have not been infinitesimal; Obama highlighted health care reform and the recovery of the national economy with the full oratorical flourishes for which he is admired.

He also harped on foreign policy successes, rightly stating accomplishments that led to “deliver[ing] justice to Osama bin Laden,” weening the nation from its dependence on foreign oil and opening up relations with Cuba.

“By so many measures, our country is stronger and more prosperous than it was when we started,” beamed Obama.

Obama’s endorsement of Hillary was incandescently clear.

Now, Obama will have to translate his convention rhetoric with substantive follow-up if he intends to protect his legacy as a moderate Democrat who deftly mixed progressive advances in social policy with economic solutions and sober foreign policy stances.

This is so true in terms of advancing a clear-eyed domestic policy strategy — where Obama has been his strongest.

“So tonight, I’m here to tell you that yes, we still have more work to do…We’re not done perfecting our union, or living up to our founding creed – that all of us are created equal and free in the eyes of God.”

Obama clearly wants history to embrace his presidency as the beginning of a broad and comprehensive era, a new way of advancing an ideology and practice of governance.

He wants to be a great president by projecting his vision onto generations to come. Or, as so forcefully said at the conclusion of his speech:

“America, you have vindicated that hope these past eight years. And now I’m ready to pass the baton and do my part as a private citizen. This year, in this election, I’m asking you to join me – to reject cynicism, reject fear, to summon what’s best in us; to elect Hillary Clinton as the next president of the United States, and show the world we still believe in the promise of this great nation.”

Meet the Author

Meet the Author

If Hillary loses in November, Obama’s reign is seen as, perhaps, a little diminished. If she wins, Obama will enjoy the reality of setting the direction for a new political governing order.

Kevin Peterson is founder of the New Democracy Coalition, which focuses on civic literacy, civic policy, and electoral justice. Darnell Williams is president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts. They are coauthoring commentary pieces on the impact urban issues are having on the Republican and Democratic national conventions.