Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum
Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum in St. Abilene, KS. Photo credit: Jim Bowen / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A monument indeed. But to what?

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Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall. — William Shakespeare

In a piece titled “Biden’s Documents Dilemma,” I offered an image from one of the design finalists for the Obama Presidential Library, which is now sited in Chicago’s Jackson Park on the South Side.

That site is not without controversy, by the way. Not only will it be much more than a presidential library housing his papers:

The presidential center will include a museum, forum building, public plaza, athletic center, play area and a branch of the Chicago Public Library.

It won’t have papers, and it will displace and gentrify a low-income neighborhood:

This will be the first presidential library since the start of the national system that does not include a physical research room with archival materials. Everything will be digitized. There have also been concerns about it being built in a historic park and that low-income Chicagoans living nearby will be displaced by development around the construction of the center in Jackson Park.

So, no documents and no research rooms.

There are also concerns about the public-private deal that sited the memorial:

The development, expected to break ground this fall, has not arrived without controversy. Over the last six years, the Obama Foundation, which will fund the OPC, and the city of Chicago have courted scrutiny from two groups: park preservationists upset at a private development being built on public land, and community organizers who fear that low-income Black neighbors will be displaced by rising rents and land speculation [emphasis added].

In addition, the memorial won’t be controlled by the National Archives:

The Presidential Center is unlike most other presidential libraries. Firstly, the Presidential Center is run by the Obama Foundation, a private nonprofit. All other presidential libraries and museums going back to Herbert Hoover are run by the National Archives and Records Administration, a federal agency. Some skeptics fear this privatization opens the door for partisan interests to curate what is meant to be a public archive.

Grand or Grandiose

But it will be grand, as befits the presumed self-image of the man who’s building it.

How grand, you ask? This grand:

Obama Presidential Center, promotional rendering

The Obama Presidential Center promotional rendering. Photo credit: The Obama Presidential Center

This grand:

Obama Presidential Center, Courtyard

The Obama Presidential Center promotional rendering. Photo credit: The Obama Presidential Center

It even looks grand in winter, watching you:

Obama Presidential Center, Lawn, Winter

The Obama Presidential Center showing people on the lawn in winter. Photo credit: The Obama Presidential Center

Destroyer of Middle Class Wealth

Why this anger? Because, for all his well-loved hagiography, Barack Obama is actually this guy:

The nation arrived at its [current] pre-revolutionary state by a number of paths. Obama sold Change in 2008, received massive voter support, then reneged, most notably, but not solely, by bailing out banks before people. That’s why, for example, so many abandoned him in 2012, and in 2016 why so many ex-Obama voters turned to Trump or stayed home.

Matt Bruenig called him this guy:

How Obama Destroyed Black Wealth

The Obama presidency was a disaster for middle-class wealth in the United States. Between 2007 and 2016, the average wealth of the bottom 99 percent dropped by $4,500. Over the same period, the average wealth of the top 1 percent rose by $4.9 million.

This drop hit the housing wealth of African Americans particularly hard. Outside of home equity, black wealth recovered its 2007 level by 2016. But average black home equity was still $16,700 lower.

Much of this decline, we will argue, can be laid at the feet of President Obama. His housing policies led directly to millions of families losing their homes. What’s more, Obama had the power — money, legislative tools, and legal leverage — to sharply ameliorate the foreclosure crisis.

He chose not to use it.

And lest we forget, he’s also this guy:

Michelle Obama, George Bush, hands

Michelle Obama holds former President George W. Bush’s hand during a memorial for five Dallas and DART police officers on July 12, 2016, at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas. Photo credit: © Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via ZUMA Wire

And this deaf-to-irony fellow, sad to say:

“US criticized for taking Malaysia off trafficking blacklist”

Rights groups react angrily as the US takes Malaysia off a human trafficking blacklist, saying it was done to help pass the TPP major trade deal.

A novelist would call this detail too on-the-nose. Thus life violates art.

Some Rise by Sin

Which brings us back to the memorial he’s building himself. Was his frantic bid to pass the TPP before his days wore down just part of an ask for donor class support for his pricey future? Hard not to think it wasn’t.

“Barack Obama Readies For Final TPP Push, Which Could Benefit Presidential Library Donors”

These are just some of his sins.

Ozymandias indeed, till the wreck he leaves behind him blots his name.

Published with the permission of Thomas Neuburger. A version of this piece originally appeared in his newsletter “God’s Spies.


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