On Tuesday, when President Obama gives his farewell address in Chicago, he will likely use the occasion to cement in people’s minds his preferred vision of his legacy. At the same time, expect the outgoing commander-in-chief to exploit the occasion to figuratively filibuster any effort to undo what he considers his landmark achievement: Obamacare.
Following President Obama’s speech, expect right-of-center pundits, and what’s left of the honest media, to parse his prose and present an alternative assessment of his eight years in office. Competing fact-checking and fake-news stories will fight for the last word on the final days of his presidency. Then there will be President-elect Donald Trump’s first press conference on Wednesday—strategically planned to eclipse President Obama’s closing comments.
In the din of the competing narratives, conservatives may lose sight of areas in which the Obama administration deserves praise. Here are three.
1. Authorizing Osama bin Laden’s Death
Under orders from Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama, on May 2, 2011, U.S. Special Forces raided Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and killed him. Bringing the mastermind of the September 11 attacks to justice provided much-needed closure to our country. Not that his death diminished the pain of that day, especially for those who lost loved ones, but as long as Osama bin Laden remained cloistered abroad, an aura of evil lingered over our land. With the passage of time, we might not vividly recall that feeling now, but the president does merit credit for ending this vestige of 9/11.
2. Appointing Francis Collins to the National Institutes of Health
In July 2009, President Obama appointed Francis S. Collins to serve as director of the National Institutes of Health. In appointing Dr. Collins, President Obama said:
The National Institutes of Health stands as a model when it comes to science and research. My administration is committed to promoting scientific integrity and pioneering scientific research and I am confident that Dr. Francis Collins will lead the NIH to achieve these goals. Dr. Collins is one of the top scientists in the world, and his groundbreaking work has changed the very ways we consider our health and examine disease.
President Obama could not be more right. Under Collins’ leadership, and with President Obama’s support, the NIH is pursuing precision medicine with a speed rarely seen in the antiquated bureaucracy governing federal agencies. As the NIH explains, “Precision medicine is an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in environment, lifestyle and genes for each person.”
The White House rightly boasts of the “advances in precision medicine [that] have already led to powerful new discoveries and several new treatments that are tailored to specific characteristics of individuals, such as a person’s genetic makeup, or the genetic profile of an individual’s tumor.”
Conservatives should praise President Obama’s support of Collins and the Precision Medicine Initiative. President Obama deserves credit, not merely for selecting the best man for the job, but for ignoring liberals’ attacks on Collins’ Christian faith.
Following the president’s nomination of Collins, The New York Times published an op-ed by Sam Harris, author of “The End of Faith” and co-founder of the secular-values “Reason Project.” Harris criticized the selection because Collins was an evangelical Christian and, gasp, dared to explain in his book, “The Language of God,” that there is a “consistent and profoundly satisfying harmony” between science and faith. But President Obama did not buckle and stood behind his selection of Collins, much to the benefit of our country.
3. Signing the 21st Century Cures Act
Conservatives should also applaud President Obama’s support for the recently signed 21st Century Cures Act. While the $6.3 billion price tag on this new legislation sounds anything but conservative, there is much to like in the details of this bill, which is why it passed with overwhelming support in both the Senate (94 to 5) and House (392 to 26).
First, the Cures Act provides much needed regulatory reform for the Food and Drug Administration. Conservatives should celebrate the modernizing of this federal agency and the flexibility provided it to approve, on an expedited basis, first-in-class medications.
The Cures Act also authorized $1 billion in grants to states to address mental illness and opioid abuse. While lower federal taxation might be preferable, conservatives should embrace the federal government’s recognition that states can address problems better than Washington. Also, the grants provide local jurisdictions with great flexibility in using the funding, allowing states to experiment and serve as true incubators of ideas—something greatly needed given the growing scourge of opioid abuse.
The law also begins the process of freeing doctors from the shackles of data shields in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to allow them to work with family members to assure those suffering from mental illness receive the care they need and deserve. Conservatives profess belief in the importance of family in solving societal ills and should cheer this step. Further, even the most ardent “pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstrap” conservative recognizes (or should) the role of government to help those who truly cannot help themselves, such as those suffering from severe mental illness.
Finally, the state grants provide much-needed relief to local law enforcement agencies which, by default, society has deputized to confront those suffering from mental illness or drug addiction. With resources and flexibility to treat mental illness and drug addicts outside of the criminal justice system, police can focus on their primary mission: law enforcement.