Barack Obama left office with a soaring approval rating of 59 percent, according to Gallup. Then, he took a cue from his own predecessor, and all but disappeared from public life. As fights waged to preserve health care, a special counsel was appointed to investigate alleged election interference, and immigration protests mounted, Obama spoke out only on occasion. New York magazine attempts to make sense of why Obama has been so quiet post-presidency.
The story starts in July 2017 at the Boy Scout Jamboree. In front of 40,000 or so people, President Donald Trump went on a diatribe attacking Hillary Clinton, political pundits, the "cesspool" that is Washington, D.C., Obamacare, and Obama himself. Obama didn't issue a rebuke or call for an apology, but according to New York, the former president was supposedly really worried by the speech. Obama compared kids that age to "sponges" and expressed concern over how the speech could impact them. (Days later, leaders of the Boy Scouts of America apologized for Trump's comments.)
Despite his reported worries, Obama still didn't say much. New York Magazine national correspondent Gabriel Debenedetti described this choice as more than a "communications strategy." The choice to remain silent plays into Obama's belief that his work must focus on "progress over time," not just the daily Twitter cycle. This belief becomes the running theme of the magazine's examination of the 18 or so months of Obama's life since he left office.
Obama's biggest professional moves are his memoir, building his foundation and library in Chicago, and inking a development deal with Netflix. Together, he and Michelle Obama will be producing both scripted and unscripted series, movies, and documentaries. New York reported that viewers won't see any of the Obamas' programming until late 2019 or 2020.
"We hope to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples, and help them share their stories with the entire world," Obama said in a statement when the deal was made public.
As far as the memoir goes, the Obamas signed a reported $65 million deal for their pair of books. Michelle's memoir will come out in November, but no word on the former president's release date. "He is engaged in reflection, and he also cares about writing," Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine told New York. "I would be surprised if it's just a standard chronological accounting of his last eight years."
Then there's his library and foundation. The Obama foundation is quietly soliciting mega donations. New York reported that Obama's asks from major donors "can sometimes reach $10 million or $20 million."
All of these areas may keep him busy, but they also keep him largely out of public life.
Despite his relatively low profile, Obama has given a few public statements. When Trump withdrew the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement in June 2017, Obama issued another lengthy statement. And during the height of the repeal effort last year against his signature health care law, he issued a statement against the GOP-led American Health Care Act.
I recognize that repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has become a core tenet of the Republican Party. Still, I hope that our Senators, many of whom I know well, step back and measure what’s really at stake, and consider that the rationale for action, on health care or any other issue, must be something more than simply undoing something that Democrats did.
On Wednesday, Obama put out another lengthy statement via Facebook on World Refugee Day. This time, it was a rebuke of Trump's border policy. "To watch those families broken apart in real time puts to us a very simple question: are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents' arms, or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together?" Obama wrote.
Between his writing, travels, and foundation building, Obama is forging a new way for presidents to live after they leave the West Wing. And if he gets bored, which seems unlikely, the former president could always take up painting.