As Barack Obama begins the final leg of his presidency, four scholars from UVA’s Miller Center, which specializes in applying the lessons of history to current national governance challenges, offer their advice to the president on how to finish strong and create an enduring legacy.
Director of Research and Scholarship
Dwight Eisenhower’s last two years in office were not his most distinguished. He failed to win a deal to ease the Cold War, and he failed to help his own vice president, Richard Nixon, win election to the presidency. However, Eisenhower did balance the budget in his last year in office. He also wrote a memorable farewell address that is still widely quoted for its warning about the military-industrial complex. So get started now on your final speech!
Chair of the Presidential Recordings Program
Presidents coming to the end of two terms are frequently scarred at home and seek to make their mark abroad. Think of Ronald Reagan and the INF treaty, Bill Clinton and the Middle East peace process and even Lyndon Johnson looking to cement his legacy as would-be peacemaker in Vietnam. You may well do the same—and given recent challenges from Russia, you may well have to. While continuing your pivot toward Asia, you should look to strengthen Western institutions and bolster European security.
Director of Policy Programs
There remain few around you who were with you during your rise to the White House and the early years of your tenure. This is often the case in the waning years of a two-term presidency. Mr. President, as you enter your final two-and-a-half years in the Oval Office, I would encourage you to allow yourself some time to contemplate what first led you to seek the highest office, and what sustained you along the way. Then spend your remaining time working to advance this vision.
White Burkett Miller Professor of Politics and Faculty Associate at the Miller Center
Invest in securing your place in the stream of progressive reform. For all your rhetorical gifts, you’ve yet to lay out a strategic vision that might serve as a guidepost, not just for the twilight of your presidency but also for your political allies and the country in the future. Like your progressive forebears—TR, FDR, and LBJ—you need to reinterpret the social contract for a new generation. Give an address or a series of addresses defining the meaning of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution for a time when inequality is rampant, the parties are bitterly divided and international alignments and developments are in mystifying flux.