Oxford Historian Labels Obama the President Who Promised Too Much

Sarah Jean Seman

2/17/2014 7:00:00 PM - Sarah Jean Seman

Barack Obama is the first black president and the first president native to Hawaii. And while in office he has been both innovative and progressive. However, Oxford University history professor Margaret MacMillan postulated Obama may, perhaps, be a man who promised too much.

Ten leading historians wrote a single paragraph on Barack Obama for Politico Magazine. Here is what MacMillan wrote of the 44th President:

After the divisive domestic and aggressive foreign policies of Bush the Younger, America’s friends and neighbors welcomed the election of the Democrat Barack Obama. The advent of the first black president in American history seemed to show that Americans were finally overcoming their deep racial divisions; his stated aim of bringing medical care to poorer Americans suggested that the United States was moving closer to the inclusive social policies of northern Europe and Canada. In terms of foreign policy, Obama promised to wind down the open-ended “war on terror” and to renew efforts to bring peace in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Europeans were less pleased with the president’s obvious lack of interest in their continent or with what turned out to be an abortive “pivot to Asia.” Obama promised much, perhaps too much. As Nigel Farage, the British prime minister at the time, memorably remarked after his only summit with the president, “Fine words butter no parsnips.” For all Obama’s eloquence, the United States remained deeply divided—by race, class and ideology. He was handicapped, too, by a polarized Congress, by his own unwillingness to consult widely and by an increasingly intractable world situation. His presidency marks the beginning of the end of American hegemony and the rise of our present benevolent China-Japan condominium.

The British are full of colorful expressions. When Nigel Farage remarked “Fine words butter no parsnips,” he was referring to a 1651 poem by John Taylor:

Words are but wind that do from men proceed;

None but Chamelions on bare Air can feed;

Great men large hopeful promises may utter;

But words did never Fish or Parsnips butter.

Rather a fair description of Obama, the “Communicator-in-Chief.” Dreams are admirable and change is often needed, but a promise not kept is worse than a promise never made.