The Obama Presidential ‘Library’

Yves here. Many Chicago readers have complained bitterly about Obama insisting on placing his library in Chicago, destroying a Louis Olmsted park on Lake Michigan. This piece notes Obama’s role in the destruction of black wealth due to his bank-loyal approach to the foreclosure crisis. It missed the Obama backstory in Chicago. From our 2012 post, Exclusive: How Obama’s Early Career Success Was Built on Fronting for Chicago Real Estate and Finance:

[Academic and journalist Robert] Fitch gave his eye-opening speech before an unlikely audience at an unlikely time: the Harlem Tenants Association in November 2008, hard on the heels of Obama’s electrifying presidential win. The first part contains his prescient prediction: that Obama’s Third Way stance, that we all need to put our differences aside and get along, was tantamount to advocating the interests of the wealthy, since they seldom give anything to the have-nots without a fight.

That discussion alone is reason to read the piece. But the important part is his description of the role that Obama played in the redevelopment of the near South Side of Chicago, and how he and other middle class blacks, including Valerie Jarrett and his wife Michelle, advanced at the expense of poor blacks by aligning themselves with what Fitch calls “friendly FIRE”: powerful real estate players like the Pritzkers and the Crown family, major banks, the University of Chicago, as well as non-profit community developers and real estate reverends.

By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at God’s Spies

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library
The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library

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:

[T]he 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:

This grand:

It even looks grand in winter, watching you:

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:

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

US criticised 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 bring 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.

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  1. OIFVet

    Yeah, as a former Hyde Park resident I HATE this monstrosity being dropped in the middle of a beloved park. As I’ve stated in previous comments on NC, the building is also on the route of migratory birds headed for nearby Wooded Island, an oasis for birdwatching and nature strolling on the shore of Lake Michigan. We will also be remiss not to point out the Tiger Woods golf course being planned nearby in another part of Jackson Park, again privatizing Chicago’s Lake Shore as a playground for the rich and powerful in utter contempt for Daniel Burnham’s vision. Is there anyone who would like to argue that the two developments, Obama’s center and Woods’ golf course aren’t related and mutually supporting? Didn’t think so.

    Other than these notes, the article has the story down pat. The gentrification of the largely Black neighborhoods south of the Midway has shifted into overdrive and the poor Black residents are being priced out of their own neighborhoods. That’s not only on Obama, UChicago has been the main driving force behind gentrification and Obama has lent a helping hand. It’s fitting that such be the case, what with UChicago being the home base of the Chicago Boys. Neolibs gotta neolib.

    And man, I really miss my strolls on Wooded Island, along the Lake Front to Promontory Point and north to the Museum Campus.

  2. everydayjoe

    Obama was one of the few dissenters, if I recall, who voted against the Iraq invasion. He should have distanced himself from the war criminal Bush.
    He was not a neo-liberal global expansionist, to begin with.
    That has to be acknowledged here. Of course, he authorised extra-judicial killings of foreign terrorist suspects through drone attacks that killed many civilians as well.
    This write-up of the rise of Obama in his pre senate days is one sided in my opinion.

    1. OIFVet

      You mistake two related, but different, terms: neocon and neoliberal. Adolph Reed was the first writer to see who Obama really is. Below is an exerpt from a 1996 article by Reed in The Village Voice:

      “In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program — the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics, as in Haiti and wherever else the International Monetary Fund has sway. So far the black activist response hasn’t been up to the challenge. We have to do better.”

      He was always a neoliberal, albeit without the strong neocon leanings of a Hillary Clinton. Hence one of the reason for putting her in charge of the State Department during his first term: to mollify the liberal interventionist R2P crowd. Of course, that opened the door for the disgraced neocons to come in from the cold and to be rehabilitated by the Democrats, particularly during Obama’s second term and during Trump’s 4 years. We are paying the price now.

    2. John Wright

      Obama gave a speech opposing the Iraq war as an Illinois state senator.

      How politically costly was this speech and how much did Obama seem to care about the many concerns he raised in this speech ONCE he was in a position of power?

      Where was this anti-war Obama when it came to the USA/NATO removal of Gaddafi in Libya, which has destabilized Libya?

      The Libyan action occurred WHILE Obama was president and people who were in his administration (Powers, Rice, Clinton) advocated for it.

      Obama carefully managed his image as he evolved into the “neo-liberal global expansionist” that is suggested.

      I am familiar with his post 2002 actions.

      Reading this 2002 speech made me only more cynical about Obama.

      1. Lambert Strether

        > Obama gave a speech opposing the Iraq war as an Illinois state senator.

        He did. There was no recording of it so we don’t know what he actually said, although IIRC there was local reporting on it.

        The 2008 campaign re-recorded the speech and dubbed in crowd noise, which was certainly a sign, in retrospect.

        I wonder if the dubbed version is in the library, and if so, what the bibliographic record looks like.

    3. TimmyB

      Your recollection is way, way off. Obama was a minor Illinois elected official who did not have a vote in deciding whether the U.S. would go to war. He only paid lip service as an Illinois State Senator to a slightly antiwar position, claiming that the invading Iraq was “dumb” and “rash.”

      However, Obama paid lip service to a lot of things. How’s that closure of Guantanamo going?

  3. Stephen

    He is still feted by the PMC, of course.

    At the end of 2021 I attended a large meeting (part virtual, part in person owing to COVID) and there was a video of the CEO interviewing Obama.

    The audience were all paid up senior PMC members and nearly everyone was totally in thrall to everything Obama said. The CEO was in total deference mode too. Substantively, Obama actually said very little but his delivery seems so sincere that I guess it convinces people who want to believe.

    Hate to think how much fee he can charge for such interviews. The closest U.K. equivalent is Tony Blair, of course.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Stephen.

      A friend and former colleague, a project finance banker, heard Blair speak at the Cape Town mining indaba some years ago. His so-called insights were cliches and embarrassed the organisers.

      When Blair left office in 2007, he hired many former diplomats and spooks for his foundation. The latter were also useful to organise his family’s investment vehicle(s). In the past couple of years, he has hired health care professionals and former civil servants from outside diplomacy. They are there to provide his talking points and write policy papers that he can open doors with.

      The above said, his London, Buckinghamshire (near where I live) and Russell group university town property empire is thriving. His children’s business ventures are also thriving. They are setting up as country gentlemen in Buckinghamshire, too.

      1. dave

        “Substantively, Obama actually said very little but his delivery seems so sincere that I guess it convinces people who want to believe”

        Obama in a nutshell.

    2. Arizona Slim

      Reminds me of a story from the Arizona Slim file: In March 2016, I attended a Bernie Sanders campaign rally at the Tucson Convention Center.

      At one point, Bernie was talking about how much better the economy was under Obama than it was under George W. Bush. What happened next really shocked me. The crowd went wild.

      Me? My personal economy went to [family blog] during the Obama years, and I knew many other people who had the same experience.

      While the crowd was going wild, I was leaning against the media riser, doing a slow clap. Shortly thereafter, I left.

      1. Jeff

        Political rallies are a step below WWE events. You got your heels, heros and happy endings… Oh wait, I’m thinking of the Patriots’ owner

  4. JBird4049

    So, no physical archive, only easy to manipulate digital records, and not actually run by the government for the people, but by private special interests; a recent link was on a lawsuit by a billionaire against Pete Buttigieg that might be an attempt to damage the First Amendment; controlling the past and therefore the future while eliminating speech go nicely together.

    1. John Zelnicker

      JBird – That lawsuit is against Beto O’Rourke for “defaming” the billionaire who gave Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign a cool million just after Abbott signed a bill carving out a loophole for the billionaire’s pipeline business from the requirements to winterize gas production and distribution facilities.

      O’Rourke called the contribution a bribe which hurt the billionaire’s fragile feelings. :-(

  5. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    Further to Obama fronting for finance, it’s not just him. From the spring of 2008 to the autumn of 2012, I was at the City’s main trade body and often worked in NYC and Washington. My US counterpart, my Swiss counterpart (a former diplomat and who had served in Washington) and a Swiss regulator advised how Wall Street funded, advised and provided facilities and trips for the Congressional Black Caucus. Goldman Sachs, UBS and Deutsche were singled out.

    The Swiss authorities were particularly concerned by the antics of “their babies”, calling the US activities of Credit Suisse and UBS “foreign aid”. Not only were the authorities concerned by losses incurred in the US, but the ability and willingness of US authorities to use crackdowns on misconduct as leverage on the home states (vassals).

  6. RA

    I wish the Obamamometer could just be erased from our collective memories.

    There is one thing I see in his pompous overblown building design. From looking at the renderings of his monument, it appears, by design, to be rotting from the top down.

    How appropriate.

    1. agent ranger smith

      The Pharaohbama Ziggurat will offer large flat reflective stone/concrete walls for creative people to project Obamahostile photos and movies onto.

  7. The Rev Kev

    Yeah, not really the Obama Presidential ‘Library’ and even their website describes it as the Obama Presidential Center. It won’t have his Presidential papers but you will have “access” to it over the internet. So it will be a very curated collection that you will be able to dig through at best. And, unlike other real Presidential libraries, it won’t be run by the federal National Archives and Records Administration but by the Obama Foundation instead. That Foundation states that the center will be funded by private donations (Raytheon? Lockheed Martin? the NED?) but the land it sits on was public parklands that Chicago basically just gave him. So what is it really?

    For a start it will be a museum that will serve the purpose of setting a “narrative” that all good-thinkers will follow. It is also a project to gentrify this area to push out poorer people which ironically is what Obama was all about. But there is something that I noticed about this center. If you go to the main page of the Obama Presidential Center and scroll down through the images on that page, something becomes pretty obvious. And that is the small number of people that will be using it. Sure there might be guided tours but I would be willing to bet that it will not be a place for the people of Chicago to go wonder through. Perhaps to keep out the riff-raff, they will charge an exorbitant fee to the whole site that only the PMC or those invited there will be able to afford. And if people complain, they will say that the entry fees are vital to fund running this site as it is not run by the feds. But check out the images yourself. What I see indicates only a few hundred people using that Center at any one time-

    Also, that place will have to have serious 24/7 hour security to keep away graffiti artists/activists so do not be surprised to see gates and barriers eventually surrounding this site.

    1. Questa Nota

      Looking forward to the secret underground speakeasy wing that houses the scandal info, passport documentation, travel logs and payoff receipts.

      Any word on the special free admission package available to the Real Estate Reverends, his Chi-town hustlers?

      The period from 2008 through 2016 may be viewed by historians as a low point in American politics. A manufactured candidate is paired off with a bellicose crank and an oily grifter, and those were the ones that passed that arduous primary process. Hey, not all grim, his sponsors profited. Barf.

    2. juno mas

      RK, you are an astute observer of public place.

      If anyone thinks that the plant landscaping along the pathways will remain as in the renderings, think again. Kids, leash-less dogs, teen vandals, graffiti will devastate these locations within months. Secure fencing will arrive within a year.

      This type of computer rendering is a bane to the design profession. It substitutes “eye wash” for detailed, practical planning of public space.

      1. Arizona Slim

        What if they planted poison ivy?

        Oh, here in Arizona, people plant cactus along walkways for the same reason. It’s there to keep all those feet pitter-pattering along where they’re supposed to.

    3. ChrisPacific

      I wondered whether the existing Presidential Libraries provide a realistic view of a given president or just hagiography. This appears to be a common enough question that the National Archives included it in their FAQ (translated to anodyne language, but recognizable enough for all that).

      Roughly paraphrasing, the answer is that it is hagiography initially and for some time after (“The composition of the first exhibits in the museums reflect the funding sources of those exhibits.”) They do note that after enough time has passed, presumably once the president in question dies, there is scope to revise and provide room for critical interpretations. The atom bomb and Watergate were mentioned as examples.

      Possibly having it administered by the Obama Foundation is an attempt to avoid this ‘problem.’

    4. agent ranger smith

      Amateur drone operators can stand beyond reach of the security people and fly paint-bomb drones into the sides of the building. Or also fece-bomb drones into the sides of the building.

    1. The Rev Kev

      I was thinking for along the lines of ‘In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree’

  8. Omicron

    Yves, don’t you mean Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of public parks in, among many other places, New York (Manhattan and Brooklyn), Boston, Hartford, etc.?

      1. juno mas

        Yes, he is considered the father of landscape architecture in the US. When you consider that the origins of Central Park in New York was an abandoned rock quarry, his understanding of ecology, social interaction, aesthetics, and circulation (pedestrian and horse carriage routes were separated) created what current NY’ers think is natural park environment, Olmsted’s influence is profound.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Seeing the images of the Obama Presidential Library helps clarify the recent investigations of the Egyptian mummification techniques, aided by the discovery of labelled pots containing residues of ingredients referenced in ancient writings but not previously identified. I believe there are some hidden and remarkable structures in a sub-basement of the Obama Presidential Library. I also suspect there are sarcophagi and an assemblage of treasures, valued possessions, and models of all the supports needed for a comfortable afterlife. Before this sub-basement is closed, the architects and workmen who built it will be assembled and deposited under loads of heavy stones and concrete that will seal the sub-basement.

  9. Jeff

    Like most of you, I see Obama as a failure and betrayer to his campaign, but it’s much more simple than that. He’s a con man, ironically one that helped get trump elected.

    1. agent ranger smith

      A failure? He successfully succeeded in protecting the banks against any legal or even money consequences to their Great Crash design engineering. He successfully succeeded in preventing Single Payer from even being considered for decades to come. He successfully succeeded in immunizing and impunifying various BushAdmin figures from any legal consequences for their violations of various Treaties.

      The measure of his wealth ( so far) is the measure of his success as measured by the people he created that success for.

      1. Acacia

        This. The cost of the estate in Martha’s Vineyard that Obama bought tells us something about the amount of wealth his actions produced for the elites he served and enriched even further. The payoff is probably only a tiny percentage of the windfall for the donor class.

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