White House

The Right Side of History, According to President Obama

Obama often says he or others are on “the right side of history.” But for what issues?

President Obama speaks to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.
National Journal
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Matt Vasilogambros
Sept. 24, 2013, 9:35 a.m.

“The right side of his­tory.” It’s one of those tired lines that politi­cians have used for years. In­deed, it’s one that Pres­id­ent Obama has used on sev­er­al oc­ca­sions, in­clud­ing his speech Tues­day be­fore the United Na­tions Gen­er­al As­sembly.

Who are we to be­lieve that today’s chal­lenges can­not be over­come, when we’ve seen what changes the hu­man spir­it can bring? Who in this hall can ar­gue that the fu­ture be­longs to those who seek to repress that spir­it rather than those who seek to lib­er­ate it? I know what side of his­tory I want the United States of Amer­ica to be on.

But who else is on the right side of his­tory, ac­cord­ing to Pres­id­ent Obama?

Dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at the White House on June 23, 2009, the pres­id­ent ad­dressed the protests and polit­ic­al act­iv­ism seen in Ir­an at the time:

Above all, we’ve seen cour­ageous wo­men stand up to the bru­tal­ity and threats, and we’ve ex­per­i­enced the sear­ing im­age of a wo­man bleed­ing to death on the streets. While this loss is raw and ex­traordin­ar­ily pain­ful, we also know this: Those who stand up for justice are al­ways on the right side of his­tory.

An­oth­er per­son on the “right side of his­tory” is ap­par­ently Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, D-Nev. After a new book re­vealed that Re­id called Obama a “light-skinned” Afric­an-Amer­ic­an “with no Negro dia­lect, un­less he wanted to” dur­ing the 2008 cam­paign, the pres­id­ent stood by his former Sen­ate col­league in a Jan. 10, 2010 tele­vi­sion in­ter­view:

This is a good man who has al­ways been on the right side of his­tory.

In the af­ter­math of the Ar­ab Spring and the polit­ic­al turnover in Egypt and Tunisia, the pres­id­ent called for cau­tion dur­ing a March 3, 2011 press con­fer­ence:

And I think that the re­gion we’ll be watch­ing care­fully to make sure we’re on the right side of his­tory but also that we are do­ing so as a mem­ber of the world com­munity, and be­ing will­ing to act on be­half of these val­ues but do­ing so in a way that takes all the vari­ous equit­ies in­to ac­count.

Obama con­tin­ued his de­fense of the up­ris­ing in Egypt dur­ing a Feb. 14, 2011 press con­fer­ence at the White House:

Well, first of all, without re­vis­it­ing all the events over the last three weeks, I think his­tory will end up re­cord­ing that at every junc­ture in the situ­ation in Egypt that we were on the right side of his­tory.

At a Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee event in Chica­go on April 14, 2011, he used the line once more to tout his for­eign policy re­cord:

Now, part of the hope­ful­ness and the an­ti­cip­a­tion we all felt that night in Grant Park was also about what we could do to se­cure and re­store Amer­ica’s stand­ing in the world.  So that’s why we strengthened our al­li­ances.  We signed his­tor­ic arms-con­trol agree­ments, se­cured loose nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als. That’s why we’re on the right side of his­tory now throughout the Middle East, be­cause we be­lieve in pre­vent­ing in­no­cents from get­ting slaughtered, and we be­lieve in hu­man rights for all people.

In his de­bate with Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Mitt Rom­ney on Oct. 22, 2012, Obama de­fen­ded his for­eign policy re­cord and trips abroad:

And they can look at my track re­cord — wheth­er it’s Ir­an sanc­tions, wheth­er it’s deal­ing with coun­terter­ror­ism, wheth­er it’s sup­port­ing demo­cracy, wheth­er it’s sup­port­ing wo­men’s rights, wheth­er it’s sup­port­ing re­li­gious minor­it­ies — and they can say that the pres­id­ent of the United States and the United States of Amer­ica has stood on the right side of his­tory. And — and that kind of cred­ib­il­ity is pre­cisely why we’ve been able to show lead­er­ship on a wide range of is­sues fa­cing the world right now.

When meet­ing with Demo­crat­ic law­makers on Ju­ly 31, the pres­id­ent, ac­cord­ing to Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Cal­if., told mem­bers:

As we all go back to our dis­tricts in Au­gust that we are on the right side of these is­sues and the right side of his­tory in terms of provid­ing health care to Amer­ic­ans and to ul­ti­mately find­ing com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form is the right thing for the coun­try to do at this time.

So, ac­cord­ing to the pres­id­ent, his for­eign policy re­cord, Harry Re­id, and Obama­care are all on the right side of his­tory. We’ll see if the his­tory books agree.


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