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Is Obama tarnishing his legacy?

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
  • LZ: Syria bombing a reminder that Obama is not the president his supporters expected
  • Polls show Dems, independents disappointed. Will war, in the end, be Obama's legacy?
  • Elected as war-ending change agent, Obama spoke this week about U.S. strikes on terror
  • LZ: Despite Obamacare, better economy, and more, many are disappointed. Is Obama too?

Editor's note: LZ Granderson is a CNN contributor, a senior writer for ESPN and a lecturer at Northwestern University. He is a former Hechinger Institute fellow and his commentary has been recognized by the Online News Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. Follow him on Twitter @locs_n_laughs. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- "When the history is written of this era, this is how you'll be remembered: 'He was the first black president.' Okay, not a bad accomplishment, but that's it. That's it, Mr. Obama."-- Michael Moore

We have become used to sky-is-falling rhetoric from filmmaker Michael Moore, but what isn't hyperbolic about the sentiment packed into that quote is the disappointment many supporters of Sen. Barack Obama have in President Barack Obama. Earlier this year, one in four Democrats and two in three Independents said this administration has let them down, according to a CBS News/New York Times Poll.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

It seems once the euphoria of 2008 wore off, voters were shocked to learn the country's first black president wasn't as radical as his election. He's shown himself to be idealistic but methodical. A compassionate figure with a thing for drones and kill lists.

These days, he is thinking legacy. But what will history say about the man who was voted into office with a mandate to end the war in Iraq and now will likely leave that office with a new war in Iraq trailing behind?

As the bombing in Syria by the United States, and to a lesser extent, a cadre of allies, was getting under way, Obama delivered a thoughtful address to the United Nations on Wednesday.

He called out Arab nations that "accumulate wealth through the global economy, and then siphon funds to those who teach children to tear it down." He dared to challenge Muslims to reject those who rally around a bastardized version of the Islamic faith and then use that doctrine to justify chaos. He spoke of a crossroad between "war and peace," "disorder and integration," "fear and hope."

Remember that word? Hope.

It was the word Obama used to ignite the movement that would lift him from his position as a little-known junior senator from Illinois into the White House and onto the world stage. He promised to change the way things had always been. Now Moore and others are disappointed because they believed him.

After winning the Iowa Democratic caucus in January 2008, Obama told the rabid crowd that the country was choosing unity over division and that "this was the place, this was the moment where America remembered what it means to hope."

Six years later, a Gallup poll found fewer Iowans approve of the job Obama's doing than the national average -- 38% to 43%. What will history say about the man who encouraged immigrants to dream big and then left them hanging for the sake of the midterm election? Who has overseen 54 consecutive weeks of private-sector job growth, the longest stretch in history. Who pledged to close Guantanamo Bay. Who OK'd the mission that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden. Who promised to be transparent.

In 2007, Oprah Winfrey gave a speech in support of Obama. She said, "We need a new way of doing business in Washington, D.C. and in the world. ... I'm tired of politics as usual." And yet here we are.

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George W. Bush left Afghanistan and Iraq for Obama to sort through, and now it is likely Obama will leave behind Iraq and Syria for his successor.

Opinion: America's wartime president

At the U.N., Obama explained in detail why it was important to defeat ISIS. Instead of a soaring delivery, he spoke plainly about the choices that lie in front of us all, intelligently shifting the point of emphasis from destroying terrorist groups to derailing their instruments of recruitment, funding, and their very philosophy. "No God condones this terror," he said.

"There can be no reasoning -- no negotiation -- with this brand of evil," he said. "The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force."

And then he reiterated that he is prepared to lead in this force for the remainder of his presidency.

It was the kind of rhetoric we were accustomed to hearing from his 2008 opponent, Sen. John McCain, who has yet to see a war he didn't want us to be a part of. It was the kind of rhetoric his 2012 opponent, Mitt Romney, said would make him the better leader.

It was the kind of rhetoric that has become as much a part of Obama's complicated legacy as the Affordable Care Act, the rise in LGBT rights and the slow, but real, economic recovery.

Syria now becomes the seventh predominantly Muslim country in which he has authorized military strikes. Perhaps his earlier persona contributed to his resistance to do so sooner, despite the advice of his inner circle. When one takes power under the guise of a peaceful change agent, one should pause before ordering airstrikes, if for no other reason than not wanting to contribute to the Earth's carnage.

But for the next two years, he is committed to doing just that. He doesn't have much of a choice, really. Terrorists are reportedly developing articles of clothing that explode. I shudder to think what will be in store for airline passengers dealing with TSA screenings if such a thing comes to pass.

How will history remember Obama? What will his legacy be? It appears a lot of that will depend on how many people the U.S. kills before he leaves office.

That's not why many of us voted for him, but I guess the rest of the world didn't get the memo. We voted not to bomb people. To end the wars. To stop spying.

I wonder if he's as disappointed in the way things have turned out as the rest of us.

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