- The Washington Times - Monday, June 1, 2015

President Obama, who usually avoids discussions of his legacy, told an audience at the White House Monday that he hopes he’ll be remembered “fondly” and that some of his critics are “terribly unfair.”

The president’s self-evaluation came during a town hall meeting with a group of about 75 young Southeast Asian leaders. When one of them asked how he wants the world to remember him, the president responded with a smile, “Fondly, I hope.”

“Obviously there are things that I’ve been proud of,” Mr. Obama said, citing the recovery from the recession when he took office in 2009. He said U.S. leadership helped to avert a deeper crisis worldwide.

“It was hard, but we ended up avoiding a terrible depression,” the president said. “That’s an important legacy for me.”

Mr. Obama said many of the criticisms about him are too harsh, but added that people have a right to say what they think.

“As I always point out, democracy is hard,” Mr. Obama said. “I think many of the things said about me are terribly unfair. But the reason American democracy has survived so long is because people, even if they are wrong, have the right to say what they think.”

He told the group, “George Washington, our first president, complained terribly about some of the foolishness that was said about him.”

The president mentioned Obamacare as an achievement for which he’ll be remembered. But he devoted most of his thoughts to his foreign policy legacy.

“Today, the U.S. is the most respected country on earth,” Mr. Obama said. “We have put our international relationships on very strong footing.”

The lessons of his presidency, still 18 months from its completion, are under increasing attack from Republican candidates running for president. One of them, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, launched his presidential campaign Monday by saying, “Barack Obama has made us less safe.”

“Simply put, radical Islam is running wild,” Mr. Graham said. “They have more safe havens, more money, more capability and more weapons to strike our homeland than any time since 9/11.”

Mr. Obama also told the young Asian leaders, “It’s important for America to realize we are not perfect either.”

“So we have to make sure we are constantly seeing how we improve our democracy,” Mr. Obama said. “The amounts of money, for example, that are involved in our elections these days [are] disturbing, because it makes it seem like a few people have a greater influence in the democracy than the many.”

The president also gave his audience a minilecture on how to succeed in politics, describing how he rose to the presidency from lowly beginnings as a community organizer in Chicago.

“One of my core principles is that I will never engage in politics in which I’m trying to divide people or make them less than me,” Mr. Obama said. “I think those are the people who eventually end up having successful careers, because people sense that integrity and leadership . Unfortunately, too many politicians are just climbing the ladder, but they don’t know why. You have to stand for something.”

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