Some people--it seems to be the same people each time--get a bit bent out of shape when I say something like “Obamacare,” or in a more recent case, mention Obama's successes at COP21.
To these people, this is attributing way too much credit to him.
It's pretty common, however, to use metonymy thus:
President Truman bombed Hiroshima.
President Kennedy created the Apollo space program.
Kinda everyone knows what that means. It means loads of people and institutions worked to achieve task x, with the President at the helm in some sense.
And there's also what in Greek is called the deponent mood: you are having a house built, for instance. That means you spend money, issue instructions, delegate, and so on...
Moreover, I feel that in the cases of Obamacare and indeed of COP21, Obama's actual agency, the actual agency of the actual person, was more than simply as a figurehead. Apparently he had to interrupt a lot of meetings in Copenhagen, embarrassingly, because people were ignoring him. And this time around they weren't, so much.
Sure, it's not enough. It's just that like the guy says in his autobiography, there was this totally right and totally powerless dude in the Chicago community organizing sphere, and there was Obama, who did manage to get all the asbestos removed from that building. So maybe it doesn't look like anything to some people.
And I reckon Obamacare is a lot more his accomplishment than the following metonymy:
President Reagan brought down the Iron Curtain.
I remember the founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility telling me how she had to hold Reagan's hand in the basement of the White House as he had a spectacular blanking-out episode, and that was in the early 80s.
Does one have to namecheck everyone else in the case of Obama? And will Hillary suffer the same fate? I have a funny feeling that the first woman president will also seem to some not to be a suitable metonymy for all the other people and organizations involved.
In the case of COP21, naturally loads of other leaders will be able to tell their people that they accomplished something. That's sort of the point. Is it okay for Obama to say what he said? Yeah.
Imagine President Cruz and the kind of credit he'd want to take for the kind of action he'd want to execute. It's not so bad having Obama talking about having done something reasonably cool.
And no one's taking away from anyone else's input, from activists to diplomats.
I'm afraid I feel a bit strongly about the importance of using that kind of metonymy when it comes to Obama. I think it might be seen as a bit racist to refuse to give him any credit whatsoever. Like, it's funny that we are pretty much okay, sixty years later, with talking about Truman bombing Hiroshima, but somehow, when the first black president does something, we forget that there is a middle voice, or deponent mood, like “I'm having this house built” or “Xerxes is invading Greece” or whatever, and we assume that Obama's getting way too much credit, and that I'm amplifying it by talking metonymically.
It doesn't help that he's pretty yin. Obama was always gonna be an appalling let down to some people, because as this really excellent hotel manager in New Orleans put it a few years ago, and having struggled like crazy in the Civil Rights movement he knew a thing or two about it, “They want him to be the supernegro.”
Either you fly faster than light around Earth to wind time back to before the Great Recession, or create national health care or bring down neoliberalism--or you are a total failure.