Assessing Barack Obama’s Legacy

With his family by his side, Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States by Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr. in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009. More than 5,000 men and women in uniform are providing military ceremonial support to the presidential inauguration, a tradition dating back to George Washington's 1789 inauguration. (DoD photo by Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo, U.S. Air Force/Released)

When Barack Obama came to power in 2009, immense hype surrounded his inauguration. The hope, the sense of change, the ‘Yes, we can’. His temples now greyer, his tenure has seen the world change immensely. It has been an eventful eight years of office.

How will he be remembered? He has had both successes and failures, and that hope of change, of the advent of the first black president in history, seems diluted in the face of his failures. Though, perhaps helped on by comparison to the coming election’s participants (it’s hard not to look great next to Donald Trump), there are achievements that the outgoing president will be able to look back on with pride.

One thing that Obama himself is proud of is his handling of the hangover from the economic crisis in 2008. But how has he really done? Certainly, he would boast of an impressive recovery in terms of unemployment. Unemployment stood at 10.3% in 2009 and is now at 4.9%. Moreover, the stock market has risen, exports have been expanded, inflation has stayed low and he has cut the budget deficit from $1.4 trillion when Bush left office, to $438 billion in 2015. But there have also been crucial weaknesses to America’s economic performance. Growth of GDP has stayed small, at 2.1% under Obama, and while the president claims 76 straight months of job growth, overall job growth has only been 1%.

While US economic recovery is perhaps what Obama would like to be remembered for, it is much more likely that the average American will tie Obamacare with the president’s time in office. The Patient Protection and Affordability Act of March 2010 sought to bring healthcare to millions of Americans, and has done so for around 10 million. That’s a lot of people who now have healthcare where they didn’t previously. But it has been a political nightmare for the president, and has created a quagmire from which his successive six years of office has suffered from. The plan disillusioned many of his supporters, leading to the president losing the house and the senate. It is estimated he lost roughly 25 seats just from this one act, and has divided the country in support and hatred of the policy.

Division has been a key feature of Obama’s time in office. His central pledge back in 2008 to ameliorate bipartisan relations between Republicans and Democrats hasn’t happened. Instead America has endured two terms of fraught and painful lack of cooperation between its two parties.

And what about the black population, who hoped that Obama’s presidency would bring real change. Nowhere is division been more gravely seen. Shootings of black men by police officers have shocked the world, and the rise of the Black Lives Matter campaign and the racial tensions of this summer have harkened the country back the sixties. He leaves race relations far worse than when he entered office, and improvement in the black community socially and economically has severely lacked substance in general. Black voters live in the same conditions that they did back in 2008. The wealth gap between the black and white population has grown, as well as the employment gap. Black families are still twice as likely to live in poverty than the rest of America.

In 2009, Obama won to the Nobel Peace Prize, a surprise even then. In the wake of 8 years of difficult foreign policy, his deserving of the prize is arguably even more contentious. President Obama has been at war longer than any other US president in history. His key election pledge from 2008, to bring home troops from Iraq, hasn’t been fulfilled. 4,087 remain in Iraq and a further 9,800 in Afghanistan in a war that has not been successful. Admittedly, these are far fewer numbers than he was left to deal with. Drone strikes have increased dramatically, with a 631% rise in Pakistan alone. Lest someone should mention the atrocity of an American airstrike accidentally bombing a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, back in 2015, killing 42 people and destroying a hospital. Obama has deported more people than any other president, killed Americans without trial, prosecuted twice as many whistle-blowers than all other presidents combined, hasn’t pursued any intelligence officer over cases of torture and hasn’t closed Guantanamo Bay.

Environmental concerns have also been pressing for Obama. The approaching crisis has forced this upon him, and many will say that he has not done nearly enough. But he has had significant opposition. The Waxman Markey bill in 2009 is an example, designed to produce an emissions trading platform, did make it past the House of Representatives, but never made it to the floor of the Senate. But the American Recover and Reinvestment Act initiated clean energy and energy efficient programmes across the country, and wind and solar power is now set to triple. Obama vetoed the Keystone pipeline, stretching from Canada to Mexico, for environmental reasons in November 2015. Coal usage has dropped dramatically (at the cost of 68,000 mining jobs), and more people now rely on power from solar energy than coal; solar panel installer and turbine technician are now two of the fastest growing careers.

Obama’s outspokenness on gun control has also marked and mired his tenure. Too many times has he had to speak about a recent shooting, with the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting standing out. Yet he has only passed two laws aimed at gun control and neither of them placed additional restrictions on gun owners.

Obama has had a far from perfect presidency. But importantly, he has at all times attempted and shown to be a leader. He has always been the big boy in the room. His personality, professionalism and statesmanship has helped to change the face of America, attempting to soothe the intensely negative view held by many countries towards the US when he came to power. The next president takes on a country that is divided more than ever, and will need to understand both the failings and successes of Obama’s tenure.


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