After eight years in the White House, Barack Obama completed his second and final term as the 44th President of the United States on January 20, 2017.
Regardless of political perspective, the presidency of Obama has been momentous and historic. As he leaves office, here is a reflection of his work and accomplishments while serving in the nation’s highest office.
Then-Senator Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States on November 4th, 2008 to succeed former President George W. Bush. Earning the most votes of any presidential candidate in history, Obama beat Republican opponent Senator John McCain, by nearly ten million popular votes and won a 365-173 majority in the Electoral College.
Obama’s victory was historically monumental; he was elected the first African-American President of a country with a painful history of oppression of African-Americans. When he assumed office in January 2009, the American economy was in free fall due a financial stock market crash. Despite the turmoil, Obama assumed office with approval ratings of nearly 70% according to Gallup
, largely due to his optimistic and hopeful campaign message.
In 2009, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Awarding Obama with such a lofty recognition so early in his term generated much controversy, but the Nobel Committee decided to recognize the President for his visionary message of change in American foreign policy.
Obama pledged to shut down Guantanamo Bay prison, outlawed the use of torture by U.S. forces, moved to reset hostile relations with Russia, worked to wind down the War in Iraq, and projected a conciliatory message to the Muslim World. The Nobel Committee recognized Obama for his efforts to prevent climate change and the spread of nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, the domestic Obama honeymoon quickly came to an end. The slow recovery of the economy frustrated many American as unemployment continued to rise. As a response to the worst American economic crisis since the Great Depression, the President pushed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 through large Democratic majorities in Congress. The President hoped that this stimulus package of nearly $800 billion would decrease unemployment and help to grow the economy.
In 2010, the battle over Obama’s signature piece of legislation, healthcare reform, began. He campaigned in 2008 on a platform of expanding access to healthcare and engaged in a political dogfight to achieve it. Eventually, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known colloquially as “Obamacare,” was enacted with a number of provisions to expand healthcare coverage.
The various provisions of the law extended healthcare coverage to 20 million Americans, cutting the uninsured rate to a record low. As a result, “Obamacare” has become a cornerstone of the President’s legacy although it may be replaced under the new administration.
A central foreign policy achievement of Obama’s presidency was the killing of Osama bin Laden, the leader of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda
and an architect of the “9/11” terror attacks on U.S. soil. Obama ordered the raid of bin Laden’s compound in May 2011.
In 2012, Obama sought reelection running again with Joe Biden. Obama and Biden campaigned against the Republican ticket of former-Governor Mitt Romney for President and Congressman Paul Ryan for Vice President. The campaign was dominated by debate over the President’s handling of the economy and his landmark healthcare law. In a narrower margin than the 2008 election, the Obama-Biden ticket defeated the Romney-Ryan ticket by nearly five million popular votes with a much closer 332-306 Electoral College majority.
During his second term, the American economic recovery began to pick up, and Obama turned his attention to other issues, including raising the minimum wage, combatting climate change, reducing gun violence, and implementing immigration reform. Because of a new Republican majority in the House, Obama used, somewhat controversially, his executive authority to push his initiatives.
Another victory for the Obama Administration came in 2015, as the Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage to be legal nationwide in its Obergefell
decision with Obama being the first President to support marriage equality.
A major foreign policy accomplishment of the Obama administration was the negotiation of a deal with Iran that would shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for a reduction in American sanctions on Iran. Obama also began the normalization of relations with Cuba after a half-decade of icy relations. Both were praised by many Democrats, but condemned by opposing Republicans.
Despite Obama’s accomplishments, he encountered many setbacks, struggles, and failures as President. After negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Obama was unable to gain enough support in Congress to cement the trade deal into law.
Obama was also unable to successfully push legislation approving stricter gun control laws. Many of these shortcomings can be attributed to Washington’s political gridlock. After winning control of the House of Representatives, Republicans blocked many parts of the President’s agenda. Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear that his top priority was to prevent Obama from winning a second term, highlighting the gridlock between the parties in Washington.
Despite some of his setbacks with Congress, certain facts are undisputable. By the time Obama’s term concluded, unemployment had decreased to 4.7%, less than half its 10% peak during the Obama years. The Dow Jones Industrial rose from just over seven thousand to nearly twenty thousand, almost tripling during his presidency, highlighting the economic recovery and growth that occurred during these past eight years.
Only time will tell how historians will judge the presidency of Barack Obama. Much of the Obama legacy will be redefined in the next few years, as the Trump Administration has the ability to walk back and repeal many of Obama’s efforts with a Republican majority in both houses of Congress.
Whatever the outcome of his policies, Obama’s Presidency has been a historic and impactful time in American politics.