March 2, 2017
Eight years ago, a bright eyed, 47 year-old senator from Illinois stood on Capitol Hill and swore to faithfully execute the office of the president of the United States. In doing so, he became the first African American to hold that title. For two terms, Obama served as a groundbreaker in chief on a variety of fronts. He was the first president to nominate a hispanic woman to the supreme court. The first president to openly support same-sex marriage. He was even the first president to have his official portrait taken with a digital camera. Although revered in progressive circles as a persistent changemaker, the former president’s tenure did not come without its fair share of controversy. From foreign policy to Obamacare, here are some highlights of the Obama legacy.
Term One (2008-2012)
In the first two years of his presidency, Obama tackled the most landmark domestic policy reform since the Johnson’s Great Society. Following the Great Recession, Obama signed the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a stimulus package that led to a period of private sector job growth for 24 consecutive months. Obama oversaw the passage of Dodd–Frank, a law which tightened regulations on Wall Street and other financial institutions.
Militarily, Obama delivered on his promise to pull troops out of Iraq, and initiated a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The president authorized the use of force in Libya, but played a more reactive role in the Syrian civil war, drawing, then reneging on his infamous line in the sand over Assad’s use chemical warfare. In May of 2011, with the capture and kill of Osama bin Laden, the administration achieved a longtime foreign policy goal creating the basis for box office hit Zero Dark Thirty.
Perhaps the most memorable part of the former president’s first term however, was the passage of broad based healthcare reform, the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). The comprehensive legislation improved accessibility to healthcare for young people, low income people, and those with disabilities, but the legislation drew fierce criticism from the right. Conservatives took issue with the individual mandate and new requirements placed on businesses to insure their employees. The law faced two high profile supreme court cases, both of which upheld key provisions.
Second Term (2012-2016)
Obama’s second term was no less active than his first. Faced with gridlock and obstruction from Republican opposition in congress, he took to executive orders to accomplish key policy goals.
At the Paris Climate Talks in 2015, Obama steered the US in promotion of critical environmental reforms. He finalized America’s “Clean Power Plan,” outline new EPA regulations to develop alternative energy.
“There should be no question that the United States of America is stepping up to the plate,”adopting an activist role. “We will do our part, and we will help developing nations do theirs. But we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every nation –- developed and developing alike. Nobody gets a pass.”
In terms of foreign relations, Obama normalized relationships with Cold War adversary Cuba by lifting the US embargo on Cuban imports. Obama negotiated a multilateral deal to curb Iran’s nuclear development in exchange for exchange for lifting global sanctions. While critics argued that sanctions should remain in place on a potentially untrustworthy and unstable regime, supporters hailed it as a long awaited diplomatic compromise.
How Obama’s legacy evolves will in part depend on how current and future administrations alter his programs and executive orders. If one thing is certain though, it is that Obama was a cool president. Whether it was doing a mic drop at the White House Correspondants Dinner, or singing Karaoke with Michelle, he brought a sense of grace, humor, and hope to the office. Although the current leadership will indubitably make some different policy changes, Obama remains ever the optimist. As he delivered in his farewell address, Yes We Can. Yes We Did. Yes We Can.”