On January 20th 2017, the presidency of Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States, came to an end. The nation’s first African-American president served two terms in office and notably worked with a Republican-majority in congress during his latter term, leading to plenty of discourse on Capitol Hill. Due to partisan divisions, Obama has been called one of both the best and worst presidents in US history.
Senior Taylor Dreher believes, “he was for us what the Kennedys were in their time.” echoing recent praise of the Obama family for remaining scandal-free in terms of personal life. Like the Kennedys, the Obamas have become the face of a decade, due to their social media presence and the historic implementations of the presidency.
The Obama administration made the environment a primary political focus, in a stark contrast to the promise of the new administration. Obama vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline, and advocated for increased production of renewable energies, emphasizing the importance of the threat of climate change. Obama worked with the EPA to regulate the emission of carbon and other pollutants, and participated in various international gatherings aimed at protecting environmental resources.
Many have applauded the Obama administration for expanding and defending LGBTQ+ rights. Obama oversaw the expansion of hate crime laws to include crimes committed based on the victim’s sexual orientation, and repealed controversial military Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell laws regarding members of the armed forces. Obama’s Secretary of Defense also allowed for women and transgender individuals to openly serve in all combat positions.
Race relations came to the forefront during Obama’s presidency, and the president was sometimes criticized in his attempts to strike a balance between the interests of civil rights activists and law enforcement professionals in recent conflicts over racial bias.
SLVHS Junior Sampson Miller holds a decidedly positive view of the former president. “I think Obama was one of the best presidents of all time,” Miller notes, “not only because he was the first African-American in office … he and Michelle had no scandals or trust issues and actually lead our country. Despite what anybody thinks of Barack Obama’s politics, I don’t think anyone can deny him being a true role model for America.”
As far as economic policy, one of Obama’s first moves in office was to sign off on a stimulus package meant to help the nation handle the effects of the Great Recession, and though the nation has not fully recovered, both the GDP and unemployment rates have been steadily improving. Obama also oversaw the largest overhaul of Wall Street operations since the New Deal with the 2010 Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
Obamacare, the popular alias for the Affordable Care Act, rolled out under Obama’s administration, and has been a point of contention since its implementation.
For the first time since the 1960s, the federal prison population began to decrease under the Obama administration. Obama personally commuted the sentences of multiple non-violent drug offenders, but drew criticism from some liberals for continuing the costly war on drugs.
Though the Obama administration made great strides in transparency, reducing the rate of record classification and establishing the Open Government Directive, Obama also oversaw controversial crackdowns on administration whistleblowers. However, many officials, including Obama himself, have stepped forward to defend the program.
Government surveillance declined slightly, but the Obama administration extended some sections of Bush’s Patriot Act. The NSA was roundly criticized for some facets of the PRISM surveillance program brought to light by Edward Snowden.
Despite Obama’s stated desire for gun control, the rights of gun owners actually expanded under his administration. Due to strong opposition from organizations like the NRA, Obama was unable to pass a major gun control bill during his presidency, and thus allowed the congressional majority of republicans to increase gun owners’ rights.
Obama’s foreign policy rejected isolationism throughout both of his terms. At the beginning of his administration, the US was engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The War in Iraq ended in 2011, and the first phase of US involvement in Afghanistan ended with a military drawdown in 2014, though American troops are still stationed in both nations in a counter-terrorism capacity. Osama bin Laden, founder of al-Qaeda, was killed by Navy Seal Team 6 during Obama’s first term. Obama denounced Bush’s War on Terror in 2013, and the term has been discontinued.
In 2016 Obama became the first US president in 88 years to visit Cuba. This visit represented a historic improvement in relations between the two nations, which had been under economic embargo by the US that Obama deemed ineffective. He also oversaw deals concerning a reduction in nuclear weapons for both Iran and Russia. Relations with Israel, a critical ally to the US, were tense throughout the Obama administration due to conflict with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
What is undeniable is that the legislation passed by the Obama administration will have a profound impact for years to come. While the new administration is under intense scrutiny that has lead to low public approval ratings, many Americans have looked back at the Obama’s time in office with nostalgia.
Looking back at Obama’s presidency, it is impossible to go without mentioning his “highlight reel” of jokes that have showcased the former president’s knack for humor over the years. Whether it be the comeback of, “I know, I won both of them” when Republicans cheered as he announced he would not be running for reelection in 2015 or when he made his Vice President, Joe Biden, a friendship bracelet during an interview in 2016, the Obama era provided many memorable moments.
By Kahlo Smith