MUCH has been made over the past few months about the legacy outgoing President Barack Obama leaves in his wake. Long gone, it seems, are the halcyon days of the late noughties, when all the Commander in Chief had to do was stand before his people and spout decrees of hope and belief in a brighter America for all.
Obama’s initial 2008 candidacy ignited the hearts of millions into action and political engagement on an unprecedented level. But many have questioned the efficiency and successes of the seasoned administration. Having witnessed the overwhelming sequestration of the alt-right’s beloved President-elect Donald Trump a fortnight ago, the discrepancies between the Democratic and Republican parties have never been more pertinent – or more alarming.
It is true that the US is about to enter unchartered territory – but is it also true to state that it had been living through a golden eight years of stable, practical, and transparent government that are now lost to the history books? And beyond galvanising throngs of impassioned voters with dreams of a more liberal, equitable political landscape, how much did Obama really achieve during his time in office?
In his first few months at the seat of the Oval Office, the fresh-faced President faced a myriad of problems needing urgent attention. The Great Recession had just begun to hit home hard, while US soldiers and other civilians alike were dying in the hundreds in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He was presented with seemingly insurmountable challenges, and yet his charismatic and cool-headed rhetoric led the public to believe that he had sufficient tools to lead the country through each issue with an overarching sense of unity. Millions kept watch with bated breath for the leader of the free world to stand before them and offer a logical, clear-cut, action-oriented avenue out of the political and economic crises facing his cabinet – to no avail.
Many have criticised Obama for his consistent hesitancy and strict adherence to public diplomacy. These criticisms of his conduct are not without foundation. The contemporary perception of the public – and, presumably, the subsequent perception of future historians – of Obama’s management of foreign affairs was cold, calculated, and ultimately completely divorced from the reality of the consequences of his actions.
Despite his repeated and ardent opposition to the raging wars overseas and gradual withdrawal of soldiers, Obama frequently decided to opt into bombing and drone warfare over both terms of his presidency. Similarly, he has been repeatedly criticised for his handling of domestic affairs. Controversy is still ongoing due to his unwillingness to acknowledge or release whistle-blower and trans woman Chelsea Manning from solitary confinement in a men’s prison, following her incarceration in 2010, due to the President’s hard-line against those directly involved with the WikiLeaks scandals.
However, in reviewing the incidents of his administration, it would be ignorant not to consider the very real, positive results of his policies. It is no stretch of the imagination to think that the 24 million previously uninsured Americans would have continued to suffer with towering healthcare bills had it not been for the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
The added tax cuts for up to 3.5 million small business to help pay for employee health care coverage, the elimination of subsidies to private lenders of student loans to protect student borrowers, as well as a significant decrease in the country’s student loans are tangible reforms that echo the dream-realising slogans of the early campaign days. These have also helped reduce US unemployment from a high of 10% in 2010 to the current rate of 4.9%.
The promise and potential of what Obama represents, in addition to the refreshing strides towards economic, social and political change, are what cause him to leave office with an approval rating of 57%.
To haphazardly quote the dramatized words of a well-known former Treasurer of State, a legacy is planting seeds in a garden you never get to see. Time will only tell if the progressive legislation Obama enacted will outlast him, due to the vehement animosity expressed by Trump towards him, and his threats to repeal the social liberties bequeathed to the American people under the Obama administration.
Yet for the most part there is just cause to assume that Obama’s legacy for young children of colour to make it to the White House will exist as a viable future option. The air of calm and clear-mindedness, as well as the strong sense of cultural unity, that the US experienced over the past eight years was a welcome change from the chaos of his Republican predecessors.
It will, for the most part, be remembered with fondness and zeal, as a new, unpredictable era is ushered in by his Republican successor.