In January of 2009, America stood on a precipice. Unemployment was at 7.8 per cent and rising, and over 33 million Americans lacked health insurance. Climate change had been systematically erased from the agenda, and many were unable to marry the people whom they loved.
Yet, as Obama vacates his office, he will leave a changed country and a legacy of a strong and modern America that has maintained its place as world leader, despite the external and internal challenges that could have seen its ruin. A levelheaded and pioneering President, Barack Obama may not have given the huge (or indeed “yuge”) promises of ‘change we can believe in’, (particularly regarding race issues,) but he has delivered a belief we can change.
The economic stimulus packages delivered by the Obama administration have seen America haul itself out from the doldrums of The Great Recession, showing that progress is possible. The US economy has been creating jobs at its fastest pace this millennium, particularly in the automobile industry, where over 500,000 new jobs have been made in the past five years. As a result unemployment has fallen below five per cent, without inflicting the crippling austerity seen in the UK.
An attitude of change has entered healthcare too, as Obama passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: the most significant change to the American healthcare system in 50 years. Over 12 million more people have health insurance compared with when Obama’s tenure began, and this includes increases of ten per cent amongst Blacks, Hispanics and low-income adults. This legislation proves President Obama’s progressive credentials and the gains made are even more impressive considering the background of economic uncertainty, which often drives people to cancel their health insurance.
Obama will leave a legacy of a strong and modern America
Progressive policy came also in the sphere of LGBT rights. Clearly the most significant step is that same-sex couples can now marry in all 50 states, but throughout his presidency Obama has fought for gay rights. In late 2009 he passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which recognised hate crimes against gender, sexual orientation, disability or gender identity. In 2011 Obama ended the policy of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’, which prevented members of the LGBT community from serving openly in the military. And just last year the federal government gave the right for same-sex couples to adopt across all 50 states. President Obama has enacted legislation that has undeniably improved the lives of the LGBT community.
However, whilst I doubt anyone could have lived up to the grandiose expectations laid upon the shoulders of the Senator from Illinois, Obama’s tenure has not been without disappointment. His failure to tackle the systemic racism in America’s police stands out. Although the first African-American to hold Presidential office, Obama’s words on race did not always match his deeds. He failed to visit Ferguson and has done precious little nothing to address the rightful concerns of the Black Lives Matter movement.
This does not mean that legislation targeting discrimination has been totally absent. An important programme is the ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ initiative which helps young men of colour promote racial justice in their communities and overcome the challenges they face. And perhaps this is the key to understanding what the President will leave behind. His legacy is bound up in that symbolism of overcoming.
For the word, embodied in the Presidency of Barack Hussein Obama, possesses much significance. It contains the struggles of African-Americans before who fought racial discrimination and segregation. It holds the beliefs of people who dreamed of a better day. It has the ecstatic joy of those who thought they’d never step foot in the White House. For all the pioneering policy Obama leaves behind, the second line of his Wikipedia page will still name him as the first African-American to hold the office of President, and this remains substantial (if only symbolically so to some in the black community).
Faced with increasing political polarisation from house, senate and public alike, Barack Obama passed transformative legislation into law, largely without Republican support or positive reaction from the public. Thanks to him, America is more stable and more liberal than it was in 2008. Behind he leaves a legacy as the President who not only pulled America from the brink, but pushed it to new heights. Thanks Obama.