In this first week of 2016, everyone is looking forward to all of the noteworthy events of the upcoming year. Of course, the event receiving the most coverage is this year’s presidential election. While the media has slammed us with coverage of Donald Trump and predictions for upcoming primaries, relatively few articles have been written looking back on the presidency of Barack Obama as he enters his final year in office.
Obama is a very polarizing man and his presidency, regardless of your political persuasion, has been filled with many ups and downs. One’s legacy can only be accurately judged if given time and it is too soon to see whether Obama’s legacy will age like fine wine or milk, but, while entering his final year, we can look back at what he has (and hasn’t) done.
Obama campaigned on a platform of hope and change and while he certainly has brought change to America, many Americans do not look kindly towards Obama’s actions as President. His message of change galvanized youths and minorities to the polls and he was elected with a wave of support in 2008.
One of Obama’s relatively weaker points compared to McCain was his lesser foreign policy experience, and when it comes to foreign policy successes, the Obama administration has a mixed record. Under Obama, Osama Bin Laden was finally found and the Iraq War was ended in 2011. Against continued campaign promises, the Afghanistan War continues and will continue after Obama’s presidency is over. Analysts widely disagree on whether this is a good decision for America’s interests, but it is clear that Afghanistan can not fully support itself right now.
We will likely never know whether the United States under Obama could have done something to combat the rise of ISIS/ISIL, but a lack of action against the terrorist organization will certainly be one of his detractors' largest points of reference. Another disaster under Obama’s watch was the storming of our Benghazi embassy, the killing of four Americans, and the lack of clarity from the administration on why the embassy was attacked. Drone strikes have been used effectively to reduce the amount of American causalities in the Middle East and have crippled the leaders of Al Queda. Yet, they have also killed hordes of civilians and caused many others to live in fear of bombs suddenly falling on hospitals and weddings.
Those outside of America actually approve of Obama’s actions more than Americans do, according to Pew Research Center. 58 percent of Americans believe that Obama is making the correct decisions regarding world affairs while 65 percent of people outside of America support Obama’s actions.
However, not all countries love the President, as Obama’s support for the creation of a deal with Iran has strained relations with Israel and many Americans believe that we have turned our backs on a trusted alley. This heavily debated treaty with Iran is thought to not have gone far enough to restrict Iran, but it will help keep nuclear weapons out of Iranian hands in the near future and help to end some of the harsh trading restrictions that are harming innocent Iranian civilians. Obama has led the way in uniting the world in Paris this past month and creating an agreement for countries to work together in order to slow down global climate change.
Relations with Cuba have been normalized under the Obama Administration, as America desires to disregard past conflict and begin to discuss a future meaningful relationship that will hopefully be beneficial to Cubans and Cuban Americans alike. Recently, Obama has spoken out about his continued support for increasing the amount of Syrian refugees in America, has encouraged Americans to have faith in their background checks on refugees, and has entreated Americans to have compassion for those whose lives are in danger.
Obama has taken action in increasing the funding that head start and early start school programs are receiving but has fallen short, due to lack of support from conservatives, in accomplishing his goal of universal Pre-K. He has spoken out strongly for gun control, background checks, and improved mental health support in reference to the solution for the mass-shooting crisis that we are currently facing.
Obama has increased gun control through executive action, but with such little support in Congress, as well as little support in the American electorate, it is impossible to do more. Americans in the next Presidency will have to decide how to take action to reduce mass shootings.
In the upcoming year, Obama will push for criminal justice reform and while progress will likely be hard to find in such a short time, progress on this issue can be essential to cementing his legacy. Most Americans believe that the amount of people in prison is far too high and that those who are addicted to drugs should be in rehab instead of a prison cell because of disastrous mandatory minimums.
Another one of Obama’s most pressing issues in his final year is the closing of Guantanamo Bay, the prison facility in Cuba that he has promised to close in both of his campaigns for President. Many Americans are nervous about the closing of the prison because it contains many suspected terrorists and some of those terrorists will be transported back to American soil. Yet, those in Guantanamo have not had fair and adequate trials, which should be available to all in order to prove their innocence, and America’s supermax prisons are among the safest and most secure on the planet. Republicans will likely restrict Obama from closing the base through legislative means, but he may be able to take executive action. Obama ended the culture of passive acceptance of torture which was prevalent in the Bush years early on in his presidency and he has made it clear that America does not and will not torture its prisoners.
Obama is the first sitting president in history to support the legalization of same-sex marriage and has worked very hard in order to support all minorities in their fight for equality and tolerance including African Americans, LGBT+, Muslims and disabled persons. His two Supreme Court nominees helped to make same-sex marriage the law of the land. While the Obama Administration has worked hard to forward progressive social issues, they have lagged behind on restricting governmental intrusion into our daily lives.
The NSA has run rampant, collecting information on Americans and foreigners, whether ally or not, according to the information illegally disseminated from Edward Snowden. Whether the collection of this data has saved lives and whether the intrusion is worth any security benefits that it may have is a conversation that Americans must engage in when selecting their next president.
The economy has rebounded under Obama after inheriting a country in the midst of a recession on the possible verge of a depression. Unemployment has plummeted to about 5 percent, a number that modern day economists generally regard as being near full employment. However, the number of those who are underemployed and those who have stopped actively searching for work are still higher than they should be for a developed nation. While Obama has helped bring us back from the brink of depression, he has done little to address the current problems of income inequality.
Obama has had very minimal success in raising the taxes of the wealthy but has been moderately successful in helping to secure tax breaks and benefits for those in the shrinking middle class. The rich have continued to get richer and the percent of poor Americans has increased since Obama’s inauguration. The growing divide between the rich and the poor and what individuals believe that the government should do in order to shrink it is another key issue that should sway voters in this year’s election.
Obama has also attempted to take executive action on expanding the status of undocumented immigrants in America, but his actions have been jammed up in the courts. He has deported a record amount of people from America, but also strongly supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Obama has also supplied more money and people towards the protection of our Mexican border, largely strengthening it.
Of course, the defining, and most divisive, part of Obama’s legacy is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. While the ACA is an extremely important piece of legislation that will have lasting effects on the country long after Obama leaves office, when reviewing Obama’s legacy one must consider all of his actions above as well. The goal of the ACA was to increase the amount of Americans receiving health care, improve the quality of health care, and reduce the costs associated with health care. The fundamental divide in whether Americans support the ACA or not is whether they believe that health care is one’s natural born human right or not. Not having health care has been a fact of life for many poor citizens in America and when illness hits many of these people can be forced into bankruptcy, have their credit destroyed or are swayed into cheaper treatment that could reduce their quality of life all because they have been born into a cycle of poverty.
Under the ACA the percentage of Americans who have health care has increased and in this regard it is working. The ACA has disrupted the doctors that some people may be able to see and has put more strains on small businesses, corporations, and increased the premiums of some in the middle class. While some see these actions as a worthwhile sacrifice, others desire to destroy the program altogether. Republican governors have reduced some of the positive effects of the program by rejecting enhanced Medicaid funding for their citizens. The next President, whether Democrat or Republican, will alter the current Act, but if a Republican is elected Obama’s largest piece of legislation will almost certainly be significantly dismantled.
Republicans and Democrats have significantly grown further apart on most issues in the past decade and people are beginning to denounce all ideas that are supported by their political “opponents.” But, in a country with 322 million people of all varying political persuasions, we must learn that compromise is not a failure and that compromise is the only way for a democracy to truly work.
Inaction is far worse than compromise and the continued polarization of Americans will only continue to breed stubborn inaction. Republicans and Democrats alike must judge Obama from the results of his efforts, using facts and principles instead of rhetoric and blind hatred or blind love. Through this careful analysis, we can form our own political platform and be the educated electorate necessary to elect a president that will make America proud.