Hope and Change, the Obama Years

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...


In 2008 the United States was in the last months of arguably the worst presidency of the modern era as well as the worst economy since the Great Depression in the Great Recession. President George W. Bush not only collapsed the economy but he helped enter the country into two full-scale wars that the American people were eager to get out of. After defeating former First Lady and U.S senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, the first term black senator named Barack Obama was on the ballot against the establishment Republican candidate John McCain. Due to the state of the economy at the time, many Americans projected the faults of Bush onto his party’s candidate John McCain, this helped lead Barack Obama to a dominating victory in the 2008 election-winning 365 electoral votes.

The main pillar of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was the reform to our healthcare system which was ranked last of the modern nations in 2009 according to the commonwealth fund. The U.S healthcare system in 2009 was a clear flaw in the capitalist system causing the deaths of over 45,000 people per year according to a Harvard University study. Senator Obama campaigned on fixing the system in a “pragmatic way” pushing for the midpoint between the conservative individual mandate plan and the left-wing single-payer system, a public option to buy into Medicare. After being sworn in as President on January 20, 2009, President Obama immediately started the fight for healthcare reform, 14 months later President Obama signed the Affordable care act into law; the Affordable Care Act provided healthcare to an additional 20.5 million people during the Obama presidency according to CNBC. The ACA was crafted after a healthcare plan based the individual mandate plan created by rightwing foundations and supported by former Republican Speaker of The House Newt Gingrich, a similar plan was enacted by President Obama’s 2012 Presidential opponent Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. Even though the Affordable Care Act was a conservative idea the bill passed with zero Republican support with many Republicans comparing the plan to socialism. President Obama was also criticized by progressives in the country for enacted a conservative plan. The bill was criticized for not going far enough, many argued while 20 million more people were covered, 40 million people were still uninsured when the President left office.

One issue that was clear the first black/minority President would face is almost recorded obstruction from the opposition Republican party, this was made clear when Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said that his parties’ main goal was “to make sure this President is a one-term President”. With this amount of blatant obstruction from the Republican party, it was difficult for the President to get his agenda pushed through Congress. The Republican party tried to attack many of Obama’s key plans including not expanding Medicare in Republican states, voting to repeal the ACA over 60 times, and denying a vote on the President’s 2016 Supreme Court Nominee Merrick Garland. This obstruction is often used by many Democrats as an excuse for many of the policies not enacted under President Obama, while this is a valid point the President tried too hard to please the other side, for example agreeing to “reform”/cut social security to make a “grand bargain” with the Republican party. Obama and the Democrats dominating victories in the 2008 election was a mandate by the people to push a left-wing agenda, instead, Obama used his near supermajority in Congress to bail out Wall Street gifting them up to 29 trillion dollars as well as signing a Republican healthcare bill into law. President Obama did not use the office in an effective political way, other Presidents like Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson used their political power to get their agenda passed. Instead of using the bully pulpit of the office, President Obama started the negotiations in the middle ultimately caving to the other side. The obstruction of the Republican party was most likely too big of an obstacle to face once the Republican party took control of Congress but if President Obama used his supermajority, in an effective way the Democrats could have maintained at least one if not both chambers of Congress.

Looking back at the Presidency of Barack Obama I believe that as a race black people were represented well, not only by the class of the President but by the wholesomeness of his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama. Although I do have disagreements with the way the President governed, I have nothing negative to say about the former First Lady. As First Lady Michelle Obama was seen as the human side of the Obama administration, Michelle Obama always made herself available to the public doing many speeches, interviews, school visits, and media during her time as First Lady. The way I view Michelle Obama was reciprocated by the American people, according to the Washington Post the First Lady was a very popular first lady, her lowest approval rating stood at a very respectable 58 percent while she peaked at an extremely popular 72 percent. The First Lady averaged an approval rating of 65 percent, compared to Hillary Clinton and Nancy Reagan she polled nine and ten points higher respectively, although she was much more popular then Mrs. Reagan and Mrs. Clinton she was not as popular as the younger and elder Bush woman.Obama

When Barack Obama became President the country was engaged in two full-scale wars with Afghanistan and Iraq for eight and six years respectively, due to this and other factors the American people were eager to get out of these wars, many Americans saw Barack Obama as them out when they elected him in 2008. President Obama campaigned on ending the war in Iraq specifically saying things like,” I said that I would remove our combat troops from Iraq in 16 months, with the understanding that it might be necessary — likely to be necessary — to maintain a residual force to provide potential training, logistical support, to protect our civilians in Iraq,” Mr. Obama said this week as he introduced his national security team.” While Candidate Obama campaigned on ending the war in Iraq, as President he never followed through with this promise. Although the President did briefly bring troops home from Iraq he shortly sent the troops back where many troops remain to this day. The President campaigned with an anti-war stance but did not govern that way while in office; at the start of the Obama Presidency the United States was active militarily in Iraq and Afghanistan, at the end of the Obama Presidency the U.S was active in five more countries, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. President Obama turned his back on the anti-war coalition that voted for him in the 2008 election, after promising change and peace President Obama did what many of his predecessors did which is to use military action against another country without the approval of Congress.

Although many would say the former President turned his back on the anti-war coalition that supported him, the crowning achievement of the Obama administration is preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power, preventing a war between the United States and Iran. The Obama administration should also be credited with the creation of the Paris Climate Agreement. The PCA was an agreement signed in 2015 by every country in the world, the agreement would force countries to reduce the emissions released into the atmosphere starting in the year 2020. Even though the Paris Climate Agreement was a great accomplishment of the Obama administration, it being an agreement and not a resolution makes it too easy for other countries to not abide, President Obama’s successor was able to unilaterally pull out of the agreement. Many believe the shining military achievement of the 44 Commander and Chief was the assassination of one of the world’s most wanted terrorist, the man accused by the United States to have been behind the 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

On April 4th, 2011 the President of the United States declared that he would seek a second term in the White House, many people felt the President had an uphill battle to reelection in 2012. By the time the President announced he was running for reelection he was able to get some of his agenda passed, the President at this time already signed the Affordable Care Act into law giving healthcare to many millions of people as well as rebounding the country from the biggest economic downturn in the United States since the Great Depression as well as other accomplishments made through different executive orders. Although the President was able to get some of his agenda passed by the time he announced for reelection he was still not a popular President having an approval rating of 45 percent and a disapproval of 46 percent. I think that the main reason the President was not popular at the time he announced he was running for reelection is the difference between the way Obama campaigned and the way he governed as well as unprecedented obstruction from the Republican party. By the time the Republican nomination was clinched by Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in May of 2012, the President’s approval hadn’t changed much as both his approval and disapproval rating stood at 46 percent. According to Gallup, Governor Romney’s approval rating also stood at 46 percent nationwide when he won the Republican nomination meaning the 2012 election could go either way. The President had a strong performance in the Presidential debates giving him a three-point lead in popularity over Governor Romney in the national polls two days before the election. Although the President and Governor had similar approval ratings through the election, President Obama was the clear favorite in the election with Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight giving the President a 90.9 percent chance of being reelected, Nate Silver’s analysis proved to be correct when Barack Obama was re-elected on November 6th, 2012 with a dominating victory over Romney winning 51 percent of the popular vote as well as receiving 332 electoral votes to the Republican nominee’s 206 electoral votes according to 270towin.

Barack Obama was the President during a very divisive time in the United States, a lot of that divisiveness came from the different opinions of how to handle the increasing amount of gun violence and mass shootings in the nation. According to national affairs, deaths due to mass shootings skyrocketed during the years of the Obama Presidency. Looking at the number of deaths due to mass shootings from every President between Lyndon Johnson and the younger George Bush, there were a total of 235 deaths according to national affairs, that is still one less death due to mass shootings that happened under the Obama administration. This spike in mass shootings in my opinion vastly increased under the President due to the lack of Gun legislation in the U.S as well as the demonization of different groups by the extreme right in this country including Fox news. The demonization of the left by the extreme right-wing caused a hike in gun deaths due to many prominent conservatives publicly slandering the names of people they felt were their political enemies, for example, former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly made many public statements about a doctor who performed abortions saying things like “Barack Obama throughout his political career has enabled abortion. There’s no doubt that he has. All right? He has recently appointed Gov. (Kathleen) Sebelius to (Secretary of) Health and Human Services. Gov. Sebelius is the most pro-abortion governor in the United States. Based upon Dr. Tiller, the baby killer in her state and all of that, all right.” two weeks after O’Reilly made these comments Dr. Tiller was gunned down in his church. The President did on many occasions publicly mentioned the threat of mass shootings saying things like “I’ve had to make statements like this too many times. Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times. We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that, once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun. Now is the time for mourning and for healing.
But let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it.” Although the President was right on how to handle these mass shootings by implementing common-sense gun regulation, he was not able to get any gun regulation passed through congress even though over 90 percent of American people agreed with his position after 20 young children were gunned down while attending school. Even though the President wasn’t able to get this extremely popular position through congress, he was able to implement some gun control legislation through executive order such as preventing people who can’t control their finances from being able to purchase a firearm.

A great accomplishment of the 44 President as well a great negative is the Obama economy. Obama inherited the worst economy since Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, immediately after entering office the President had to act immediately to save not only the United States economy but the world’s economy. The state of the economy when the President first took office in 2009 compared to the economy when he left office in 2016 it is clear why President Obama is widely considered to be a successful President having an approval rating of 60 percent when he left office. If you consider the best way to gauge the state of the economy is to look at the state of the stock market as many people do, it would be hard to argue that President Obama was not one of the most successful Presidents in the history of the United States. Comparing the DOW on the first day of the Obama Presidency to the last, the stock market nearly tripled. The Obama economy is also negative on his legacy because many normal people were left behind in the economic recovery and many have not recovered to this day. Although the people on Wall Street saw their gains triple under the Obama years, regular Americans barely saw gains from the recovery. The Average American actually lost income under the Obama Presidency. When the President took office in 2009 the average American made $54.9 thousand which is $61.9 thousand in 2015 dollars, while the average American made the equivalent of $61 thousand when he took office, the median income in 2015 was $56.6 thousand. The average American losing the equivalent of $5 thousand a year while the stock market nearly tripled is a major blemish on the Obama legacy.

While Barack Obama was busy securing the future of not only the country but the entire world in 2015 when he signed the Iran Deal and the Paris Climate Agreement, the future of America was beginning to unfold with the 2016 democratic presidential election. The 2016 Presidential election was a clear indication of the state of the country at the end of his Presidency. The first indication that the President did not fulfill many of the needs of the American people is when his handpicked successor and former Secretary of State during his first term Hillary Clinton struggled to win the Democratic nomination losing in 22 different states to self-described “Democratic Socialist” Senator Bernie Sanders. Another key moment I believe is indicative of the legacy of this Presidency was the course of the debate in his own parties primary. Some of the key policies made popular during the 2016 democratic primary is the rejection of the President Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement as well a Medicare for All single-payer healthcare systems which would replace the Affordable Care Act. On the opposing side of the political spectrum, the Republican primaries would be dominated by businessman and reality T.V host Donald Trump who ran essentially on an anti-Obama as well as an anti-minority campaign saying things like “He was the founder. The way he got out of Iraq — that was the founding of ISIS, OK?” referring to the 44 President. By-election day 2016 Hillary Clinton who was the administration’s handpicked nominee had an approval rating of 36 percent but somehow still managed to be the heavy favorite against her equally unpopular opponent Donald Trump. One of the defining moments of the 44 President’s administration was the election of his successor Donald J. Trump. Hillary Clinton who essentially campaigned on the 3rd term of Obama managed to lose six states Barack Obama won in 2012 and eight states President Obama won in his 2008 election giving her a total of 227 electoral votes compared to 365 and 332 electoral votes President Obama received in his 2008 and 2012 elections respectively. The rejection of Barack Obama’s secretary of state was a clear indicator of the way a large portion of the electorate viewed the Obama Presidency.

Looking at the totality of the two Obama administration’s the country moved forward in a positive direction. The President was able to get some of his agenda passed such as rebounding the economy from the Great Recession, expanding access to healthcare with the Affordable care act; freeing nonviolent drug offenders from prison; implementing some gun control via executive order, creating a world agreement to combat climate change; preventing Iran from being able to receive a nuclear weapon with the Iran nuclear agreement, ending the trade embargo between the United States and Cuba; decreasing the unemployment rate to under five percent creating over 11 million jobs in the United States; protecting immigrants with the dream act; cutting the U.S deficit in half; pushing renewable energy in the United States and more. The President did move the country forward but it is my opinion his centrist way of governing was not what he promised the American people when he ran in 2008. Although I believe the President did give hope to many Americans during his time in office, he did not live up to the change he promised with Washington being just as corrupt and even more divided compared to the Bush years. The President did not please his base enough as well as not creating an economy that would benefit blue-collar workers in the rustbelt, I believe the centrist way he governed was a huge reason a con artist such as Donald Trump was able to succeed him in the White House. While Donald Trump was able to succeed the President, President Trump is positioned to be defeated in a landslide by President Obama’s VP Joe Biden.


Written by Jaylen Conwell


270towin- 2008 Presidential Election

HuffPost- Uninsured Americans 2012

The Hill- Obama’s unsettled legacy on Iraq and Afghanistan

Gallup- Presidential Approval Ratings — Barack Obama

National Affairs- Presidential Approval Ratings — Barack Obama

Image Credit – David’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Image Credit – Matt Johnson’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Image Credit – Thomas Huston’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Image Credit – quapan’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Image Credit – dcblog’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License



Send Us A Message