Thanks Obama: Evaluating his legacy, in his final year

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Thanks Obama: Evaluating his legacy, in his final year

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President Obama’s final State of the Union speech last week was a clear indicator that his time in office is drawing to a close. Though the country now looks to the future, we wanted to take the opportunity to look back at the last eight years to evaluate Barack Obama’s time in office and predict what his legacy might be.

Obama was first elected to the White House in 2008 on a wave of popular support, decisively defeating his Republican opponent, John McCain, with 365 electoral votes and 52.9 percent of the popular vote. Hoping to distance himself from his unpopular predecessor, George W. Bush, Obama campaigned with the word “Change” as a recurring theme, a message that resonated loudly with voters.

But “change” was more than just a clever slogan; to many, this one-term Illinois senator from Hawaii represented a new type of politician. He was the first African-American presidential candidate in history to represent a major political party and one of the first politicians to effectively utilize the Internet and social media to appeal to young voters. With great charisma, he promised a break from the past and laid out a new vision for the country. Many Americans truly believed that Obama was the candidate that was going to change everything.

Eight years and two terms later, we must ask ourselves: Did he live up to our expectations, or does he leave behind a trail of broken promises? Is America a better place because of him? Is the world?

The answers, of course, will vary greatly depending on whom you ask. As with any political leader, Obama’s legacy will continue to be controversial for years to come.
Arguably, no president in modern history has inherited greater challenges so soon after arriving to the White House. The financial crisis, which had come to the forefront of the political arena in the final months of the election, was crippling the economy. Our military was fighting two costly and unpopular wars halfway around the world that showed no signs of abating. America’s international reputation was at a historic low.

Despite these hardships, Obama proved to be a capable leader early on. He helped stabilize the economy, rescuing the country from the Great Recession. He put an end to the war in Iraq and brokered a nuclear deal with Iran. Under his administration, gay marriage became legal, Osama bin Laden was killed and the Affordable Care Act brought much needed reform to the country’s health care system.

However, political opposition from the right remained an ever-present threat to the president’s plans. Many of his key policy positions, such as gun control legislation and the closing of Guantanamo Bay, failed to pass Congress, forcing the president to either abandon his promises or resort to unilateral action. His reliance on executive orders, though necessary, means that anything he implements can easily be undone by his successor. Perhaps more so than any president in history, Obama’s presidency was marked by gridlock, partisanship and resistance at every turn. The growth of “rancor and suspicion between the parties” during his time in office is something Obama described “one of the few regrets” of his presidency.

Perhaps the aspect of Obama’s presidency we will miss the most when he leaves office is the man himself. With outstanding charisma, President Obama set the tone for the nation in times of crisis and celebration alike. For that, we say: Thanks, Obama.