In a lot of ways, it is too early to properly evaluate the presidency of Barack Obama.
Such a process regularly needs to marinate for a while, and let more facts of a particular presidency come out. That truism has not stopped the mad rush to get evaluations and comparisons done, however.
In 2010, a Siena College Research Institute survey ranked Mr. Obama number 15 of 43 previous U.S. presidents. A 2012 NewsWeek survey ranked Mr. Obama as number 10 among the 43 previous presidents. Nate Silver’s 2013 survey, based on an amalgamation of various rankings, put Mr. Obama at number 17 among previous presidents. A very recent survey of 391 presidential scholars and experts in politics, as members of the American Political Science Association, ranked Mr. Obama as the 18th most successful U.S. president. In February, 2015, the Brookings Institute, a Washington think tank, also ranked Mr. Obama 18th. Coincidentally, George W. Bush, currently ranked the worst U.S. President of all, thinks that Donald Trump, will replace him as the worst.
In one of his final interviews aired this week, President Obama said that being president was akin to being a relay runner; you get elected, take the baton and run your part of the race as best you can, and hopefully gain or hold a lead, then pass the baton off to the president next in line. The presidency is about successfully handling your part of the race, then moving on.
Did President Obama run his segment successfully?
He had all the elements thrown at him to thwart him: rain, sleet, mud, ice, and a unified, obdurate Republican Party willing to trip him, push him, and otherwise block his way. He was jostled more than once by other runners. But was he successful, still? While sympathy may go to the fallen, so will disappointment and disdain.
When he first took office in January,
2009, the Great Recession was in full effect. Unemployment was more than 10 percent and rising, the country’s financial system was tipping on the brink of collapse, the global financial system was imploding, the USA had more than 183,000 combat troops fighting in two very costly wars without end, a majority of Americans, especially children, had no healthcare insurance, the American auto industry was speeding its way toward death, and the country’s budget deficit was more than $1 trillion dollars and rising, among other challenges.
The lone advantages he had against this phalanx were Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress (at least until January 2011), a large electoral mandate, and world-wide popularity that wanted him to succeed. He also had, he said, a dogged determination to get the job done. While he had preached hope and faith, he was a pragmatist when it came to dealing with the problems at hand.
With him at the helm, the auto industry was saved; a federal stimulus package was legislated, disseminated, and worked; universal healthcare was instituted; unemployment was cut in half; employment hit a sustained growth stride; and ground troops in at least the Iraq war were substantially reduced and Iraqis were trained to fight their own battles.
Presidents are measured on a standard array of issues: did the poverty rate, especially for children, increase or decrease during one’s administration; did the unemployment rate increase or decrease; was the country kept safe, etc.? Additionally, what were the external factors that a president faced while in office and how well did he deal with those situations? What were the public opinion ratings throughout the presidency, and what legislative successes did the president achieve viz-a-viz his campaign promises?
Here’s a complied short list of some of the most important accomplishments of the Obama presidency, some of which we will only see the fruition of in later years, just as we have for Social Security, Medicare and other such policy achievements by other presidents, which were roundly panned when they were first ordered into the American system.
- The Passage and Implementation of universal healthcare reform (the Affordable Care Act, 2010), which had eluded previous U.S. presidents for more than 100 years. Currently, more than 28 million Americans, including many children, have health insurance which they previously could not get or afford. The Supreme Court has legitimized the ACA.
- The passage of the massive economic stimulus bill that helped jump-start the American economy (the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, 2009) out of the greatest economic recession since the Great Depression. Within weeks of this legislation, national unemployment claims began to subside, and within a year, private sector job creation began producing more jobs than the economy was losing. This trend has maintained itself for over 23 straight months, producing more than 3.5 million new jobs for the economy.
- The passage of the Wall Street Reform act (the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, 2010) to begin re-regulation of the financial sector in the absence of the Glass-Steagall Act, which the Franklin Roosevelt administration had passed to control the overtly greedy tendencies of the banking and finance sector. It had become clear that such un-regulation had greatly contributed to the causes of the Great Recession. This new law also created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect consumers from fraudulent lending schemes.
- Summarily ended the Iraqi war, and ordered all U.S. military forces out of the Middle East by Dec. 18, 2011.
- Authorized the daring mission that found and killed Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
- Authorized the saving of the U.S. Auto Industry by injecting more than $62 billion in federal funding into GM and Chrysler. Since then, the auto industry has added more than 100,000 jobs back into the economy. In 2011, all of the Big Three automakers once again demonstrated profitability for the first time in a decade.
- Improved America’s image abroad. The Obama administration reversed what had been a sharp dive in the world’s positive opinion of the U.S. that had resulted from the Bush years. The Pew Global Attitudes Project survey from 2008-2011, concluded that the positive opinion of the U.S. grew steadily in 10 of 15 countries cited.
- The Obama administration took banks out of the student loan program, so students can now get their funding directly from the federal government, eliminating the bank profiteering and massive interest accumulation that harmed millions of students. The Obama administration also expanded the amount and availability of Pell Grants.
Now the question: On Barack Obama’s watch, was the USA more safe than it was before he took office? According to Foreign Policy Magazine, the answer is yes. Secondly, are the USA and its citizens better off because of Mr. Obama’s presidency, in an overall sense? Again, the latest public polling demonstrates that most Americans (58 percent) believe that they are.
What about African Americans? Were they benefited also by Mr. Obama’s presidency?
There were no scandals. There were no demonstrations of faulty manners or bad behavior which reflected negatively on Black folk. The importance of the consistently positive image of a successful, strongly bonded African American family that believed in and trusted each other, and respected all members, cannot be overstated as a role model in today’s world. The president remained a statesman, an effective leader, a strong symbol of confidence and skilled knowledge for generations of Black Americans and global Africans.
Did Mr. Obama lay down a worthy set of tracks to follow and to be proud of for young people?
Indeed, he did. He and we can be proud of what he and his family accomplished for us all.