History will record as President Obama as one of the most accomplished presidents that the USA ever had. Regardless of this many Americans will have a problem with Obama. They will find issues about all the things they think he has achieved. So let’s address those before anything else.
Education. President Obama made sure that procurement in the Department of Education is a lot more transparent than it has been. By redirecting subsidies from private lenders to students, the Obama Administration raised the maximum Pell Grant award to $5,550 and the number of Pell Grant recipients has increased by over 3million – a 50% increase since 2008 (source: White House)
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ( February 2009) provided nearly $48 billion for education relief to states and schools districts to keep teachers on the job in the face of budget cuts caused by the recession. Investments and provisions have also been made for free education in community colleges, raising opportunities for challenging economic communities through the Promise Neighbourhood programme and his flagship programme Raise to the Top. The latter is seen as a more robust framework than the approach taken by his predecessor in his No Left Behind programme.
Healthcare. The revolution that is universal healthcare embodied in the Affordable Care Act will probably go down as Obama’s most important structural change to American living. Although it has had so much opposition it is the one piece of legislation that can bring the US into some sort of line with other large economies. And yet there are other accomplishments around healthcare affecting veterans, mental health, insurance of children that have swum under the radar.
The Economy. In his two terms the Obama went about reducing the deficit (from 9.8% of GDP in Fiscal Year 2009 under Bush, to 2.9% of GDP in FY 2014), provided a Stimulus package, bailed out banks, passed laws to make access to credit less predatory and opened opportunities for lending to more minorities than was previously available.
Foreign Policy. Obama withdrew the troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq. Looked to enhance relationships with the Middle East, including a $400m assistance to Gaza, peace accord with Iran as well as meeting a number of heads of state. Tried to close Guantanomo, but was defeated.
Add to this equal marriage, first Hispanic Supreme Court judge and hired the first openly transgender Cabinet Official, legalisation of cannabis, the opening of relations with Cuba, the first President to vista a prison and for my British readers the first president to speak to both the House of Lords and The House of Commons.
In fact if you need links with citations for over 305 accomplishments he has achieved then look no further than here. So what may you ask is the problem? Why did I start with such a provocative title for my piece.
What is the Problem?
The Problem with Obama, is that he is always going to be remembered by many as the leader of an imperialist country. No matter what inroads he has made, and there have been many, drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq and Somalia will always paint him and the country represents as one that dislikes Muslim dominant countries. This overarching narrative will plague his legacy even though he has done so much to challenge that.
There is still an underlying suspicion of the role America plays along with others in destabilising the economies of DR Congo and Libya. The role they played in the formation of and funding of groups like ISIS and affiliates from Syria to Iraq.
On a personal note I always thought it a bit of stretch when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but no one can ignore the strides he has made to trying to create accord, especially in the Middle East. Whether in trying to rein in Israel on Palestine, or bring Iran to the table to talk.
As the first black president, there would always be unrealistic expectations as to what he could do about race in America too. It would appear to be a twisted sense of irony that on his watch it would appear if anything race relations in America have gotten worse. The unrest in Baltimore and Ferguson. The ever visible reports of police brutality, especially against black women and men. And when he speaks about race, many factions on the right think he spends too much time on it, or as some commentators pointed out when he sang at a recent funeral, it is not enough.
Audacity of Hope
The problem with Obama is not so much one of his making, but having inherited the poisoned leadership chalice that is the president of the US, you are damned if you do or damned if you don’t.
Obama rallied the US and many external communities with a clarion call. A hopeful call that things would change. The mixed race son of a Kenyan man and American mother he could unite a nation and perhaps the world. The first black president of America, who could revolutionises the way the world could go. How real was this though?
The thing is no matter how much faith you put in one man, you are not going to change a country that takes pride inequality. Reframing this imbalance as some sort of American dream, whilst for most it is a recurring nightmare. How much can you do for a nation whose premise was that all were created equal when it was clearly obvious that those who signed such a declaration didn’t actually believe or practice this? Or of a police force whose history was predicated on racial profiling?
The problem with Obama, is that no matter how audacious his dreams, and even when you think of the incredible accomplishments he has achieved, or some of the things he fell short on, there are those who will always find fault. I for one, on his track record alone, think he is the best leader, faults and all, that they have had, but the problem is, so many others have a problem. Some because he is a Democrat. Some because of his race. Some because he is American. Some just because no matter what he does, they will always find a problem.