Before the U.S. is dragged, kicking and screaming, into the era of President Trump, it must first wave goodbye to its incumbent Commander-in-Chief. Barack Obama swept to victory in 2008, a young and charismatic Senator from Chicago, with the promise of change. 8 years and successful reelection campaign later, what legacy has President Obama left?
Obama lent his name to what was arguably the defining issue of his first term in office. Obamacare. The legislation, officially known as the Affordable Care Act, introduced wider regulation of the medical industry and extended insurance to millions of previously uncovered Americans. Though not the single payer revolution that the Liberals within Obama’s party had been hoping for, it was a landmark piece of legislation, which the GOP had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to pass. Obamacare has had its successes, with the 23 million newly insured patients and an expanded Medicare program as notable high points.
However, the spiralling costs of the program, with huge increases in premiums paid by many of the already insured, proved to be politically costly, dogging the Clinton campaign in the 2016 election. House Republicans have promised to repeal Obamacare, with President Elect Trump’s support, and this vital part of Obama’s self-made legacy could be consigned to the history books before he is.
The economy is an area in which Obama can claim considerably more credit. The President inherited a perilous economic situation. In the month that Obama assumed office, 600,000 people lost their jobs. At the end of his tenure, the American economy has recovered remarkably well. Unemployment is down to 4.7%, the lowest since before the 2008 crash, and Obama has overseen over a 50% reduction in the year on year budget deficit. Things are not, of course, perfectly rosy. The surprising strength of Donald Trump in the Rustbelt highlights one inherent weakness of the Obama recovery: it was not felt in practical terms by many voters. On the whole, however, the President will leave behind a much improved and recovered economy.
In terms of foreign policy, it’s a thorough mixed bag for the President. Obama has enjoyed notable successes.
The Iran nuclear deal, though muddled in places, was a moment of genuine leadership from the President, as was his thawing of the diplomatic ice between the U.S. and Cuba. In these instances, Obama showed evidence of the new approach to global politics from America that he had promised at the start of his administration. On the other hand, Obama’s record is strewn with missteps and mistakes. Outmanoeuvred on the global stage by Vladimir Putin, the President has shown weakness in his dealing with the Syria crisis.
On the whole, Obama has not been the progressive force that many within his party had hoped for. Under his stewardship, America has seen a rebounding economy and, though at this stage ineffective, the first moves towards reform of a health system. However, international mistakes have tarnished the President’s reputation, despite a relatively strong performance domestically. He has not been the revolution many had expected, but a steady hand we will miss in years to come.