Politics

What Will Barack Obama's Legacy Be?

| by Will Hagle

Many things about Barack Obama made him the obvious choice for 44th President of the United States. His personality, progressive views, humble roots, and ability to actually articulate a sentence made him the anti-Bush, the man who would lead America into the 21st century. The majority of Americans voted for him, twice in a row. 

A mix of high expectations, bipartisan government and overwhelming global change have led many of Obama’s earliest and/or most passionate supporters to question exactly how things have worked out throughout his six years in the Oval Office. Even Michael Moore has criticized the commander-in-chief, claiming Obama will only be remembered for his role as America’s first black president rather than for any of his actual achievements. 

How future generations will remember Obama’s legacy is difficult to predict, although it’s true that public understanding of historical figures is often reduced to superficiality or dramatic events (Taft’s size, Kennedy’s assassination, Obama’s skin, etc.). But eight years as president entails an enormous amount of work, and Obama has been working diligently throughout his tenure.

As is usually the case, the major issues and events of Obama’s legacy are neither good nor bad but a mixture of both. Everything his administration has accomplished, attempted or failed to do has an effect on American society as well as the world at large. His policies on drugs, immigration, and a host of other issues will continue to impact the country. History may remember things differently, but these are the main issues most likely to define Obama’s legacy. 

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Health Care Reform

The biggest, most important aspect of Obama’s legacy is undoubtedly health reform. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — so closely linked to the president that it’s commonly known as “Obamacare” — was passed in 2010. Just two years into his presidency, Obama was able to achieve a major overhaul of the nation’s health laws, one that benefits citizens by making health insurance available and affordable for all. At least in theory. Obamacare was the subject of conservative backlash for years, with lawmakers adamantly fighting against the legislation. The roll-out of online federal health exchange marketplace HealthCare.gov was also a disaster, riddled with technical complications that left many feeling uneasy about the law’s practicality. The ACA’s passage through the various branches of federal government also represented the partisanship that would go on to define the remainder of the Obama era, with tea party Republicans rallying against any progressive measures the commander-in-chief supported. Even many liberals were dissatisfied with the way the law turned out, a far cry from the socialized medicine many had hoped for. As the legislation takes its effect and settles into society over the course of several years, however, Americans will gain a better understanding of how important a step forward the Obama administration made. 

Osama Bin Laden

Osama Bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader ultimately responsible for the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, was killed by the Navy SEAL Team 6 during Obama’s first term as president. The raid on Bin Laden’s compound was viewed as a rare step forward in the war on terror that Bush created, as well as a foreign policy victory for the Obama administration. Obama killed Bin Laden in Pakistan while ending the deadly and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that the Bush administration had begun. Yet Bin Laden’s role in hiding had been reduced, and the world learned quickly that the American pursuit of al-Qeada was not enough to stop the spread of violent jihad or terror in general. Not only does al-Qaeda live on, but groups like ISIS and al-Shabaab have become threats to the U.S. and citizens worldwide. 

Benghazi

Unless investigations prove otherwise, Benghazi will likely be discussed less and less after the 2016 presidential election cycle, where it’s sure to be a hot topic. Right-wingers love to use the 2012 attack on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya as an example of the Democrats — and specifically former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s — foreign policy incompetence. Although the exact details have yet to emerge, critics suggest that the Obama administration received intelligence suggesting that an attack on the embassy was being planned, failing to act accordingly. Investigations into the attack as well as the federal government’s handling of the situation are ongoing by various branches, including Congress and the FBI. Until some semblance of truth is known, it will be tough to determine how Benghazi will be remembered as part of Obama’s legacy. 

U.S. - Russia Relations

President Obama will be remembered for leading the country into an era in which diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Russia reverted backwards, trending towards Cold War-era tension rather than the other way around. Of course, Obama has not been the aggressor in this relationship.Under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia has grown stricter in terms of censorship and homophobia within its own borders, and more violent in terms of foreign policy. Russian separatists continue to wage war in Ukraine, Putin continues to support al-Asaad in Syria, and the relations with the U.S. grow weaker and weaker. Largely as a result of Obama’s inaction, Russia has re-emerged as a country with undeniable influence over the rest of the world. 

Inconsistent Foreign Policy

No one wanted another President Bush. John McCain was one step away from being yet another warhawk American president, but the American public made it known that their views had changed. Unfortunately, Obama was less confident in his ability to get things done than he was in his opinion that things had to change. The war in Iraq ended under President Obama, but a new one quickly began. The president balked at his decision to launch airstrikes in Syria, only to begin discussing the possibility again a year later. Foreign policy has been a disaster throughout the past several years, because of great changes in the world but also because of Obama’s own mistakes.