Obama presidency ends strong

As the second term of the first African-American President of the United States comes to an end, we reflect on what may arguably be one of the most consequential presidencies in a generation. Former President Barack Obama was elected to his position during a crucial time in modern American history. The country was caught in the crossfire of two costly wars, and the economy was at its lowest in decades. During his farewell address he reflected on his victories in healthcare reform, social justice and foreign policy.

On Jan. 10, in Chicago, the President spoke to a nostalgic crowd about the various successes of his presidency.

“If I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9/11 (…) You might have said our sights were set a little too high. But that’s what we did,” Obama said.

There is much this administration has to be given credit for. The life of the Obama’s in the White House has been anything but laid back. From gun violence to healthcare reform, they received an unprecedented amount of public scrutiny for both action and inaction on issues that had the country divided. The greatest war the Obama administration was forced to fight in during the past eight years was not one in a foreign land, but one right here in the U.S. Instead of tanks and missiles, it was a war of vetoes and overrides.

The past eight years have showcased, arguably, the greatest divide between the two parties in a generation. It was no secret the Republicans in Congress were set on undermining Obama’s actions wherever possible, even before the party gained majority in both the House and the Senate.

Republican lawmakers united in their efforts to prevent the Iran nuclear deal from being passed. Congress tried to introduce a resolution in an effort to disapprove the deal, which was vetoed by the President. The nuclear deal was successfully passed, and the United States now has relations with Iran for the first time in half a century.

Former President Barack Obama waves as he boards a Marine helicopter during a departure ceremony on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, after President Donald Trump was inaugurated. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Former President Barack Obama waves as he boards a Marine helicopter during a departure ceremony on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, after President Donald Trump was inaugurated. (Photo courtesy of Evan Vucci / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The Affordable Care Act may be considered one of the greatest victories of Obama’s presidency. After a hard-fought struggle with Congress, the act was signed into law in March 2010. It was later dubbed “Obamacare” by his opponents, with an agenda to use it as a talking-point to delegitimize the presidency.

Justice Antonin Scalia died in early 2016, leaving a coveted seat open on the Supreme Court. Appointing a justice is the constitutional role of the president. As such, Obama appointed Merrick Garland, the Harvard-educated chief judge known for his impartiality, and widely respected by liberals and conservatives alike. Congress’ defiance in holding a hearing for him, despite his qualifications, further attested the underlying agenda of the Republican Congress to block actions by the Democratic president. Their intention was to delay it until after his presidency.

It is only fair to analyze a presidency with impartiality. Inevitably, there were decisions the Obama Administration made that were questioned even by his supporters.

A 2014 report by the Department of Homeland Security showed that his administration deported an unprecedented 2.5 million individuals, more than any other president in history. This struck a nerve with his supporter-base, especially in the Latino community.

Janet Murguía, president of National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the nation’s largest Latino advocacy organization, declared Obama the “deporter-in-chief.”

Another front that the administration drew heavy criticism from was the incessant use of drones for counter-insurgency efforts in Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Pakistan. The New York Times reported that drone strikes in the past eight years have killed over 3,040 terrorists and 391 civilians. His active deportation and drone campaigns made the Bush Administration look lightweight.

“Obama failed to pursue meaningful criminal justice reform. Sure, he commuted hundreds of federal prisoners’ sentences, but that’s a drop in the bucket. In an era where the bipartisan consensus, however briefly, was actually to reduce unnecessarily punitive criminal laws, Obama failed to pursue reform that meaningfully impacts the way that our nation’s inhumane prisons, jails and probation and parole systems are run,” said Isaac Schwarz, DePaul student and political analyst.

From the very beginning, the Obama family was scrutinized under a microscope. This gives further credibility to what they were able to accomplish despite the onslaught of denigration from the right. Despite it all, Obama finished off his presidency with an unprecedented approval rating of nearly 60 percent, according to a Gallup poll.

It must be noted that expecting any presidency to be without flaws would be wishful thinking. When a president takes an oath to fulfill is to “faithfully execute” the role and perform adequately, given the circumstances. And given the circumstances Barack Obama was thrust into in 2009, it can reasonably be concluded that he followed through on his oath, and left us a country better off than what he was presented.