Thanks Obama!

Ratan Varghese - 2A Electrical
Posted on: January 14, 2017

On January 20th, a truly remarkable man is leaving the White House. An unlikely success, who went from being an unknown coloured senator in Illinois to the most powerful man in the world. The face of a generation, who inspired both hope and dread, both laughter and bawling. Perhaps at the close of this chapter of history, he will encourage nostalgia as well. As a frightening new year begins, there is something we need to say: thank you, President Barack Hussein Obama.

Thanks Obama, for showing the world that a black man could be the President of the United States of America. He was brought to office with great fanfare, many thinking he heralded a new era of acceptance in the United States. But he paid a price for his skin color. Some in the right wing simply couldn’t stand having an African-American president. Still others thought that too many liberals supported him simply for being black. Racial tension was a major theme during his presidency, as the police became more militarized, hidden biases came to light, and people realized that even the President couldn’t really “solve” racism. Yet for those who feel that angry, visible activism is better than silent, voiceless oppression, the Obama Presidency was something of a step forward.

Thanks Obama, for spearheading stimulus spending to support the economy of the US and the world. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the bailouts for car companies kept millions of jobs operational in the darkness of economic depression. These were paid for with taxpayer dollars, and fiercely opposed at the time. Many were worried that the car companies would become a permanent drain on public funds. Luckily that did not occur and General Motors eventually returned to profitability in 2012.

Thanks Obama, for supporting the rights of the oppressed, particularly in the LGBT+ community. During Obama’s administration, the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy was repealed, allowing gays, lesbians and bisexuals to serve openly in the military. Additionally, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act expanded hate crime law to extend to crimes motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and disabilities. To be fair, most of the legal action was done in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Indeed the Matthew Shepard Act was initially proposed back in 2001 by Representative John Conyers, and reintroduced many other times over the years. The legal and public support of the President is an important factor though: the Shepard act failed in 2007 largely because of insistence from the White House that it was unnecessary, and the threat of President Bush vetoing the bill.

Thanks Obama, for making the Paris Agreement on climate change possible. During the Paris Agreement, 195 nations committed themselves to lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, 195 Luxembourgs could not slow down climate change. One of the crucial factors making this worthwhile was a stringent set of climate change policies in the United States designed to cut down the use of coal-fired power plants. These policies were of course enacted by Barack Obama. It takes two to tango: Chinese President Xi Jinping was also pursuing domestic coal-cutting policies due to criticism in China over air pollution. With the world’s most prolific polluters on board, global consensus on climate change entered the realm of possibility. According to the UN Secretary General of the time, Ban Ki-moon “For the first time, we have a truly universal agreement on climate change, one of the most crucial problems on earth.”

Thanks Obama, for restoring US-Cuba and US-Iran diplomacy. Obviously these countries do not have the most savory regimes. But as Obama said all the way back in 2007, “The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them … is ridiculous.” Obama recognized that diplomacy is not a sign of weakness or submission. It is unclear that the Iranian government will continue avoiding the development of nuclear weapons, or that America will avoid laying down sanctions of Iran. What is clear is that Iran’s “breakout time” to construct a nuclear weapon extended from a few months to an entire year.

Thanks Obama, for improving health insurance for millions of Americans with through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly called Obamacare. Getting it passed required moving heaven, earth and least mobile of all the Senate. The deployment and assistance to those with existing health care insurance were also botched. A sage journalistic idiom states that “If it bleeds it leads”: we have spent years upon years hearing of Obamacare’s failures. Yet it is important to note the benefits it has brought as well. From 2010 to 2013, there were 1.3 million fewer patient-related incidents in hospitals and tens of thousands fewer deaths compared to the previous three years. The Affordable Care Act heavily improved the cooperation between hospitals and healthcare coverage for patients that made this possible.

Thanks Obama, for eliminating one of the great threats to world peace: the head of Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden. Obama’s contributions to the War on Terror were some of the most controversial aspects of his foreign policy. Obama had unparalleled power to assassinate anyone on the planet with his administration’s massive drone fleet and stealthy Navy SEALs. Under his command, the US Government curtailed freedoms, gathered vast amounts of personal information and broke international laws in their hunt for terrorists. Obama’s (fulfilled) promise to get American troops out of Iraq had major public support in 2011, but set the stage for ISIL to capture large swathes of land, enslave local populations, and kill people in droves. That said, the chances of getting Bin Laden into a proper trial were approximately nil. Furthermore, could you imagine a world where Bin Laden and ISIL coexisted, supporting each other’s massacres, and commenting on each other’s ideologies? There have been, and will be, many terrible downsides of this hunt for terrorists, but the death of one Osama Bin Laden is not one of them.

There is no way to really do eight years of politics justice in a single article. Much of the good and the bad been left out of this article. There are many promises unkept, many backfired policies, and many initiatives that only partially completed. Entire books have been written about each of the issues in this article. Like the Presidents before him, Obama will eventually have an entire library in his name (assuming, of course, we survive long enough to see it built). Perhaps most importantly, Obama’s failure to secure bipartisan agreements threaten to wreck his legacy: with Republicans holding the House, the Senate and the Presidency large sections of Obama’s legacy may be teared down in coming years.

There is one other thing to thank Obama for beyond the nitty-gritty of politics. There is the question of temperament. Obama has always been cool in the face of adversity. His critics would say he was cold in cutting down his enemies. After a campaign spreading hope for a bright future, Obama spent 8 years watching the hopes and future of his nation filibustered, blocked, corrupted, critiqued and thrown in the garbage. Obama took it all in his stride, never quitting, never falling into vulgarity and only rarely resorting to childish insults. It is something the world took for granted. Yet as we spend the next few years listening to the bellicose rhetoric of Obama’s successor, we may start to miss Obama’s personality as well as his policy.
He wasn’t perfect. How can a mere human be, with a hostile world to attend to? Despite massive barriers he still managed to get some things done. He created a few problems, but only in service of solving the ones of his day. Thanks Obama. I hope you can at long last stretch your legs, trade your suits for T-shirts, and take a long vacation.