America has changed a lot since eight years ago, when Barack Obama was inaugurated as 44th President of the United States. How much of that change is down to the man in the Oval Office? We looked at a handful of Obama’s accomplishments during his two terms as President, to see what he has really achieved in the last eight years.
Obama has been such an advocate for health care reform that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which was enacted in 2010 is perhaps better known as ObamaCare. Since ObamaCare was passed, at least 10 million more Americans have signed up to affordable health insurance. Republicans made it clear they wanted to repeal and replace it in the first 100 days of Trump presidency – without giving any further details regarding a future option.
But ObamaCare isn’t the start or end of his accomplishments in health reform. In 2009, Obama passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which handed the Food and Drug Administration power to regulate the tobacco industry.
The First Lady has also had her hands full over the last eight years, taking on the challenges of childhood obesity and campaigning for public education around nutrition and healthy eating, with the Let’s Move campaign.
America’s GDP performance under Obama has been less than stellar. But commentators still applaud his work to repair the economy from the Great Recession of the late 2000s. His administration maintained a low inflation rate, cut the federal deficit by two-thirds, reduced taxes for the majority of American families and reduced unemployment by 50% since the Great Recession. In very real terms; the buying power of the average worker’s weekly paycheck is now up 4.2% from when Obama first took office.
The economy is looking good for business too; corporate profits are running 144% higher than eight years ago, and American exports have increased.
Obama has done more to fight climate change than any other President. As well as introducing the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan and negotiating the Paris climate agreement, Obama’s Energy Department has done important work to save energy and protect the environment, away from the global stage. One example is the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, which aims to “deliver large energy and water savings, monetary savings and environmental benefits.” It basically empowers Americans to do their part to protect the environment at a grass roots level.
Under his administration, Obama also increased funding for National Parks and Forests by 10% and gave the Environmental Protection Agency more power to regulate a number or chemicals and toxic materials.
With Trump and most of his administration not believing in climate change though, one can only worry about Obama’s legacy regarding the protection of the environment.
America’s military involvement in overseas conflict and crisis has declined under Obama, but it’s been a rocky road to get there.
In late 2007, before handing the reigns over to Obama, George W Bush committed to a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. Obama stood by that policy and announced a full withdrawal in December 2011. But in June 2014, troops were again dispatched to Iraq to support the Iraqi-led campaign against ISIS, and the number of American boots on the ground has continued to climb.
America’s involvement in Afghanistan has also fluctuated over the last eight years. Although he came into office promising to end America’s involvement in Afghanistan, he then ramped up the number of Americans deployed to Afghanistan, hitting a high of 100,000 troops in 2011, before pulling the numbers back down. In July 2016, Obama announced that 8,400 troops would remain in Afghanistan – 3,400 more than his previous estimate of 5,500 troops that would mostly remain in training roles.
That said, there have also been some outright wins for Obama on the military front.
In May 2011, Obama sat in the situation room as US Navy Seals raided a compound in Pakistan, killing Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda and America’s number one public enemy.
And closer to home, Obama told the military to stop getting involved in its troops’ sex lives; in 2011, he repealed the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, making it safe for gay and lesbian service personnel to come out.
Crime and Justice
Obama has commuted more prison sentences than any other President. Most of those people who had their sentences commuted were convicted on drug crimes. Forgiving sentences for historic drug offenses was one part of Obama’s mission to reduce the number of inmates in prison for drug related offenses.
He also got serious on domestic violence and sexual assault. He reauthorized and increased funding for the Violence Against Women Act, which increases protections for sexual assault victims (of both genders) and strengthens punishment for offenders. He also established the White House Council on Women and Girls and the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.
Civil rights and social justice
Obama has been criticized for not addressing race issues head on. But if you’re in any doubt of the significance of America having its first black President, take a moment to remember when the President bent down and let a five year old called Jacob feel his hair to prove to the kid that the President of the United States was in fact just like him.
As well as speaking out on America’s systemic race issues and declaring himself a feminist, Obama also made some big legislative changes to support civil rights. Gay marriage was legalized under his administration and an amendment to the Civil Rights Act (which was knocked back by the Senate in 2007) was passed, extending the statute of limitations for filing an equal pay lawsuit.
He made government more transparent and accountable, holding the first ever online town hall from the White House and taking questions from the public and streaming White House events online.
Obama also famously used his second day in office to ban the inhumane “enhanced interrogation” techniques that had been authorized by President George W Bush and that contravened international humanitarian law. How long that particular legacy will last is not certain, with President-elect Trump openly supporting interrogation techniques that contravene international law.
After seven years of negotiation, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement was finalized earlier this year, opening trade routes between twelve countries including China. He also strengthened ties with Cuba.
For his work to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. The work that earned him that award included working towards the international deal that prevented Iran from making nuclear weapons.
Obama has definitely done a lot in eight years. But how long his legacy remains is still up in the air. The President-elect has already promised to get rid of the Trans-Pacific Partnership before it’s even begun, and re-introduce a tougher (and inhumane) stance on suspected terrorists.
You can watch here Obama’s farewell address to the American people: