Obama was the most recent guest on Jerry Seinfeld’s peculiar show “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”. During the show, Obama takes up a more playful demeanor, claiming that he is popular with the age zero to eight demographic as “They love me partly because they think my ears are big and so I look a little like a cartoon character… And then little kids love saying my name, but it’s all one big name. It’s Barack-Obama”. The White House’s official photographer has also recently released a collection of more intimate and candid “behind the scenes” pictures that have been floating around many news sites including pictures of Obama hosting a Halloween party for the children of White House staffers, playing with his daughters and a relatives infant, and casually socializing with other political leaders.
All of this can make it seem as if Obama has already become a novel relic of the past rather than a still relevant political figure. Even if the media is “jumping the gun”, Obama is on his way out of office and seems to be quite comfortable with this fact as of late. It would be very difficult for him to get anything politically substantial done at this late stage – and this is all the more true so close to a major election, as bipartisan work for candidates on either side can be politically toxic – as is evidenced by Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul insulting fellow candidate Chris Christie by calling him an “Obama hugger”. Soon, political analysts and pundits on both the right and the left may begin looking at the Obama administration in a more objective light rather than simple trashing or overtly praising him as a matter of political expediency. What has Obama done in office?
According to Politifact’s Obama-meter, which tracks how the president has kept up with campaign promises, of his top 25 promises: eight have been kept, five broken, seven compromised, four are “in the works” and one is stalled. Yet since this does very little in showing how the Obama administration’s legacy will be remembered, let us take a look at three major aspects of his two-term presidency.
Domestic Social Policy: Undoubtedly the most important aspect of his presidency when it comes to domestic policy has been the passing of the Patient’s Protection and Affordable Care Act – or as it has been dubbed in the media and everyday people, Obamacare. This act is a complete overhaul of the American medical system that aims to keep down the cost of healthcare, provide financial support for those who cannot afford health coverage normally, protect patients with pre-existing conditions and provide health insurance “markets” meant to propagate competition amongst insurance agencies. This particular act is by far the most politically divisive act of the administration – virtually all Republican candidates have promised to repeal Obamacare and it is already being heralded as a failure by the political right. The long term success or failure of this bill is incredibly important to the right and left as the Republican party had virtually nothing to do with the crafting of the bill – meaning that the potential success and popularity of Obamacare could greatly harm Republicans while its failure could tarnish the American people’s trust for Democrats. Yet, there is the possibility that the bill may be repealed by Republicans before either long-term success or failure could come through to fruition.
The Economy: The American economy has improved since Obama’s first days in office post 2008. Yet, it is not so easy to attribute this success to his actual policies. The market is not driven primarily by public policy, but by the actions of the private sector – it may very well be that the economy has naturally been cycling back towards economic growth independent of the administration’s policies. Conservative commentators even argue that Obama’s policies may be hindering the market from achieving its maximum potential growth. There is undoubtedly some evidence for this – post 2008 economics are confusing times and it seems as if the market is going to do what it “wills”. Obama followed in the footsteps of the Bush administrations by granting more bailouts, which conservative pundits have claimed would lead to crippling debt and massive inflation, none of which have happened so far. Yet, on the other side of the fence, Democrats and the political left claimed that the sequester, massive cuts in government expenditure, would greatly hurt economic growth – yet, after the sequester growth picked up. All in all, it may take years to disentangle the economic effects of the Obama administration.
Foreign Policy: Obama’s foreign policy is incredibly different from his predecessor. The left claims his foreign policy is more cautious, mature and pragmatic while the right claims he is weak and unsure on foreign policy. The administration has seemingly flip-flopped at many points: the administration seemed to support Mubarak in Egypt until the last days of the massive protests. Then they claimed to support the first democratically-elected leader of Egypt, Morsi, until the military coup that displaced him at which point the White House implicitly granted its support to General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. In a similar manner, Obama claimed that he would not get involved in Libya which he did. The administration also claimed that the “red-line” (for getting involved in the Syrian civil war) would be Assad using chemical weapons, which Assad did, and Obama abstained from jumping into the fray. Perhaps what most conservatives point to as one of his largest foreign policy blunders would be pulling out of Iraq too early, which they claim led to the subsequent disintegration of the nation into three de-facto states and granted a hot-bed for the proliferation of Islamic extremism. The administration claims that its foreign policy positions are more versatile and that they adjust to the situational demands of the times while the right claims the administration simply lacks a clear agenda for foreign policy. Knowing the actual impulse behind Obama’s decisions on foreign policy won’t likely become clear until after many years he has been out of office.
Essentially, when it comes to the success or failure of the Obama legacy there is still a great deal of analysis to be done. As he steps out of office, politicians and academics may look back at his administration in a more objective light. But for now, his work as president is still portrayed in a polarized way.
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