Lehrer: The Obama era and its looming legacy for America

For someone who others allege is not a United States citizen, President Barack Obama has definitely left his mark in American history. When evaluating any presidency, it is best to wait for his tenure to be over before hypothesizing it. However I believe it is important to offer insight before the primaries begin for the 2016 elections.

No president, even after eight years in office, can be expected to fix it all. And to be honest, the skeptics were, and in many ways are still, dead wrong. Obama’s successes have proven to have invalidated many predictions of his Republican opponents. The economy is indeed doing quite well (by which I mean much better) by most measures when compared to his ascension to office.

This is due in large part to his economic stimulus policies in light of the Great Recession. The unemployment rate went from a soaring 7.8 percent in January of 2009 to the current 5.0 percent as of the most recent statistics. This was primarily done through the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Around 17 million Americans have gained health insurance coverage by way of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, or “Obamacare.” Along that note, the uninsured rate for adults 18 and over has dropped from 18.0 percent in 2013 to 11.9 percent in most recent findings since the legislation’s key implementation phases. On domestic policy, it is hard to say that Obama has not helped the common American have the proper resources to rise up the ladder of achievement.

On foreign policy, Obama has had his fair share of international affairs to deal with. Some scholars have already theorized the Obama Doctrine, accepted as emphasizing negotiation and collaboration before direct force and unilateralism in conductance of international affairs. Some see him as too weak on the foreign policy front, while others propose that he was too aggressive in certain domains.

Under his administration, the Arab Spring took hold of the Middle East, and several countries saw democracy for the first time in their histories; Obama did his best to facilitate this, and ensured during instances, especially in Libya, the protection of many innocent civilians from missile strikes.

The conflicts we were involved in during President George W. Bush’s tenure have remained difficult to mitigate. When pulling out tens of thousands of U.S. troops from Iraq by 2011, we left an unstable country with extremist factions still lurking in the corners. Our nation was tired of meddling in the geopolitics of the Middle East, and participating in a war that many considered futile and wasteful.

However the combination of decreasing our presence in Iraq and lack of support during the Syrian civil war which started in late 2012, proved to some that the United States simply were pursuant of their own self-interests, and it is speculated that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) found its basis there. Our weariness to take action in especially Syria, where the government doused the innocent people with chemical warfare, particularly enraged the international community, who has in the past looked toward the U.S. to prevent such atrocities, or at least intervene in its aftermath.

Obama succeeded in negotiating a deal with Iran so as to prevent them from developing nuclear weapon capacity. Because of this, and the inability to predict the future of the War on Terror, I feel that Obama’s foreign policies will be the most scrutinized; we cannot yet see from a historical lens how he did in this realm.

Unfortunately, after 2010, Obama has struggled to formulate alliances across the aisle and bridge the brinkmanship between Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Congress. But if anything, I think Obama will be shown to have left a substantial mark on social policy. Under his administration, great leaps forward for the LGBT community have been made, including the signing of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 and the milestone U.S. Supreme Court decision this past summer delivered in Obergefell v. Hodges, which declared it a national right for same-sex couples to legally marry.

His support for progress under a particular policy hood has been manifested by activism and lack thereof. For example, his administration refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in the United States v. Windsor court case of 2013, which was subsequently repealed by the Supreme Court and served as a vital precedent to the aforementioned case of Obergefell v. Hodges.

To claim Obama has not tried his hardest on criminal justice, immigration and common sense gun reform efforts would be false. The executive branch can only do so much and cannot directly change everything about our country. We have three branches of government for a reason, and the drafters of the U.S. Constitution did this purposefully. We cannot expect any president, including Obama, to have fixed anything and everything at our beckoning call. In fact, I believe that Obama’s greatest legacy will be defined as spurring momentum on these fronts, particularly after recently releasing thousands of federal prisoners and seeking to help them reintegrate by incorporating the Ban the Box movement’s suggested changes to job applications for most federal employment agencies.

In determining who we wish to support for the 2016 election, we should practice due diligence in analyzing Obama’s record. Do we want to move forward on some of his initiatives and successes, or maintain the status quo? Can we facilitate further progress without retracting all of what he worked to get done during his presidency?

We shall wait to see I guess.

Josh Lehrer is a fourth-year student graduating this Spring. He loves following up on the latest developments in policy-making and current events.