A Nation Together: The Obama Years

2009-2011 Great Recession

Barack Obama’s two terms as president may have had many shortcomings but there is no doubt he left a record of significant and unprecedented accomplishments that will secure his legacy as the leader of the most powerful country in the world.

In the midst of what would become known as the Great Recession (the economy his predecessor left him in 2009 was a disaster), hundreds of thousands of jobs were being lost each month as the global markets were on the verge of meltdown. At the same time, the United States was engaged in two costly and seemingly never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The new president immediately responded to the crisis through an economic stimulus package and followed that by rescuing the auto industry and 3 million General Motors and Chrysler jobs with it.

In July 2010, Obama signed the most significant reform on Wall Street since the Great Depression known as The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. According to Investopedia, Dodd-Frank set up a council that "monitors the financial stability of major firms whose failure could have a major negative impact on the economy (companies deemed "too big to fail").” The act is intended to prevent another recession.

Today the auto industry is in resurgence from previous bankruptcy. According to David Kiley of Forbes, "Besides the job recovery in the auto industry, GM and Chrysler have paid back their obligations to the U.S. Treasury. Both companies, plus Ford Motor Co. which did not go through bankruptcy, are thriving today – having restructured health care and pension obligations and closed brands and factories they did not need."

The stock market has also done very well under Obama. In fact, he will end tenure with the third best record since 1900.  According to Jeff Sommer of the New York Times, "The market under President Obama has risen 11.8 percent, on an annualized basis, without dividends. That compares with 25.5 percent for President Calvin Coolidge and 15.9 percent for President Bill Clinton. It exceeds the Dow’s performance for everyone else."

Healthcare 2009

Obama’s signature domestic achievement is health care reform under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). For nearly 100 years, progressives like Theodore Roosevelt sought to solve the effect that the industrial revolution had on health of the people. The economy has always required maximum production and the chance of injury and disease on workers is inevitable.

Although there is a third-party system where most people received health care through their employers, millions were underinsured, left out because of high cost, or discriminated against because of pre-existing conditions. The Affordable Care Act, among other things, made it easier for people to purchase a health care plan and prohibited punishing buyers with conditions they could not change.

Ironically, the Republicans’ attempt to dub “Obamacare” as a big brother handout backfired and the benefits of the act became synonymous with the president who signed it. Today, 20 million more Americans have quality health insurance, bringing the uninsured rate to an all-time low according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Although the act still needs improvements, implementing the first platform for consumers to find affordable health care was a major achievement of the Obama administration, considering that predecessors like FDR and Harry Truman, even with majorities in Congress, had previously failed.        

Foreign Policy- Draw down in Iraq and Afghanistan

Osama Bin Laden

Obama in many ways reaffirmed America’s leadership in the world by actively engaging in foreign affairs. The longstanding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan under the Bush administration demonstrated the limits of U.S military capability and allowed Obama to try forgotten alternatives like diplomacy and alliances, and to focus on specific targets without committing large numbers of troops.

In 2011, he ended U.S involvement in Iraq, demanding the Iraqis form an inclusive government to prevent the rise of groups like al-Qaida. He did the same with Afghanistan's new government and the Taliban. The same year, Obama ordered Operation Neptune Spear in which a handful of Navy Seals raided a compound in Abbottobad, Pakistan to capture Osama Bin Laden, the head of al-Qaida. The operation turned into a firefight in which Bin Laden was killed.

Peter Baker of The New York Times argued, "Bin Laden’s demise is a defining moment in the American-led fight against terrorism, a symbolic stroke affirming the relentlessness of the pursuit of those who attacked New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001."

The U.S remains active in Iraq and now Syria by pushing a coalition of neighboring allies to eliminate sectarian threats like ISIS without the cost to American soldiers.

Foreign Policy achievement - Iran Deal

Obama's most significant accomplishment in the Middle East was preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons through means of diplomacy. In a coalition with permanent members of the United Nations, the U.S helped put in place crippling sanctions on Iran's economy bringing them to the table to negotiate a deal. This resulted in the dismantlement of Iran's attempt to develop nuclear weapons at the cost of uplifting these sanctions from major western countries and frequent trading partners like Russia and China. Under President Obama it was in Iran's economic interest to avoid an arms race and reform its regional conflicts without firing a single bullet.

There is no doubt the Obama years experienced domestic failures, including gun reform, cyber security and foreign policy, like regime change in Libya. However, by most metrics, America’s economy and position in the world is stronger than it was eight years ago and is well situated for the challenges of the 21st century.