President Obama’s legacy is famous slogans such as, “Yes We Can”, “Change We Can Believe In” and “Hope” which have now been backed by policies, leaving just one unanswered question: what are the next milestones for democrats? During his campaign for the 2008 election, Obama made a lot of general statements about the conditions that should be improved in America and morals that should be followed, yet his policy details were nebulous at best. In making bold yet vague statements, Obama allowed the opportunity for his followers to believe anything and everything was possible. Although Obama made limited commitments, people believed him to be a champion of equality, freedom and peace. He even won the Nobel Peace Prize early on in his first term in 2009 prior to making any significant foreign policies, in the hopes that he would bring peace. Obama is coming to the last year and half of his second term and the Supreme Court this week has secured his legacy to be Obamacare and, equally important but to a lesser degree, his doing is Marriage Equality.
The 2008 book, Change We Can Believe In, Barack Obama’s Plan to Renew America’s Promise, copyright to Barack Obama for America, listed the following (and more) policies of an Obama presidency:
- Strengthening the economy
- Tax Reform
- Strengthening Social Security
- Credit card reform
- Health care reform
- College affordability
- New energy policies
- Improving education (and conditions for teachers)
- Infrastructure investment
- End of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan
- Expanding diplomacy
- Taking care of our returning veterans
- Immigration reform
- Investment in a digital smart grid
Obama’s legacy includes many successes, such as the $831 million dollar American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that was a response to the Great Recession which deeply affected so many Americans. This bill injected funds to support unemployment benefits, job training, food stamps, heating subsidies, and community action agencies. It also funded veteran benefits, and supplemental Social Security, as well as investments in infrastructure, education, and health care. This bill also gave Americans more favorable tax credits during difficult years and provided home buyer and home energy credits.
Another important policy contributing to Obama’s legacy is the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 which regulates the behavior not terms of credit cards. Because of this Act, Americans have seen a lot more transparency about the credit agreements they enter into and what the terms are.
The Affordable Care Act addressed health care reform like no other president had yet achieved. Mandating that every person have healthcare and subsidizing those who could not afford it, was President Obama’s legacy and biggest contribution to America which was upheld by the Supreme Court on June 25, 2015 by a 6-3 vote.
Another major success of Obama’s presidency which will be part of his legacy, was Afghanistan. Although the troop numbers rose for a while, there was a successful transition to NATO personnel and then to Afghan forces. At the end of 2014 the last of the American troops returned to the home soil. Through the appointment of Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, with a high profile, knowledge and aptitude, America regained respect and restored ties severed previously by President Bush’s presidency.
In August 2014, President Obama signed the Veterans’ Access, Choice, and Accountability Act which more heavily funded programs and more heavily regulated the quality and access to these programs. Obama’s legacy is bolstered by his care for American veterans, yet most believe more has to be done to prevent homeless veterans and veterans who suffer without care for mental illnesses.
There have been efforts made to affect change in some policy areas, yet the results have been mixed. One important area has been college affordability and education. The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 shifted money from private financial institution subsidies to Pell Gants. However, in 2014 the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act was crushed by congress thereby committing students to the same mountains of student loan debt with the same interest rates. With regard to elementary education, several initiatives such as the Race to the Top and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Reauthorization: A Blueprint for Reform, and ConnectED have been developed and sent to congress but without being adopted as action plans. Although he tried, Obama’s legacy will not include education reform.
Immigration reform has been a key issue for Americans and non-Americans in the country and abroad, and the executive order of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) can be lauded by many as Obama’s most compassionate legacy. Both of these actions show that the president knows that some young people are here through no fault of their own, and should have every opportunity at success as their schoolmates. These actions also recognize that most immigrants are actually in America to work hard and make a better life for themselves and their families. Immigration reform is without a question, one of the next milestones for democrats that has not been fully attained, despite Obama’s legacy key actions and progressive approaches.
When it comes to funding roads, innovation, and infrastructure, Obama’s legacy is the administration-led 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), which greatly expands the 1998 Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA). MAP -21 is due to sunset in 2017, unless it is renewed.
Lastly, President Obama’s legacy will include Marriage Equality. President Obama made the important appointment of Justice Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court Justice in history. She assumed office in August of 2009 and her position on the Marriage Equality decision was imperative for its success with a 5-4 vote. President Obama’s position on marriage equality has been documented as waining. From the beginning of his campaign, LGBT advocates touted him as the strongest ally, yet while he supported the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in February of 2008, by that summer he supported the DOMA ban. In 2009, he supported civil unions yet as time went on, he moved away from the subject altogether. It may not have been entirely his doing, yet Sotomayor’s appointment and the socially liberal ruling will be two more of Obama’s legacy actions.
By no means is this list all-encompassing of Obama’s legacy and all the changes that President Obama has instituted, nor is it a full list of all the progress that have yet to be made. Although his final term in office has not yet concluded, there is only one month left in the calendar before the 114 Congress takes off for a month-long break. When the representatives return, most will be gearing up for the 2016 election. With an election mindset, there are fewer compromises, more tantrums and politicians hiding aces up their sleeves to be revealed in the following year.
President Obama’s legacy is long but for those wondering what are the next milestones for Democrats, there are many items not yet checked off the wish list. Many objectives have not been met by President Obama, and not because of a lack of effort, but rather a polarized Congress that is capricious and has lost sight of having one unified goal, which is to make life better for Americans today, than yesterday. Among the objectives that would improve the living conditions of those in America is an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 dollars per hour to something more realistic. Tax reform continues to be a subject that will require far more political will to really make a difference in the long-term life of families all across the country. Significant energy policies have yet to be adopted, as well as the development and expansion of a digital grid. President Obama’s legacy includes many triumphs, and many defeats, yet he proved that when it mattered most, he was able to champion progress.
Opinion By Olivia Uribe-Mutal
Image Courtesy of Daniel Borman’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Book – Change We Can Believe In, Barack Obama’s Plan to Renew America’s Promise
WhiteHouse.gov – Issues – Education
White House Blog – President Obama Signs Bill to Give the VA the Resources It Needs