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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Looking backward

<ir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-085ad54f-0cf6-86f3-13e4-1447bf753e3c">It’s now been almost eight whole years since Barack Obama became President. Ordinarily it would be poor form to reflect on a sitting president’s legacy, but since we’re facing the mother of all lame duck electoral seasons, I’m fairly confident Obama’s legacy is nearly complete. So I’d like to take a few moments to silence the critics, shame the haters, and look back on a man who’s easily in my top five American presidents.

It’s always been easy to criticize politicians. In Obama’s case, that criticism comes despite the fact that he’s been responsible for no significant scandals. (“B-but Benghazi!” you might say. But a) the attacks on Benghazi were caused by a chain of systemic problems, all impossible for Obama or Hillary Clinton to control, and b) c’mon, if that’s the worst thing that can happen to a country of 350 million people in eight years, you’re pretty damn lucky).

Instead, some of his more extreme critics have turned to distortions of truth—and often simple prejudice—to attempt to bring him down. Having a black and liberal president threatens them, so they construct hypocritical, misleading, and erroneous narratives to pretend that Obama has been far less successful than he actually has. Sure, he’s made some missteps. I’ll acknowledge those. But don’t take my word for it that he’s pretty great. Let’s look at the facts.


FDR was the first president to successfully utilize radio, and Kennedy the first to use television. Now we can add that Obama is a political pioneer for the information age, employing news sites, social media, message boards, and viral marketing to spread his message. This has, naturally, made him more relatable than those politicians like George W. “The Internets” Bush or Ted “Series of Tubes” Stevens. Obama’s also proven himself to be a normal human being. He likes Star Trek, Janelle Monáe, the Beach Boys, and Toni Morrison, as well as many other niche interests that make observers realize that presidents are people too. They also have quirky, nerdy, and fun-loving sides. At a time when the public sees politicians as increasingly untrustworthy, Obama’s approachability is refreshing. He doesn’t feel wooden or disconnected from the country; he instead appears to be intimately tied to it and its modern sensibilities.

Foreign Policy

Obama’s foreign policy record, like that of most American presidents, is decidedly mixed. On one hand, he’s normalized relations with Cuba, slowed interventionism in the Americas, helped negotiate energy policy with Iran (which will not, in fact, give them nukes), advocated for energy policy reform, and built relationships in East and Southeast Asia. On the other hand, he’s carried out imperialistic and fruitless wars on terror in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, expanded drone strikes, and supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) at the cost of American labor. His legacy, like that of progressives Johnson and Wilson before him, must not ignore these disappointing events. But they can’t be the foundation of that legacy, either. No one person could change every flawed American policy—and Obama’s changed more than most. That his foreign policy isn’t entirely bad should be a blessing in itself.

Domestic Policy

In the last eight years, we’ve seen a lot here at home. And Obama’s been there for all of it. We’ve seen the legalization of gay marriage, the expansion of American health care, the nomination of two young, liberal women to the Supreme Court, the reform of the banking sector, and the return from a terrible recession. These last two points are admittedly less in Obama’s favor. For one, I still regret Obama’s response to the banking collapse. Where we could have finally had a chance to dismantle a corrupt system in desperate need of a kick in the pants, he decided to bail them out, thus reinstating the old, laissez-faire government-banker relationship. Our recovery has also been the slowest since the Great Depression, and most of our regained wealth has gone to the already wealthy. But we are coming back, and improving is always better than not improving.

It would be hard for the average American to say they were better off eight years ago. We were then in the throes of recession, in hysteria over the perceived threat of terrorism, in a far less progressive society that opposed gay rights, transgender rights, racial equality, women’s rights, and civil rights in general far more even than now. Public opinion is changing—that’s certain. Social justice is quickly becoming a topic of conversation in our country. People are becoming more sensitive to other backgrounds and identities. Equality for all people, while still a faraway dream, seems more attainable than ever. There’s no doubt in my mind that Obama, as President over a changing, increasingly progressive country, has helped steer us toward this brighter age of inclusiveness, through his policies and his personal example.

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