Is Obama’s legacy change enough?

Representing the audacity of hope to some, hopelessness to others: did the 44th United States president leave a positive legacy?

Helena Vesty
13th February 2017
Representing the audacity of hope to some, hopelessness to others: did the 44th United States president leave a positive legacy?


Comapared to Donald Trump’s administration in this new era of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘post-truth’, it is now fairly easy to look back on President Obama’s tenure with a rose-tinted view, and see a unifying, disciplined and triumphant brand of politics.

Indeed, this is the attitude largely preached across social media, not least by the countless videos and pictures of Barack and Joe’s wonderful friendship, or the contrasting pictures of the large crowds at the Obama inaugurations set beside the somewhat lacklustre version seen this January. Obviously, looking at Trump makes Obama look like a saint, but the actual benefits which the leadership of Obama brought are a testament to the successes of two terms set in the context of a broken economy and a rapidly-changing society.

It’s undeniable that Obama received a country on the brink of financial disaster, while still reeling from the failures of the Iraq War. Indeed, it was precisely because of these circumstances that his message of hope, albeit simple and innocent, resonated with so many voters of all backgrounds, across the nation. Yet even amid these difficult challenges, President Obama ensured 75 months of consecutive job creation, the longest period of its kind in American history, bringing unemployment down to an incredible 4.7%. Obama embodied the emotional depth, skill for innovation and respect for his position, required for the Presidency – characteristics which other occupiers of this most powerful position have often fallen short on.

This was most evident when reviewing his achievements in extending health care insurance through the Affordable Health Care Act. He seized the opportunity in the short, four-month window where the Democrats had the numbers (by a miniscule margin) to prevent a filibuster in the Senate and overcame immense Republican obstruction, passing legislation which enabled coverage for 16.9 million people in 18 months.

One might now say that America is now more divided than ever. However, for an all too brief, sweet moment, the pairing of Barry O and Uncle Joe clearly brought with it crucial social and economic progress for their country, which will endure long after their time in office.

Helena Vesty


Obama was, once upon a time, the Hope and Change candidate. Now he has little legacy to speak of, as all of his marginal gains over the last 8 years are swept aside by a far-right insurgency. Truthfully, only some of this eventuality is his fault, but Obama’s greatest sin is making too little use of his historic opportunity to change the American landscape.

We can only judge Obama based on how he made use of his available powers. In terms of legislation, the lacklustre Affordable Care Act goes nowhere near far enough in addressing America’s healthcare crisis - scrupulous insurers continue to extort people at their most vulnerable. He was also unable to pass comprehensive climate change and immigration legislation.

The Stimulus Package only passed because of 3 Republicans crossing the aisle. New regulations on banks were not nearly enough to stop another crisis, and did not make up for the repeal of Glass-Steagal. In effect, he passed very little important legislation, and that he did was too weak. All of his legislation can now be expected to be repealed by Trump, leaving him with eseentially no legislative legacy.

However, I can cut the man some slack here, because a total of 60 senators is needed to effectively pass legislation, and Obama only had exactly 60 Democratic senators for 4 months in his first term. It can be said though that in more autonomous issues of executive orders and foreign policy, and using his media presence, Obama was lacklustre.

Some executive orders like demanding overtime pay for middle class workers and stopping Arctic drilling make a real tangible difference to people’s lives, but many of these can be expected to be repealed, and many ended up just caught up in courts. However, Obama should have been even more aggressive in using these orders, as they amounted to a great deal of his hard power. Making two supreme court nominations is highly important, and it’s excellent that Obama was in power for this vital time. However, not being able to replace Justice Scalia because of republican majorities in Congress has been a massive blow to a progressive Supreme Court.

Obama could have saved Democratic majorities, perhaps, if he had not supported corrupt figures like Debbie Wasserman-Schultz in his party, and had instead grown the grass roots support needed for repeated victories. It was also vital for Obama to do more to stop corporate money massively corrupting the government, but he never even tried to rectify this greatest of American issues.

In foreign policy, Obama performed well with Iran and Cuba, better than any Republican would, and signed needed climate change agreements. However he supported too strongly the terrible TPP and other damaging trade deals. He unfortunately never closed Guantanamo, and only started more wars instead of ending them like he promised. On the whole, Obama has been entirely constrained by a hostile congress, but he never made use of what powers he had fully. Ultimately, Trump will wipe out any legacy he could have left, but at least, for a while, the world suffered slightly less.

Jamie Cameron

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