On Friday, January 20th, Barack Obama relinquished his presidency to make way for Donald Trump’s inauguration as our nation’s 45th president. With a new president coming into the White House, it is time to reevaluate the last eight years of Obama’s presidency. Obama will obviously be remembered most for being our nation’s first African-American president. But a deeper look into his accomplishments reveals a more complicated legacy.
Presidential legacy is a difficult topic to analyze, especially in the mere days following the end of a presidential tenure. Harry Truman was thought to be a terrible president when he left office. Decades later, people began to appreciate his pivotal role in the Cold War. Conversely, John F. Kennedy was initially admired, due to his assassination. Historians are far more critical of his presidency today, questioning his few accomplishments.
Domestic policy wise, Obama will probably remembered the most for the Affordable Care Act and the Supreme Court Ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. Entitlement programs like Obamacare have been viewed favorably throughout history. Obama also bailed out the auto industry, which helped propel America out of its 2008 recession and created the longest streak of job growth in our country’s history. Obama doubled the US’s financial deficit, but if he prevented a Second Great Depression, he will be viewed as a better manager of the economy than FDR.
Obama’s foreign policy presents a mixed bag. He removed troops in Iraq too suddenly, making the situation there far worse. Afghanistan and Libya aren’t much better. And Obama’s reluctance to engage in Crimea and Syria invited increased Russian influence in those regions. The Middle East’s instability helped create a power vacuum for ISIS. His foreign policy saving grace might be the Iran nuclear deal, assuming Iran is reintegrated into our group of allies.
Most historians judge presidents not just on their record in office, but also on the performance of ensuing presidents. Reputations almost always change over time, for better or worse. Obama’s legacy will largely be determined by the decades of his post-presidency that follow, and most importantly, Trump’s presidency.