As Obama says his farewells and Trump prepares to invade the executive, it seems appropriate to ruminate on the outgoing President’s accomplishments and perceived shortcomings.
Facing a fiercely hostile opposition while operating in a political system characterized by a schizophrenic system of checks-and-balances, what Obama did manage to achieve should not be understated. Like the previous Democratic President, Obama entered office having to clean up a Republican mess – a seemingly perpetual occurrence that history threatens to repeat. Progressive critics of the Obama administration often forget this point. The imperfections they see, in most cases, can be chalked up to the fact that Obama has always been a pragmatic politician rather than the revolutionary figure that many had longed for, something Bernie Sanders would latch onto later. Given that premise, below is our list of Obama’s top five accomplishments.
- Affordable Care Act: This legislation effectively granted health coverage to millions of Americans, in turn saving over 50,000 lives and counting. Its passage following a prolonged era of shrinking social spending in favor of growing military allocations and tax cuts meant that it had to swim against a strong neoliberal current to get passed. Although Obamacare, as it is affectionately nicknamed, later attracted criticism both left and right, it certainly stands as the 44th President’s greatest legislative achievement.
- Recession busting: The benefits of the stimulus program should be well-known to anybody still in a home and paying a mortgage. Though never intended to address the many structural deficiencies of the global economic system, it did save America’s storied automotive industry while giving growing legions of unemployed a welcome respite from the financial havoc wreaked by the Big Bank meltdown. Six months after it’s passage, growth returned to the American economy.
- Climate change: Here the accomplishments are vast. The U.S.-China bilateral deal on emissions meant steering the globe’s top two emitters in the right direction. The Paris Agreement meant bringing the rest of the world on board. Although the courts have stalled progress in tackling power plant emissions, the Obama administration saw more success in the regulations of vehicular emissions and seeded dozens of clean-tech startups with the help of the Department of Energy. While significant declines are yet to be achieved, Obama set the table for gradual progress no matter the next administration’s policies.
- Withdrawal from Iraq: While this may not be seen as an accomplishment by many, it was a step toward righting the biggest wrong of the Bush administration. Factually speaking, the rise of ISIS cannot be blamed on a withdrawal of American troops, but rather a convoluted mix of toxic Islamist politics, civil unrest and, yes, bumbling American interventions. A continually strong military presence in Iraq was never going to help that last point, and Obama gets kudos for understanding that.
- Iranian nuclear deal: At a cursory glance, this may not seem like such a big accomplishment as many question marks swirled over the exact nature and purpose of Iranian uranium enrichment. But it will go down as one of America’s signature diplomatic achievements, while rebuking the Bush-era penchant of conducting diplomacy via naked aggression. While the shutdown of Iran’s nuclear program and expulsion of their uranium may have gone unnoticed by right-wing critics, to the intelligent observer the success of this deal should be translucent.