It might be strange to be talking about the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections when we just concluded what has to be considered a chaotic 2016 election, but now there’s been talk about how–as Van Jones of CNN would phrase it–the election of Donald Trump is a “whitelash” against a black president. While this might be the case, I sincerely believe Obama will not go down in the history books as the incumbent that allowed for a Trump presidency. He seriously denies his role in the Democrats’ loss and I think with fair points. He will, and should, go down as one of the most inspiring presidents to hold office.
After the unpopular George Bush presidency of 2000-2008, history might be rewritten to undermine Obama’s spectacular rise to fame in the 2008 general election. However, in order to secure the nomination from the Democratic party he had to beat out political front-runner and elite favorite, Hillary Clinton. After witnessing Clinton lose to the closest thing to a buffoon as the American political system has mustered up on the presidential ballot, this task might not seem so difficult for the confident and passionate Barack Obama. In a familiar narrative, Clinton led the polls for most of 2007–by as much as 30 points at times–only to lose crucial Iowa caucuses at the start of what must have foreshadowed a hard-fought primary. Whereas Clinton constantly reassured her supporters with her political experience, Obama realized Democratic voters wanted change from subdued personalities the likes of John Kerry and Al Gore. He was an outsider who somehow raised $265 million dollars over the internet for his campaign against Hillary. He beat out Republican Alan Keyes for a vacated U.S. Senate seat in 2004 by the largest margin of victory ever recorded. It’s no surprise why Obama caught the Democratic party by storm and why his nomination got Democrats excited against their latest opponent in John McCain. By undergoing an innovative brand of campaigning which successfully tapped into the millennials’ preferred mode of communication over Reddit and mustering up more resources for his campaign than John McCain, Obama would go on to beat the Republican candidate in the electoral college to finish his unprecedented run for president in 2008.
Like how the senate, house of representatives, and the presidency went to the Republican party in 2016, perhaps the effect of Obama led Democrats to secure this desired majority at the federal level as well after the 2008 election. In the two years Obama held this majority, his message of “change we can believe in” rang hollow to me. Yes, I was actually in support of McCain in 2008, although I was too young to vote or understand how poorly George Bush handled the American economy and the war on terror in the Middle East. I was also too young to fully appreciate the ramifications of the Affordable Care Act when it passed in the March of 2010. What I was fixated on at the time was the BP oil spill in 2010. I was sure legislation would enact change to strengthen regulation on oil companies. But instead, his administration opened new areas off of the southeast Atlantic Coast to drilling. And this would be a reoccurring theme in regards to gun regulations after mass shootings, such as the First Fort Hood shooting in November 5th, 2009.
I would remember my disappointment in the Obama administration come 2012 when it came to the Obama-Romney election. I chalked up Obama to be just another politician and Romney to be a rich business man incapable of understanding the struggles of the average American person, so I didn’t end up going to the polls that year. I was pretty disappointed with the American political system, as many did in 2016 to perhaps a more extreme extent. And while I made no impact on the outcome of the first election I could have participated in, I can say in hindsight that I’m glad Obama won that election too.
In Obama’s second term, he faced all-time low approval ratings in 2014 hovering around 38%. Facing opposition in Congress, it seemed like there wasn’t much Obama could do to avoid being a lame duck incumbent. Then came the Paris agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 196 countries. Then came the Iran nuclear deal to block Iran’s pathway to nuclear weapons. And on a tangential note that does not address my concerns of his first term but is certainly worth noting, the Supreme Court also recognized same-sex marriage as a fundamental human right. Although one could point to the awful candidates put forth by the Democratic party and Republican party this year to explain Obama’s increasing approval ratings, I believe it is his actions and influence which got him to surge to 53% according to Gallup polling in his second term. What I learned about Obama over the course of eight years is his conviction to fight back against all the odds. He was an underdog in his uphill battle against Hillary Clinton for the 2008 Democratic party nomination. He was under immense pressure to fight against opposition in Congress in order to push his agenda in his second term. And even as the Democratic party forced one of the most historically unpopular politicians in Hillary Clinton down the American people’s throats, Obama arguably campaigned for her as vigorously as any incumbent has done so in the past.
Despite his popularity with the American people, his party’s nominee in Hillary Clinton would go on to be on the wrong end of another election stunner. But just how personally should Barack Obama take this loss? Is the Democrats’ ever receding, and eventually exhausted, lead on election days a direct consequence of Obama’s actions? Is the seven million votes that Clinton lost as the Democratic candidate the fault of an inadequate Obama administration?
Only time will tell what is remembered of Obama’s presidency. However, Obama as America’s president doesn’t fully paint the picture of the man I see in Barack Obama. And to understand why I am so personally proud to call him my president goes back to a fiery speech he made at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts. He starts out by introducing himself as an unlikely half-black man to stand on stage…
My parents shared not only an improbable love. They shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. I stand here knowing, that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that no other country on Earth is my story possible.
And it isn’t just his story that we can relate with. He truly grasps what America stands for…
Now, even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us. The spin-masters, the negative ad peddlers, who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight: there is no liberal America and a conservative America, there is the United States of America. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in the library in the red states. We coach little league in the blue states, and yes, we got some gay friends in the red states. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and the stripes. All of us defending the United States of America.
Like many of us, we are enamored and seduced to the eloquence of great speakers, but this was not just some words penned to some piece of paper read out-loud. This was a genuine expression of Obama’s gratitude for an opportunity that seems impossible even in hindsight. Single-mother family. Middle-worker son who goes to Harvard. “The hope of a skinny kid with a funny name that America has a place for him too.” Whatever happens to Obama’s legacy, I hope nobody forgets his remarkable story. I will always be proud to call him my president.