Race relations, economic recovery dominate Obama’s domestic policy legacy

U.S. President Barack Obama will leave office without having implemented new gun control measures and with Americans saying that race relations are getting worse, but the 44th president can take pride in bringing the U.S. back from financial ruins, providing healthcare to millions and seeing the nation enact same-sex marriage as law, analysts say.

NORTH CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA, UNITED STATES (FEIDIN SANTANA) – When Barack Obama became the first African-American to win the White House, his victory in 2008 was a turning point in America’s tumultuous history of race relations and it set high expectations for progress yet to come.

Nearly eight years later, Americans say the legacy of Obama’s presidency looks decidedly mixed.

To some, the tone of the President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign and victory, as well as a recent series of racially charged shootings involving police, show that the United States has come no closer to overcoming its history of racial strife.

Having a black president, two attorneys general and a chief of homeland security has not resulted in basic fairness for victims of racially charged violence African-Americans, a recent survey on race relations by Pew Research Center found.

“The view on race relations have become increasingly negative and they are far more negative now than they’ve been for much of the past decade or so. And, when Barack Obama first came into office — so, a couple of months after his inauguration — the sense that race relations were generally good was at one of its highest points in, you know, recent years. And what we’ve seen over the last–, especially over the last couple of years is that views have become increasingly negative,” said Juliana Horowitz, the Associate Director of Research at the Pew Research Center.

Some critics of the current president cite persistently high childhood poverty among African-Americans and say Obama could have acted more directly while in office to help African-Americans.

Others believe Obama showed leadership on race by making it a central topic of the national political dialogue.

“You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” Obama said in 2012, in particularly poignant remarks following the shooting of Trayvon Martin, a black youth gunned down by a white Hispanic man.

As well, Obama devoted much of his presidency toward the enactment of gun reform laws to curb gun violence, especially mass shootings. The effect of those measures have largely been ineffective, as shootings of America’s streets continue apace.

Obama has often said his most difficult moment in office was grappling with the December 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

After that tragedy, the Democratic president failed to persuade Congress to toughen U.S. gun laws. Obama has blamed lawmakers for being in the thrall of the powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby group.

“Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response, here at this podium, ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it: we have become numb to this. We talked about this after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston. It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun,” Obama said after the shooting deaths of nine people at a community college in Oregon.

In January 2016, Obama issued new executive actions to tighten gun rules after being stymied by Congress’ inaction on gun control. Obama asked his advisers to examine new ways to use his executive authority to tighten gun rules unilaterally without congressional approval. Obama ignited a political firestorm by bypassing Congress with the measures, causing Republicans to say he misused his powers.

Starting from the first days of his presidency, Obama faced an economic crisis — started by massive defaults in the housing market — that threatened the plunge the nation into deep recession or, worse, depression.

“I think the greatest achievement of President Obama was to get us out of the really deep hole that he inherited in the Great Recession and trying to ensure that will never happen again by getting Dodd-Frank bank reform,” said Lawrence Mishel, the president of the Economic Policy Institute think tank.

In early 2009, unemployment hit 10.3 percent. It is now down to 5 percent. And, presently, the stock market is near all-time highs with corporate profits shattering records. The problem is that while many economists praise Obama’s economic might, many Americans have not felt the benefits of the economic upturn.

Between 2010 and 2013, as the economic recovery took hold and stock markets soared, the average net worth of families in the top 40 percent of income earners grew. For all others, particularly those in the middle and lower-middle income levels, average net worth shrank.

“It is certainly true that we still have enormous inequality and wage stagnation is still with us and it is the pre-eminent economic challenge for whoever takes office next January,” Mishel said.

Mishel and many economists say the impact of the Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act, on the recovery cannot be discounted.

During Obama’s presidency, the number of American’s without health insurance hit historic lows with as many of 20 million previously uninsured people having access to the health care for the first time.

Yet, the Affordable Care Act — or Obamacare, as it’s popularly known — remain a deeply divisive social program with nearly half of Americans opposing it. Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress are vowing to repeal it.

The program requires uninsured Americans to purchase a health plan from state-run insurance marketplaces but because one assumption of the new law never came to fruition — that the young and healthy would purchase insurance alongside the elderly and ill — the cost of insurance premiums under Obamacare have increased sharply. Nearly 41 percent of Americans want to scale back the law or repeal it all together, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Another benchmark of Obama’s presidency has been his defense of LGBT rights, including gay marriage.

While Obama started his first term opposed to gay marriage, by the time of his re-election in 2012 his thinking had evolved.

In the battle over transgender rights, he asked all U.S. public schools to allow all students to use the bathroom of their choice, a non-binding directive that conservatives have vowed to resist.

His administration has also sued North Carolina, saying limits on bathroom access are a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But state lawmakers say the law, which limits people to using the bathroom of their gender at birth, protects women and girls from predators. Eleven other states are suing the administration for an overreach of power on the issue.

On June 24, Obama designated the historic site of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City as a national monument.

Political analysts say Trump’s victory is likely to have a negative impact on Obama’s legacy. Obama’s aides have reportedly said that for his legacy to be ingrained in American society the next president would have to continue to push the policy and platforms that the nation’s first African-American president started.


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