Obama Farewell: A reflection on a presidency, feature by Copy Editor Roman Jones

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Photo by White House Photographer: Peter Souza

Photo by White House Photographer: Peter Souza

Three weeks ago, former President Barack Obama gave his farewell address to the nation. He delivered his address from his home city of Chicago, where his political career and subsequent journey to becoming the 44th President of the United States began. Early during the speech, the crowd began chanting “Four more years” and interrupted him. Mr. Obama laughed and with a smile responded, “I can’t do that,” and continued his speech.

The overall tone of the speech was layered with a range of topics, ideas, and emotions from the former commander-in-chief. Throughout the address, Obama reaffirmed the tremendous power of democracy and its ability to move citizens ever forward toward a more perfect union. The beginning of the speech aptly came off as a summary of Obama’s greatest hits, listing the many accomplishments America has achieved under his administration over the past eight years.

The first of these included reversing a great recession. When he took office in 2009, America was in “economic freefall” with the unemployment rate at 10 percent. Today the rate is 4.7 percent due in large part to the 82 consecutive months of private sector job growth. This means America experienced straight, uninterrupted employment expansion for roughly six and a half years out of an eight year presidency. Obama himself noted in his speech that this was “the longest stretch of job creation in our history.”

He then cited other successes which included rebooting the auto industry and beginning a “new chapter with the Cuban people.” Obama also cited his administration’s triumph at taking on Iran’s nuclear program, establishing marriage equality, securing the right to health insurance for 20 million Americans, and catching and eliminating Osama Bin Laden, “the mastermind of 9/11.”

Under former President Obama, the high school graduation rate in the country hit 83 percent, the highest it has ever been in the history of this country according to report by Rachel Maddow of MSNBC. Under Obama, America experienced the first drop in the federal prison population in 34 years according to an NBC news report by Lisa Riordan Seville. Also under Obama’s presidency, two female Supreme Court justices were instated, one of whom, Sonia Sotomayer, is the first hispanic Supreme Court justice to ever be appointed.

While Obama was in office, America was served by the most diverse cabinet that has ever been established in American history. Also, the country’s dependence on foreign oil decreased substantially and veteran homelessness went down by 47 percent since 2010 according to a VA news release in August last year.

While in office, Obama issued various executive orders to tackle a range of issues, such as LGBT job discrimination, mental health reform, the use of torture to gather intelligence, and credit card companies raising interest rates without notifying consumers. Due to these executive orders, today employers can no longer legally fire or reject workers based on their sexual orientation. More money has been added to programs designed to advance health care for veterans, service members, and military families. Credit card companies can no longer raise rates without notifying consumers. Also, the use of torture by intelligence agencies has been banned in all circumstances.

Some of President Obama’s executive orders were deemed controversial. Many viewed that Obama was deliberately maneuvering around Congress in order to by-pass Republicans and force legislation into law.

Under Obama, military combat positions became open to women, restrictions on scientific stem cell research were overturned, the national deficit shrank from 9.8 percent of GDP to 3.2 percent in 2016, and today Americans cannot be denied health insurance due to a preexisting condition. Also under Obama, Syria lost its entire chemical weapons arsenal. Today Syria is still unstable as a country, but its government is no longer attacking enemies with chemical weapons.

Obama took some time to recognize the country’s gains while also acknowledging areas where America can still improve. The country has many challenges to overcome going forward. One of these is the national debt which under the Obama administration is estimated to have been raised by $983 billion or even $9 trillion depending on the source.

However, this did not overshadow the main points of the speech or cause a loss of focus on the more important message. The address was first and foremost a farewell to the American people, but it simultaneously functioned as a message of hope that the future of America is brighter than it was before. Obama went as far as to state, “By almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.” The message of hope has been the lynchpin and tagline of Barack Obama from the very beginning of his campaign and has maintained its prominence throughout the course of his presidency. America’s first black president had a 57 percent approval rating as he left office. It’s indicative of a job well done by the now former POTUS. He will be missed.

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