President Barack Obama’s second term is winding to a close, leading Americans of all stripes to consider how history will interpret his legacy.
Once a junior senator from Illinois, Obama made history by defeating Republican nominee Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to become the first African American to hold the presidency. The 44th president ran his historic 2008 campaign by attempting to inject a “yes we can” spirit and an optimistic vision for the future into the hearts and minds of Americans.
Some may not like his policies, but say the president was scandal free.
“I think his lack of scandals will be remembered greatly after this next presidency,” said high school student Eli Mehring, 17. He was making reference to the email server scandal and sexual behavior allegations that have dogged either the Democratic or Republican nominees.
Mehring, an opponent of Obama attending Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., said that while Obama’s public image is clean, he said he doesn’t think that Obama will be remembered as a president who signed effective policies into law.
“His worst [policy] is the Iran Nuclear Deal,” Mehring said. “I have not heard a good policy [Obama has enacted]. He will be remembered for being inefficient and ineffective.”
The United States and a select number of its allies implemented the deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran in an effort to reduce and restructure the nation’s nuclear weapons program to meet certain specifications and safety regulations.
Mixed reactions to Obama’s policies are to be expected, said Washington, D.C., resident Vernon Carter, an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service. Calling himself “politically moderate,” Carter cited the Affordable Care Act as Obama’s biggest accomplishment while he was in office, but also his most risky and controversial policy.
“He will be remembered as someone who tried to do the right thing,” Carter said. One of the first things he tried to do was the Affordable Care Act. He tried to provide health care for a lot of people who would not have gotten it or been able to get it. Unfortunately some people were adversely impacted by [the Affordable Care Act] because their coverage did increase. In that respect there were some downsides to the policy, but with anything, somebody ends up paying for it.”
Others think the lens through which people view the president depends on his successor.
“How Obama will be remembered depends a lot on who wins the presidency next and the way the country goes,” said Dianna Ritchie, a Northern Virginia resident who recently moved back to the United States after traveling and living abroad.
“If we go in kind of a Trump, far-right way, I think there will be some nostalgia for President Obama especially among the liberals. I think if we see more Clinton and more of the status quo, then we’ll be frustrated, but we will see Obama as being a better alternative to what we will have with Hillary.”
John A. Farrell is an award-winning author and journalist. A contributing editor at Politico Magazine, Farrell is a former White House correspondent for The Boston Globe and a former Washington bureau chief and columnist for The Denver Post. His latest book, “Richard Nixon: The Life” is planned to release in 2017.
Like Ritchie, Farrell said that Obama’s legacy depends on whether Clinton or Trump is victorious on Tuesday night.
“If the Obama coalition hangs together and elects his former secretary of state, he will look like a strong political leader whose actions were ratified by the American people in the next election,” Farrell said. If Trump wins, there will be more of a focus on how the forces of reaction were too strong, and whether Obama and his followers did enough to ward off a Trump victory.”
Farrell said that Obama’s biggest failure during his presidency was failing to unite Americans despite opportunity to do so.
“It was his calling card – no red American, no blue America – and his message failed,” Farrell said. “If he had spent time in the deep red states in his first term, explaining what he was doing and involving folks in a national cause … he might have been in a stronger political position when he needed votes in the Senate to regulate guns after the Connecticut school massacre.”
According to an August Rasmussen Reports poll, 72 percent of likely voters believe that the United States is a more divided nation than it was at the end of Obama’s first term.
As the final chapters close on the Obama presidency, history will be the judge.
With President Obama leaving office soon, we put together a timeline of key moments from his eight years in office. Special thanks to Somadjinn of Deviantart for the background image.