Presidential legacy is a tricky balance of the good, the bad and the scandalous. Should we remember former president Franklin D. Roosevelt for the New Deal without recalling his policy of Japanese internment? Should the Monica Lewinsky scandal overshadow former President Bill Clinton’s economic policy, which led to a federal budget surplus? As we near the end of President Barack Obama’s second term, the time has come to start asking similar questions.
Like any presidency, the Obama administration has seen both successes and failures. Under his guidance, the country recovered from one of the worst economic crises in history. In addition, with his nominations of Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, Obama cemented the liberal lean of the court that, in 2015, issued the decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. Additionally, Obama spearheaded the Paris Agreement, the most comprehensive and ambitious climate change legislation in history, which is set to take effect Nov. 4.
However, even with these accomplishments, there have also been several errors during his administration. Perhaps the most tragic has been the continuation of the nationwide gun violence epidemic, with repeated fruitless attempts to pass substantial legislation on the issue. The Obama presidency has also been marred by international crises, including the rapid rise of the Islamic State group and the interminability of the Syrian civil war.
Another of Obama’s most prominent shortcomings has been the failure to close Guantanamo Bay. Three months before he leaves office, he has made only marginal progress despite repeatedly pledging to accomplish this feat since 2007. Though he embarked with a vision of a stable Middle East and a cooperative international community, Obama’s legacy in this area has largely been one of consistently unsolvable issues.
Still, it is impossible to discuss the Obama presidency without mentioning its most well-known and controversial feature: the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which was signed into law in 2010. Opinions on this legislation are partisan, but the fact is that it has led to skyrocketing premiums and increasing taxes. Still, by March 2016, the rate of uninsured people in the United States had fallen to a record low 8.6 percent, down from 15.7 percent before the passage of Obamacare.
Obamacare is flawed, but it is undeniably impactful, and the law will be his most significant and enduring legacy. With the passage of this act, Obama has achieved a feat that eluded presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Clinton: creating a national health insurance system. Having withstood several constitutional challenges, including multiple in front of the Supreme Court, Obamacare will be nearly impossible to repeal, even if Republicans gain control of the presidency, the Senate and the House. Like it or not, Obamacare remains a big deal, and it is here to stay.
Even as we weigh the pros and cons of Obama’s legacy on the scales of history, a looming question remains: Will any of this matter? Can this administration weather the American people’s discontent amid this ugly, divisive election and increasing disillusionment with politics? The data says yes. According to Gallup polling, Obama currently holds a 57 percent approval rating, compared to 46 percent one year ago. The hostility of this election has allowed people to appreciate Obama’s intelligence, poise and moderation, elevating him as a highly respected political figure.
The Obama administration has had its missteps and its successes, but the president’s current popularity and the nature of his accomplishments and mistakes make him one of the most consequential presidents in history. Along with his landmark health care initiative, such factors will allow him to maintain a legacy of respect and admiration for years to come.
Maya Gandhi is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service.