Was Obama a Good President?

Little more than eight years ago, a first-term senator from Illinois became the 44th President of the United States. Inheriting the great recession, Obama’s tenure extended through the country’s imperfect yet successful economic recovery. As economist Alan Krueger told CNN, “The recovery has not been as strong as we would like but it has been persistent and resilient” [1]. Notably, President Obama has been the nation’s first president of color. To many Americans, however, race relations appear to have degraded during his tenure. The Democratic president was known for his suave, charisma, and humor. He left office with a soaring 60% approval rating, [2] yet the nation subsequently elected a president who is very, very different than his predecessor. Now that Barack Obama is no longer in office, Claremont Radius’s Alanna DeMuro and Max Sickinger reflect on his legacy and whether or not the 44th president was a good role model for our nation’s children.
David BrownEditor-in-Chief

FOR

Barack Hussein Obama is a visceral manifestation of the American dream. In a time where issues surrounding race and social injustice around the world have rocked our country to its core, Obama has remained steadfast. He has fought for the rights of all people, passing legislation and putting together the most comprehensive health care program in United States history during a period of divided government and gridlocked congress. Obama is a symbol for change, hope, and inspiration. Children growing up under his administration have been blessed to witness the strength and charisma with which he has propelled our country, garnering support from both parties [3] late in his second term and inspiring hope in the midst of political turmoil surrounding President Trump.

As the first African-American president, Obama has inspired children, especially in disadvantaged communities. He illustrates the unlimited potential for all children in our country, and his inauguration and following reelection affirmed the critical importance of diversity in American society. Throughout history, African-American leaders including Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X have fought to protect existing African-American rights and to propel diversity and inclusion within mainstream American society. African-American businesspeople, including Oprah Winfrey, Al Sharpton, and Daymond John have provided an example for the potential for infinite success, leaving difficult circumstances to start burgeoning economic empires. Obama has been the pinnacle of this movement; his position as the most powerful man in the free world has showcased the power and importance of not just African Americans, but of every boy and girl who were once told they were not enough because of who they are. His legacy will live on through those that he has galvanized to fight for hope. And hope he has brought.

The Obama administration has succeeded in the face of incredible adversity. Amidst a surge of race relations which have shaken the United States to its foundation, Obama has led a charge to support minority rights. This battle has been hard fought and brutal at times. He had faced resistance to many issues from a republican congress, which refutes his ideas and then attacks his inability to resolve this issue. Yet, Obama has pushed forward. He had met with both police and civil rights leaders [4], fostering opportunities for productive dialogue and meaningful change. Many citizens have falsely blamed Obama for racial tensions [5]. Statistics show that only 28% of white citizens believe Obama has made progress on race relations [6]. This statistic falsely characterizes Obama’s ability to combat racial tensions, because it denies the complexity of these issues. The rise of Trump illustrates the dismal and disheartening alternative to Obama. His election to the presidency sparked protests across the country, causing racial violence which has resulted in shootings and senseless violence [7]. While whites and blacks had not sat passing around a pipe singing kumbaya because of Obama’s supernatural ability to alleviate tension and conflict, the cacophony of anger, confusion and resentment marks the transition of power from Obama to the following administration. Tensions have grown greatly since the election, and we will soon realize how great things were.

Economically speaking, Obama’s administration has excelled. The U.S. economy seriously bounced back from the largest recession since the Great Depression, growing by 15% since the start of Obama’s first term in 2008 [8], an impressive feat considering the state of the economy he inherited. Stock prices have risen by close to 100% since he took office (see [5]), unemployment has dropped by 5% [9] and overall quality of life has risen by close to 6% [10]. Not only has the economy grown, real weekly earnings are up 3.4% (see [7]). This shows that growth has been shared across economic groups, strengthening our economy from the ground up. Obama’s administration and economic policy were integral in this improvement.

 

"He is as close to impeccable as they come: Obama has a Harvard Law degree, a marriage cherished by the country, and a suave demeanor that allows him to repel criticism like bug spray to mosquitos."

Obama has also inspired confidence throughout his two terms. He is as close to impeccable as they come: Obama has a Harvard Law degree, a marriage cherished by the country, and a suave demeanor that allows him to repel criticism like bug spray to mosquitos. Nonetheless, he remains extremely relatable. In his speeches, his humor, intelligence, and eloquence are flawless. In the role of head of state, Obama represents the American people perfectly. Sixty-five percent of people around the globe have confidence in Obama to do the right thing [11], and they should. Throughout his two terms he has proven himself sage and intelligent beyond compare. Yet, it is the trust that he has inspired which sets him apart.

Through his calm, suave demeanor, Obama has established himself as one of the most intelligent and charismatic presidents in recent American history. He has fought for the rights of disenfranchised communities, improved the economy across economic divides and inspired trust. Children are lucky to grow up under his guide.

Max Sickinger

AGAINST

When elected in 2008, President Barack Obama was a strong role-model for the country’s youth, the very epitome of the American Dream. Eight years later, however, it is clear that his probing into American life, race relations, and foreign policy have only worsened the state of the nation. While the man has the suave, swagger, and smile –– his policies and politics made him an unfit role model for America’s youth.

To begin, the National Security Agency (NSA) expanded its surveillance on the American people without warrants during the Obama administration. It is ridiculous to claim that hacking into people’s internet cables could potentially help to track down terrorists and monitor foreign governments’ internet activity in the United States, or that putting everybody in solitary confinement would make the country even safer. Americans are not comfortable with giving up all their privacy for this ineffective and unethical tradeoff. Obama and his administration were capable of learning about American citizens’ private business deals, family matters, and secret emails [12]. What’s more, public opinion only got worse on the matter when Americans learned that in 2012 the Justice Department released two secret memorandums approving of new, and more invasive methods of warrantless targeting and hacking [13]. When Americans did find out through the Snowden documents, many were outraged with the lack of public discourse and transparency that the Justice Department set forth. It was imperative that Obama announced these new guidelines to the public. However, he did not; instead, he contributed to a more corrupt government.

It is never okay to hack into American day-to-day lives, and it is even worse when the government does so behind Americans’ backs and without the permission of a court of law. The NSA usually keeps their data for up to five years, but in many circumstances information is kept indefinitely [14]. This forceful stripping on American liberty is wholly unacceptable for the government to encroach on the privacy of Americans in hopes of receiving little bits of information on terrorist activities. No soon-to-be-successful terrorist will communicate their plans through easily accessible Internet cables — the very same cables Americans use to communicate their daily lives. And if the FBI and/or NSA do catch a suspected terrorist through wiretapping — like the shooter at the Pulse Nightclub — the terrorist is sometimes still successful, especially if the FBI deems him or her “not a threat” [15]. To be clear, even if the unwarranted collection of our private data were acceptable in exchange for our safety, the NSA would still be failing us [16].

Furthermore, in all the phone calls and emails Obama’s government collected, I’m sure his administration had picked up on Americans’ weariness surrounding the increasing of the national debt. Yet, like many other issues within our nation, Obama ignored it, and in doing so he increased a burden that falls in the hands of our nation’s children . The debt has grown about $10 trillion since Obama had taken office [17]. The following is inevitable: The generations following Obama –– those growing up right now –– will have to foot the bill of our national debt through sacrificing the likes of social security, welfare, and similar social programs that have benefited millions of people across the U.S. at our expense. America’s children will never get to benefit from many of the welfare programs they’ll be stuck re-paying for the rest of their lives. Meanwhile, adults will continue to speak highly of Obama, but keep in mind, his soaring approval ratings show only what one might expect –– people like presidents that give them free stuff. Obama’s short-term goals are draining funds for future generations and our current youth by his reckless spending [18].

"Obama’s short-term goals are draining funds for future generations and our current youth by his reckless spending."

America’s first president of color came into the Oval Office with a huge smile and a promise of change, but where he should have been leading the path to stronger race relations in the world’s greatest ethnic melting pot, he has left us with with race riots lighting our streets ablaze. Thirty-five percent of Americans now worry about race relations –– a number nearly twice the 18% figure of 2008 [19]. The very man himself, President Obama, has expanded racial divides. Prior to the November election, racially-fueled riots had been breaking out across the nation, leading to an unsafe environment through ultimately unsuccessful protesting. Obama could have been helping create a better environment for communication to either pass legislation or encourage nationwide citizen actions to lessen the current negative race relations engrossing the U.S.. Instead, however, he never condemned these violent acts against police and in the streets, and he passed no promising legislation. Obama is not a leader nor an effective role model; he simply avoided issues that stared him in the face and worsened issues that engross America, negatively affecting our youth immensely [20].

Obama and his administration implemented policies that created an uncertain, racially divided, indebted future with no room for personal privacy for the nation’s youngest generation. America’s children have not enjoyed a president they can admire for his policies, the hope he tore apart, or the change he failed to bring. Instead, they have only had a handsome man with a pretty family — a pseudo-celebrity in the White House. A man who accomplished the American Dream committed to public service should facilitate the same pursuit for children across the nation. As a former president, Obama had done exactly the opposite.

Alanna DeMuro

REBUTTAL - FOR

Mr. Sickinger completed a strong surface-level evaluation of President Obama. With the 44th president, however, it’s imperative to look past his suave demeanor, pretty smile, and good-looking family when evaluating his time in office. Just because Obama was the first African-American president does not mean that he was automatically able to end racial tensions and create one united group of all races. He is nowhere near comparable to the outstanding African-American leaders that Mr. Sickinger name-dropped, who had each worked tirelessly on behalf of African-Americans and other minorities to gain more rights. Yes, Obama may have recently held the most powerful seat in America, but he did absolutely nothing with that power to change race relations and unify the country.

 

"...Obama may have recently held the most powerful seat in America, but he did absolutely nothing with that power to change race relations and unify the country."

Mr. Sickinger also claims that Obama is a great role model for children, “especially those in disadvantaged communities” because he is African-American. However, Obama’s own life, especially education, could be characterized as part of the white establishment [21]. Although his mother was divorced a couple of times, he enjoyed a steady home life with his grandparents. Obama had attended many elite schools during his upbringing: a prestigious middle and high school in Hawaii, as well as Columbia University, Harvard University, and the University of Chicago [22]. Though he certainly faced challenges because of his skin color, the notion that this president can relate to America’s disadvantaged on any level deeper than skin color is absurd. Can he really be a great role model for children in disadvantaged communities if all he shares is the color of their skin and not anything further?

In regards to the economy, Mr. Sickinger is equally as wrong. President Obama was the first president ever to not see at least a 3% GDP growth in any given year that he had been leading the country [23]. Mr. Sickinger also states that quality of life has risen, but a whopping 39.5% more Americans are on food stamps [24]. Many Americans are happier because they are receiving more free things from the government, not because Obama stimulated the economy in any way that affects them. In fact, the national debt, by most measures, had doubled under President Obama’s administration [25]. Obama happened to be in office while our economy recovered, as it always does. But our fiscal policy did not put United States in a better economic situation over the past eight years.

Mr. Sickinger does not accurately evaluate President Obama’s policies and effect on children beyond the pretty façade he puts forth. As the first African-American president, Obama had many opportunities to calm race tensions and create a strong American Community, and he only made them worse. His approval ratings and American’s happiness levels may have been rising since even before the recent election, but simply because had been distributing free handouts like there are no consequences for future generations and future presidents. President Obama is not the role model parents want their children to have; he’s another liberal elite that has barely maintained a steady economy.

Alanna DeMuroStaff Writer

REBUTTAL - AGAINST

Ms. Demuro blames the national debt on Obama without one indicator of his culpability. Our national debt is a product of three issues: our past, our economy and our political landscape. The $10-trillion growth of the debt since 2008 is a byproduct of helping ease the recession through fiscal stimulus of the economy. Obama was castigated for his choice in 2008 to bail out the banks. But what was his alternative? Watch as the Western world fell to its knees as the banking system upon which our economy is based quickly crumbled. Any president in his situation would have been under extreme pressure to reduce the financial stress of all Americans. Looking at the extreme difficulty of his predicament, Obama responded incredibly. His spending programs allocated resources that have allowed our economy to grow by 15% since 2008 [26]. Today, this economy is healthy because his policies were able to end the recession.

Moreover, Ms. Demuro degrades national surveillance, once again using principles of freedom to cloak her lack of physical evidence that it does not prevent terrorism. She even contradicts her own claim that “[n]o soon-to-be-successful terrorist will communicate their plans through easily accessible Internet cables” by citing the Pulse Nightclub shooter in her degradation of national surveillance. Though the FBI was unsuccessful in foiling the attack, the NSA was able to successfully identify an attack through a wiretap. If anything, what this calls for is a more active NSA, which I don’t think Ms. Demuro is asking for. If you disagree from an ethical perspective, I can understand. But let me ask you: When thinking about the lives of your friends, your family and your fellow Americans, would you rather the FBI know about a terrorist attack or not?

"America’s problems with race relations is nothing new! It’s indicative of centuries of injustice and flawed relations, not eight years under the first African-American President."

The final part of Ms. Demuro’s argument is her most ridiculous. America’s problems with race relations is nothing new! It’s indicative of centuries of injustice and flawed relations, not eight years under the first African-American President. In fact, through his steadfast desire to combat injustice through open discussion designed to change the way people interpret race, he was the only president in the history of the United States equipped to deal with this issue. To cite statistics showing increased worry about race relations is not proof of Obama’s ineptitude, it is a symptom of the flaws that have pervaded our country at every point in American history.

Obama is awesome. His policies have saved us from a world on the brink of economic collapse and helped assuage racial tensions. I love him for his unrelenting pursuit of equality, Ms. Demuro loves him for his “suave, swagger, and smile” and the American people love him for what he stands for: hope.

Max SickingerStaff Writer

Sources and Notes

Featured Image: "American Senator and presidential hopeful Barack Obama at the Presidential Health Forum in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA." by Center for American Progress Action Fund — Source: Barack Obama at Las Vegas Presidential Forum. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons — https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/27/Barack_Obama_at_Las_Vegas_Presidential_Forum.jpg/1599px-Barack_Obama_at_Las_Vegas_Presidential_Forum.jpg.

[1] http://money.cnn.com/2016/07/28/news/economy/us-economy-recovery/
[2] http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/18/politics/obama-approval-rating-cnn-orc-poll/
[3] http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/06/politics/obama-approval-rating-new-high/
[4] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/jul/13/obama-host-meeting-police-civil-rights-leaders/
[5] http://dailycaller.com/2016/09/24/growing-number-of-race-riots-leave-a-dark-mark-on-obamas-legacy/
[6] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/06/27/key-takeaways-race-and-inequality/
[7] http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/portland-oregon-anti-trump-protest-1-shot-after-confrontation-n682896
[8] http://www.cnbc.com/2016/07/15/grading-the-obama-economy-by-the-numbers.html
[9] http://www.factcheck.org/2016/01/obamas-numbers-january-2016-update/
[10] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/08/31/gallup-life-got-better-for-pretty-much-everyone-under-obama/
[11] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/06/24/7-charts-on-how-the-world-views-president-obama/
[12] https://www.propublica.org/article/nsa-data-collection-faq
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/fbi-had-closely-scrutinized-the-orlando-shooter-before-dropping-investigation/2016/06/13/838e9054-3177-11e6-8ff7-7b6c1998b7a0_story.html?utm_term=.6b34581ff790
[16] https://www.propublica.org/article/new-snowden-documents-reveal-secret-memos-expanding-spying
[17] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/nov/1/obama-presidency-to-end-with-20-trillion-national-/
[18] http://www.freedomworks.org/content/obamacares-negative-impact-young-people
[19] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/13/opinion/has-barack-obama-hurt-race-relations.html
[20] http://www.nationalreview.com/article/439431/race-relations-getting-worse-america-why
[21] http://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/professors-vs-president-has-obama-done-enough-african-americans-n523811
[22] http://millercenter.org/president/biography/obama-life-before-the-presidency
[23] http://www.nationalreview.com/article/435093/barack-obamas-economy-ugly-truth
[24] Ibid.
[25] http://crfb.org/blogs/has-president-obama-doubled-national-debt
[26] http://www.cnbc.com/2016/07/15/grading-the-obama-economy-by-the-numbers.html

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