As the presidential election winds down, the country is preparing for the inevitable beginning of a new administration and an uncertain future. But before judging the next potential leaders of the free world, it’s necessary to take a look at their predecessor.
When citizens elected Barack Obama, a relatively young senator from Illinois, to lead the country as president, they consciously chose against the Republican wave that had dominated the country’s political realm for the better part of the 2000s. Rooting his campaign on the idealistic bases of hope and change, Obama promised to usher in a new era of government action.
For students, specifically, his impact has been drastic. The Affordable Care Act, the signature accomplishment of his eight years in office, allowed young people to stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26. That’s an invaluable advantage for those burdened by the ever increasing pressure of student loans, which currently averages at $35,000 a student.
He’s also been the first president who could relate to minorities from a personal standpoint, which has been important in the age of Black Lives Matter and protests led by students of color on campuses like University of Missouri and Yale University.
Under his administration, 9.3 million new jobs were created, an important feat considering the freefall the country as a whole was in when he started the job. Granted, his individual impact may not be as big as he would’ve liked because the economy is largely out of the control of any single individual, but one of the biggest ways people judge a president, fairly or not, is by how the economy is doing.
On the other end, the country’s debt has increased in a dramatic fashion, with the debt-to-GDP ratio increasing from 48 percent to 75 percent under the Obama administration.
More importantly, while the major operations in Iraq came to a close under Obama, the fight is far from over. The absence of a U.S. presence allowed, in part, for ISIS to rise and take unprecedented control of large portions of both Iraq and Syria. Currently, approximately 4,000 U.S. troops are still deployed in Iraq.
In Afghanistan, there are still nearly 10,000 U.S. troops trying to maintain peace in the war-torn nation.
While technically out of the realm of college students, the wars are important because young people are almost always the ones to carry the burden the most when our country decides to fight. For example, in the Army the average enlistee is 21 years old. While Obama’s administration did stop major troop movements into these two countries, it would be naive to say the wars are over when people are still fighting there every day.
This is all important to note going into the next presidential cycle. The country is faced with two choices: Hillary Clinton, who will largely attempt to extend Obama’s liberal legacy, and Donald Trump, who says he’ll do everything in his power to break it apart.
But heading into November, it looks more and more clear that in retrospect, given the unpopularity of the two candidates, that Obama did a good job. With an approval rating hovering just over 50 percent, a sharp increase from low approval ratings of 40 percent just a few years ago, the president is finally in a place where the country appreciates him.
How this affects his legacy is still yet to be seen. But with a murky future ahead for the nation, no matter which candidate is elected, it’s hard to imagine looking back on Obama’s legacy with anything but a feeling of relief if not satisfaction. He may not have fixed the country, but it still seems better after Obama than before.
Looking back, the country will use the Obama years as a mark to judge other presidents. Unfortunately, no matter who is elected, it seems neither candidate, with their multiple blunders and skeletons, will meet his standard. It may be a long time before we have a president who, despite their mistakes, can move the country in a positive direction. The Obama years were far from a golden age, but they should still be looked back with approval.