The final days of Barack Obama’s presidency will be marked by a flurry of activity as the outgoing commander-in-chief and his family depart the White House on Friday. The Obamas are set to leave 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with a few parting gifts, including the most consequential: their legacy.
After two terms in office, Mr. Obama leaves office feeling he has been able to accomplish what no other president has before him. When he takes off his suit jacket on Friday evening, he will have signed into law the most progressive laws in history…and some that were less so.
Today, we look at four ways that President Obama defined American progress over the last seven years and four ways that he could leave an even greater impact if given another term.
He helped to end wars and restore American leadership
Mr. Obama entered office at the tail end of a long war, the Afghanistan war. After 9/11, Mr. Bush made it clear that the US was not only going to “destroy” al-Qaeda and its supporters but also “eradicate” state support for terrorist groups.
In Iraq, the US invaded, overthrew the government, and failed to find weapons of mass destruction that did not exist. After Mr. Obama took office, he ended both wars. In Afghanistan, the US hand-off of authority to the Afghan National Security Forces was complete by the end of 2016, and the US is beginning to exit Iraq. Mr. Obama also ended the straining strains in the relationship between the US and its allies, notably the United Kingdom, that was brought on by Iraq.
He expanded protections for marginalized groups
On the domestic front, Mr. Obama expanded protections for marginalized groups. In 2009, he signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr anti-discrimination laws into law in addition to executive orders banning racial profiling by federal authorities, reforming how the US handles detainees and issuing stricter gun control measures.
In 2010, he expanded health insurance protections for immigrants to include children who were US citizens or residents at the time their parents came to the US. He expanded protections for LGBT people to include not just marriage but employment discrimination protections as well as protections for people with HIV.
Finally, Mr. Obama expanded efforts to combat climate change and end fossil fuel dependency. He issued orders for the US Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, for the US Department of the Interior to preserve and protect National Wildlife Refuges and National Parks from fossil fuel development, and for the Department of Transportation to ensure that emissions from cars, planes, and trucks did not contribute to climate change.
He advanced equal rights for all Americans
Mr. Obama also advanced equal rights for all Americans. He signed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the law that banned members of the military from openly serving their country as gay or lesbian people. He expanded health insurance protections for people with pre-existing conditions, including depression, diabetes, and HIV.
He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which extended the window in which someone who feels they were paid less than they should have been due to systematic pay discrimination had to file suit.
He protected voting rights by notifying state governments that they had to update their voting systems to include same-day registration and same-day vote-by-mail. He also ended the use of military detention and open-ended detention as an interrogation mechanism.
His administration is the most transparent in history
Mr. Obama has been the most transparent American president in history. His administration has released more than 1,200 White House records and 53,000 pages of executive branch agency records, more than any previous administration.
Mr. Obama also made a push for transparency in campaign finance. He signed the DISCLOSE Act, which compelled corporations to reveal their funding of elections, and he created a website, WhiteHouse.gov, that listed every executive order signed by a president and every piece of legislation signed into law by a president.
This was followed by Mr. Obama’s use of the modern web to host his campaign against the GOP candidate, Donald Trump, who runs a non-transparent campaign.
Mr. Trump used the wrong domain name and a fake website to prevent people from finding out the facts about his campaign. Mr. Obama’s campaign against Mr. Trump on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook was the most transparent in American history.
He has defined progress toward a more inclusive economy
The smartest president in history has been the most successful modern president at bridging the divide between the rich and the poor, the urban and the rural, and the elite and the non-elite.
Mr. Obama has used the bully pulpit to promote inclusion. He has used executive orders to push for the formation of a White House Council on Women and Girls, the creation of a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, and the end of military detention for people known to be held at Guantanamo.
He also used executive orders to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, expand access to community health centers, and require the Federal Communications Commission to issue a rule that would allow the Internet to be overseen by the Federal Trade Commission.
This was followed by Mr. Obama’s use of the modern web to host his campaign against the GOP candidate, Donald Trump, who runs a non-transparent campaign. Mr. Trump used the wrong domain name and a fake website to prevent people from finding out the facts about his campaign. Mr. Obama’s campaign against Mr. Trump on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook was the most transparent in American history.