President Obama’s Defining Legacy

President Obama will go down in history as the first African American president, but he will also be remembered for his class, sense of humor, and tireless efforts to improve our country in new and important ways, such as recognizing the dangers of climate change and working to give women equal pay.

This man has been in office since I was eleven years old and has shaped my view of what it means to be President. Despite being confronted by a Republican majority house, he has been able to accomplish countless things during his term and pull America out of the recession that he inherited. Along the way, he has set a precedent of forward-thinking actions and made the United States a much more socially conscious and progressive nation.

Perhaps his most notable action was putting the Affordable Care Act into place, giving over 17.6 million health insurance that they previously couldn’t afford. However, this didn’t come without severe opposition from the Republican party, which brought the Act to the Supreme Court. Even with the 50 attempts to repeal it, the Affordable Care Act remains strong and makes Obama the first president to pass healthcare reform in America.

Some of his other well-known acts include eliminating the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, reopening the U.S. embassy in Cuba, and effectively ending the Iraq War. Although, to this day, Obama has a reputation for not producing change, he has delivered on many of the things he has promised, and looking back over the course of his presidency, his countless accomplishments such as these have made America a better place.

Most importantly, in addition to economic and foreign policy, President Obama has been a champion of progressive reform in America. Under his presidency, huge strides have been made for gay rights and gender equality. He repealed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in the military, a policy which previously prohibited military personnel from discussing being gay. He also remarked “love won” when the Supreme Court made the landmark decision that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.

In addition, he became the first president to use the word “transgender” during his second inaugural address. He has spoken out about the need for giving women the respect and equal rights that they deserve, and I think it is very telling that the very first piece of legislation he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. He is the first President to openly refer to himself as a feminist, and as a young woman, this gives me great hope that he can inspire other men to embrace this term, which calls for gender equality. It has been inspirational to grow up watching the most powerful man in the country be so open and adamant about social change in America that will directly affect women, the gay community, and other underrepresented groups in the White House.

It is just as inspiring that Michelle Obama has been equally outspoken and influential in certain areas. Joining her husband to launch an initiative to help girls around the world go to school, hosting White House dinners to support mentoring programs for young girls, and launching the “Let’s Move!” initiative addressing the challenge of childhood obesity, she has targeted
many problems facing our nation and remains the only first lady to have two degrees from an Ivy League school.

However, while the credentials of the Obamas are impressive, it is equally important to note the way they have carried themselves for the last eight years. I once watched a video of the White House’s Annual Science Fair, and in it, President Obama truly came to life. He was down on the ground with the kids, giving them advice on their projects, laughing loudly with them, encouraging them. While most politicians leave you with an aftertaste of inauthenticity, Obama has always had an easygoing magic that makes him seem genuine, especially in less formal settings such as this. He knows how to take a joke, and is arguably the funniest president we’ve ever had – he once even made a Buzzfeed video including him taking hilariously awkward photos with a selfie stick.

While his tireless efforts for social justice and progressive reform made me respect him, growing up watching his easygoing authenticity and care for the American people made me truly admire him. It will be hard to find another president like Barack Obama.

Claire Harvey is a second year literary journalism major. She can be reached at cpharvey@uci.edu