Having just returned from his hometown of Chicago, I must declare that I have long admired Barack Obama. I was (frankly) amazed, and delighted, when he was elected President of the United States in November 2008, for it seemed to be a heralding of a new age, and a resolute about turn from the years of the 2nd President Bush.
The realities of being President must weight heavily on the Presidential shoulders; you could see it visibly tire and age Clinton, Bush Jnr and Obama. They each started with houses of Congress in favour, only to find them both turn against them. They each found different ways to get things done, and yet Obama has probably had the hardest road of all. With little executive experience (he had been a national Senator for only a few years before launching his race to the White House), Obama has been faced with a vicious blocking campaign against his major plans. Despite this, he succeeded in winning 97% of all his congressional votes in his first year, a record for any President. Johnson had 95%.
To me he seems like an intelligent, thoughtful and strong man. Probably naive in many respects, he was the first President to be born after 1950 (he was born in 1961), he came to the Presidency in his 40s, bright, alive and shiny. 6 years on, he seems weathered and worn, more grey haired, yet he still seems as determined as ever, and pretty cool to boot.
Looking at what he’s got done, against all odds, it has been quite an amazing record:
- the US economy was on the brink of complete disaster as he took office; unemployment was spiralling, the GFC was in full swing and yet, since then the stock market has tripled, and there have now been 64 consecutive months of jobs growth
- 223,000 jobs were created in June, unemployment is now down to 5.3% (or half the rate when he took office) – NY Times
- he has ended two wars (Iraq, which, unlike many, he vehemently opposed from the beginning, and Afghanistan)
- the budget deficit has been cut by two thirds
- has introduced major health care reform, which has cut the uninsured rate by a half
- repealed the insidious ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ Act, and is the first President to champion marriage equality (now vindicated by last week’s Supreme Court ruling)
- normalising relations with Cuba
- Wall St reforms
- developing a peace deal with Iran
- and, famously, he got Bin Laden, which despite all his hawkishness, Bush Jnr completely failed to do
- Ironically, he earned a Nobel peace prize within 6 months of taking office (in a major slap in the face to Bush Jnr), and then (probably) went onto earn it
- Obama even has a Grammy (two, in fact)
No doubt there are still issues unresolved (immigration, gun control, environmental policy, Guantanamo Bay, welfare…), but by any stretch he has been (and still is) an impressive global leader, and on this 4th of July , I hope the American people realise what a special person they have in charge of their executive branch and what a good job he has done, and is still doing. Many other countries would wish to have him as their leader. I know I do.