While preparing for an editorial in which I’m going to consider President Obama’s legacy, the first thing that came to mind was to go through his policies. This seemed like a fitting place to start, to think about the practical ways in which he used the office of the Presidency to make this country a better place.
For instance, we could look at the Affordable Care Act, the centerpiece of President Obama’s presidency and the point of greatest contention. It is a fact that millions of Americans rely on the ACA for health insurance. Admittedly, despite political affiliations, that alone is commendable legacy. Furthermore, such a legacy is truly apolitical, as many Republicans rely on Obama’s healthcare policy.
Although providing health coverage to millions of previously uninsured Americans is an amazing political feat in its own right, I felt as though this did not go quite far enough to emphasize President Obama’s legacy. Upon further reflection, I feel as though his legacy is that he genuinely cared about utilizing government programming to improve the lives of Americans.
This seems like a fairly low bar to set for a president, but my standards for how our chief executive should behave are steadily falling. Even the most basic demonstrations of decency, such as waiting for Melania Trump before walking into a building, are cherished and, to a certain extent, over-exaggerated.
But more to the point, it’s a rather depressing notion to question whether those who work in our government are actually interested in using government policy and resources to improve the lives of Americans. Such is the way that 2016—and the first part of 2017—has gone.
I admit I’m coming from a pointedly, if not liberal, anti-conservative, perspective. Avoiding such biases I’m sure will be futile. But let’s attempt to work through this apolitically, if possible.
Why is the ACA, which has given millions of uninsured Americans access to previously inaccessible health coverage, even debated? Now, I can certainly buy the idea that aspects of the ACA are undesirable, but to advocate for a complete repeal seems irresponsible and dangerous. To advocate for a complete repeal of a policy that provides a life or death service to millions of people is in opposition to using our government’s resources to improve the lives of Americans.
Another example: President Obama was an outspoken proponent of environmental concerns and scientific studies (he himself published scientific essays). Drawing attention to climate change, something that poses a daunting threat to the continued safety of not just Americans, but our entire species, certainly would fall in line with using the office of the Presidency and its resources to improve the lives of Americans.
Following this logic, ignoring climate change, or further, opposing efforts to curb it (look: here, here and here, just for starters), would definitively and inarguably be against the best interest of Americans.
Here is the crux of what I think President Obama’s legacy is: although there is no such thing as a perfect president, and Obama is no exception, it is undeniable that he used the Executive Office in ways that objectively improved—or, if that is unacceptable, were intended to improve—the lives of Americans. This most basic of functions, that a president is obligated to serve the American people, is under threat. This is not a politicized assessment of President Trump’s intentions, but a calculated analysis.
Actively working against efforts to correct climate change and advocating for a repeal of a policy that provides millions of underserved people with health coverage is not an alternative fact, but the cold and hard reality of what is at stake during a Trump presidency.
President Obama’s legacy may not be great, but it was good.