Obama: Triumph of first African-American president

After eight years of ruling the world from the White House, Barack Obama vacated the centre stage in what people described as one of the best engaging world’s presidents in terms of health, security, international relations, humour, wits and charisma. VICTOR OGUNYINKA writes on some of the best moments of the administration of the first African-American president.

 

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…”

 

In August 28, 1963, the world and the ‘divided states of America’ as it were, keenly and reluctantly (depends on the side of divide one was) to what was arguably the best prophetic speech delivered by American civil right activist, Martin Luther King Jr, on the step of Washington DC Lincoln Memorial in the United States of America and 45 years after, on November 4, 2008, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois was elected president of the United States over Senator John McCain of Arizona, to become the 44th president, and the first African American to be elected to that office.

That was the beginning of how the best ever told story of a black man who rose to the exalted seat of the world’s powerful president.

On January 20, 2017, President Obama took a final bow out of the White House of which he had been calling the shots, where he made some crucial decisions for the past eight years.

Obama was born on August 4, 1961, at Kapi’olani Maternity and Gynaecological Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii. His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was born in Kansas, and his father Barack Obama Sr., was from Kenya.

In 1981, Obama graduated as a political scientist and went ahead to get another degree in Law in 1991.

Obama’s ascendency to prominence didn’t clearly hit the world until July 2004, when he delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention known as the Tuscon speech. That speech in no small measure, catapulted him to being rated as one of America’s best presidential orators since 1933, only behind greats like John F. Kennedy known for his ‘Ask Not’ speech in 1961 and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s ‘The only thing to fear is fear itself’ in 1933.

President Obama’s unique choice of words and characteristic charisma of delivery earned him so much respect and publicity even among top political players world over that in February 10, 2007, when he declared his ambition for presidency in Springfield, Ill, he could not be held back by scandals or trace of dark past; he became the bright part of African Americans who have though held sway in various fields, but still didn’t get the respect they deserve.

Furthering in his quest to be the dream Luther King had in 1963, he became the first major-party presidential candidate to turn down public financing in the general election and went on to win his place in the Oval Office by gaining 365 electoral votes Republican candidate, John McCain’s 173.

In the first 100 days of President Obama and his Vice President and friend, Joseph Biden, which has become a tradition of some sort introduced by Frank Roosevelt, Obama, who inherited a depleted economy in recession, stated that though “The first hundred days is going to be important, but it’s probably going to be the first thousand days that makes the difference.”

He however covered some good ground, which Wikipedia compiled to include signing into law the expanded State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), that the White House said provided benefits to four million additional working families; signing the Ledbetter law requiring equal pay for women; winning approval of a congressional budget resolution that put Congress on record as dedicated to dealing with major health care reform legislation in 2009; implementing new ethics guidelines designed to significantly curtail the influence of lobbyists on the executive branch; breaking from the Bush administration on a number of policy fronts, except for Iraq, in which he followed through on Bush’s Iraq withdrawal of U.S. troops; supporting the United Nations declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity; relaxing enforcement of marijuana laws; and lifting the seven and the half years ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. He also ordered the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, in Cuba, though it remains open, as well as lifted some travel and money restrictions to the island.

At the end of his first 100 days, in Gallup’s (tracking presidential approval ratings of the first quarters since Eisenhower in 1953) First quarter survey in April, President Obama received a 63 per cent approval rating.

Obama and Biden


On the backdrop of a declining economy, which the Obama administration inherited from his predecessor, George Bush, the unemployment rate of the country closed to double digit became a major pointer to what would define the early success of Obama; eight years after, statistics showed that about six million Americans have retuned back to work.

Since the job market bottomed out in January, 2010, in the depths of the great recession, the US economy has produced more than 14 million jobs, which has pushed the total level of payrolls some 5.7 million higher than when the recession hit in late 2007, CNBC said.

The Obamacare health scheme introduced in the second term of his tenure was greeted with mixed reactions and criticisms; majority however agreed that between 12 and 18 million Americans have access to the programme due to the affordability.

Unlike former health policy where majority of Americans pay for the health bill of the sick, which has inadvertently saved billions of dollars, the Obamacare has helped to solve that anomaly.

According to Department of Health and Human Services, Obamacare requires all insurance plans to cover 10 essential health benefits, including treatment for mental health, addiction and chronic diseases. These patients wind up in the emergency room if they don’t have access to healthcare.

Insurance companies can no longer deny anyone coverage for pre-existing conditions, drop them, or raise premiums once they do get sick. Lifetime and annual limits on coverage are eliminated.

Parents can add their children up to age 26 on their health insurance plans. That increases profit for insurance companies since they receive more premiums without higher costs for these healthier individuals. As of 2012, more than three million previously uninsured young people were added.

In his international relation with the rest of the world, Obama had direct friendly influence on the world, touring Africa, Europe, Australia and mending past broken relationships, most notably Cuba, which he visited, making him the first American president in 88 years to visit the Fidel Castrol country.

In setting straight his agenda on security and terrorism, which took a new curve in the twin bombings of the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2011, which Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda claimed responsibility, President Obama put his feet on the ground and declared as the “biggest security priority”, the killing of Bin Laden and crushing of the Islamic sect.

On a May 2, 2011, president Obama announced the killing of Bin Laden in a covert operation by the United States Navy SEALs.

Also, in trying to break monopoly in governance Obama also toppled the 42-year reign of Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. Syria’s Bashir Assad also felt the direct presence of Obama’s quest for total democracy.

Furthermore, in championing the course to ensure that countries are without nuclear weapons, Obama and Russia’s president, Vladmir Putin, have disagreed on many fronts and once flamed rumours of a third world war, the early romance of US president-elect, Donald Trump, with the Putin has also raised brows, particularly in the wake of investigation, linking Russia with the interference in the November 8 election.

During his farewell speech address in Chicago, in his characteristic presentation, after a few heart warming words to his family, Vice President Joe Biden and the White House staff, Time reported that Obama turned his gratitude to the organisers and voters that played a role in electing him eight years ago, and again in 2012. The President said he would leave the political stage “even more optimistic about this country than when we started.”

“Let me tell you, this generation coming up, unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic, I’ve seen you in every corner of the country.”

 

“You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result the future is in good hands.”

While Obama will be leaving the White House after serving eight years as America’s first African American President, he won’t be leaving service, he said, vowing to be “right there with you, as a citizen” for his remaining days. He then had one request of U.S. citizens, “whether you are young or whether you are young at heart. I am asking you to believe,” Obama said, “Not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours.”

As America and indeed the world prepare for a new style of leadership under incoming businessman President Donald Trump, Obama said:

“I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written: Yes, we can. Yes, we did. Yes, we can,” he concluded.


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