End of an era: Obama leaves legacy of hope, change

Barack Obama made history in 2008 when he was elected the nation’s first African-American president. Obama, a former U.S. senator, lawyer, law school lecturer and community organizer, promised hope and change as the 44th president. In addition to his agenda, Obama brought to the White House a Black first family – his wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha. After eight years in office, Obama is being succeeded by Donald Trump. Here, the Defender looks at Obama’s accomplishments, some of his most memorable quotes and what lies ahead.

Top 10 accomplishments

1. Passed the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), giving 20 million more Americans access to health coverage and driving the uninsured rate below 10 percent. Obamacare established financial assistance to help Americans who otherwise couldn’t afford health coverage and prohibited coverage denials and reduced benefits due to pre-existing conditions.

2. Stabilized the economy and laid the groundwork for long-term growth. Obama led the country through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and took steps to create jobs, lower the unemployment rate and rescue the auto industry.

3. Addressed the impact of climate change and made a historic commitment to protecting the environment. The Obama administration established the first national carbon pollution standards for power plants and set standards to double the fuel economy of passenger vehicles by 2025.

4. Eliminated Osama bin laden, which dismantled al Qaeda’s leadership. Obama described bin Laden as “a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.”

5. Tackled poverty by expanding economic opportunity and investing in neighborhoods and communities. The poverty rate fell from 14.8 percent in 2014 to 13.5 percent in 2015, leading the number of people in poverty to decrease by 3.5 million.

6. Signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduces the disparity in the amounts of powder cocaine and crack cocaine required for mandatory minimum sentences. It also increased monetary penalties for major drug traffickers.

7. Granted commutations to more prisoners than the past 11 presidents combined. Obama reduced the sentences of 1,176 men and women incarcerated under “outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws,” including 395 individuals who were serving life sentences.

8. Combatted veteran homelessness by working with local communities, cutting homelessness among veterans nearly in half. In addition, the veteran unemployment rate fell to 3.6 percent, an eight-year low.

9. Refocused and reaffirmed American leadership in the world, including ending U.S. combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, securing a landmark multilateral deal to roll back the Iranian nuclear program, and restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba.

10. Advocated for marriage equality for same-sex couples, a position the Supreme Court supported in its historic decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide. Obama also signed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, allowing gays to serve openly in the U.S. military.

Sources: The White House, Defender News Services

Quotes by Obama

Change

“Change isn’t something that happens every four years or eight years; change is not placing your faith in any particular politician and then just putting your feet up and saying, ‘Okay, go.’ Change is the effort of committed citizens who hitch their wagons to something bigger than themselves and fight for it every single day.”

Fatherhood

“I was raised by a heroic single mother and wonderful grandparents who made incredible sacrifices for me…But I still wish I had a father who was not only present, but involved. And so my whole life, I’ve tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father wasn’t for my mother and me. I’ve tried to be a better husband, a better father, and a better man.”

Injustice

“We’ve got a justice gap when too many Black boys and girls pass through a pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails. This is one area where things have gotten worse. When I was in college, about half a million people in America were behind bars. Today, there are about 2.2 million. Black men are about six times likelier to be in prison right now than white men.”

Progress

“America’s progress has never been smooth or steady.  Progress doesn’t travel in a straight line.  It zigs and zags in fits and starts.  Progress in America has been hard and contentious, and sometimes bloody.  It remains uneven and at times, for every two steps forward, it feels like we take one step back…But because of dreamers and innovators and strivers and activists, progress has been this nation’s hallmark.”

Race

“After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. For race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10, or 20, or 30 years ago – you can see it not just in statistics, but in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum. But we’re not where we need to be. All of us have more work to do.”