President Obama's Legacy

By Susan Estrich

October 25, 2016 5 min read

Watching the Donald in action, you can't help but compare him to the man who has held the job he is seeking for the last eight years. President Barack Obama shares almost nothing in common with Donald Trump, which is why history may treat him more favorably than American opinion polls do right now.

Sure, both the president and Trump are brilliant and charismatic leaders. But Trump believes in tearing people apart, pitting people against each other, in racist and sexist attacks that will work with the minority of a minority who vote in Republican primaries and caucuses but in no way reflect the modern demographics of 21st century America. Sorry, Trump, but we are no longer a nation where white men control everything.

Obama, at every turn, tried to unite this country, to move beyond identity politics. His speeches on race will be seen by historians as nothing short of brilliant, even if they did not erase racial divides. Sometimes I think of how much worse things might be without this stunningly smart and thoughtful yet humble man in the White House.

He came into office facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And in that context, he ran a campaign of hope. "Yes, we can." I play the Will.i.am ad from the 2008 campaign and I remember how, in the face of what seemed a hopeless situation, Barack Obama called on us to unite, to work together, to believe in the future. For a moment, everything did seem possible.

And what did he accomplish? A lot. In the face of racism and cynicism and ugly divisiveness, not to mention constant criticism from the far right, Barack Obama did what no president before him, try as they might, could do. He got comprehensive health insurance reform through Congress. I remember writing speeches about it for Ted Kennedy back when. I remember putting it in the platform throughout the 1980s. But to get it passed — I never thought I would see the day.

Is it perfect? No. Do we need more capacity? Absolutely. As new people come into the system, is it too crowded? Sure. But ask the millions of Americans who can now go to a doctor proactively instead of waiting for an out-of-control emergency to force them to; the millions of Americans who couldn't buy insurance because of pre-existing conditions; and the millennials who can't find jobs with benefits. Not one of them will tell you to repeal it. For the first time ever, the number of Americans who don't have health insurance has dropped to 10 percent. History will recognize the greatness of this accomplishment, even if all we hear now is the criticism.

He led us out of the recession, adding something on the order of 14 million jobs and reducing unemployment, as of October, to 5 percent. He reformed Wall Street, which everyone always promises to do and no one does. He managed to reform the much-criticized No Child Left Behind law. He took on climate change, and the world just signed an important new agreement that was only possible because of America's leadership and diplomacy. We finally reopened our embassy in Cuba; politics in Florida had changed years ago, but no one was quite ready to take the risk. Obama did.

Under his Administration, gay people in America are finally achieving the equality they deserve, including the right to marry and receive spousal benefits just as straight people do. In the face of repeated attacks, he has stood firm for Planned Parenthood and a woman's right to choose, stood firm for a woman's right to fair and equitable pay. He won the Nobel Prize, just by the way.

And his wife, Michelle Obama, much criticized for Lord knows what reason for having the audacity to encourage people, particularly those who struggle with weight problems, to eat more healthy foods, including vegetables and fruit. For this she is attacked. History will judge Michelle Obama as a first lady who was comfortable in her skin, a true partner in a loving marriage. Can somebody please tell me why that isn't great?

I don't think you can. I am a huge fan of Hillary Clinton's and I have dreamed of her presidency since I wrote a book about it, "The Case for Hillary Clinton," in 2006. However nasty the next two weeks are, I think it will be an amazing moment for women and girls around the world (particularly in countries where women have no rights) to watch a woman take her place as the best candidate for the biggest job in the world. And she is. But she will be filling very big shoes.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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