After the September 11th attacks, it seemed unlikely that the nation would ever choose a President with the middle name of Hussein. Going into the 2008 campaign, many presumed that former First Lady and New York Senator Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic Party's candidate for President and quite likely the next president. But four years earlier, a senatorial candidate named Barack Hussein Obama had demonstrated his prowess as an orator by delivering a keynote address to the 2004 Democratic Party Nominating Convention. Everyone knew that he was a rising star, but no one anticipated how quickly his star would rise.
Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1964, though that simple fact would one day become the subject of controversy and partisan attack. His father was from Kenya and his mother was from Kansas. After graduating from Columbia University in 1983, he worked as a community organizer in Chicago. In 1988, he enrolled in Harvard Law School, where he was the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. After graduation, he worked as a civil rights attorney and as a law professor, teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004.
Obama's political career began in the Illinois State Legislature. He represented the 13th district for three terms in the Illinois Senate from 1997 until 2004 when he ran for the U.S. Senate. He received national attention in 2004 with his March primary win, defeating a number of popular challengers. he bucked the trend for the time and spoke out against the war in Iraq, something would help him later on as the war became more unpopular. He was chosen to deliver the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address and people took notice of this excellent orator. In November of 2004 he won election to the US Senate by a landslide.
After just four years in the senate, in 2008 Obama was nominated as his party's presidential candidate after a close primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. He was elected President in November, defeating Republican John McCain and was inaugurated on January 20, 2009. Nine months later, in a move that surprised many people, Obama was chosen to be the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Once in office, Obama set to work on his signature issue, a national health care plan. Using up a great deal of his political capitol, he was able to bring about passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (often referred to as "Obamacare" or the "Affordable Care Act"). He also signed into law the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010. In response to the great recession, he also signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010. These combined to form an economic stimulus package. After a lengthy debate over the national debt limit, he also signed the Budget Control and the American Taxpayer Relief Acts.
In foreign policy, Obama increased U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, reduced nuclear weapons with the United States–Russia New START treaty, and ended military involvement in the Iraq War. He ordered military involvement in Libya in opposition to Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan strongman who was later killed by NATO-assisted forces. Obama also ordered the military operations that resulted in the deaths of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki. He failed to make good on a campaign promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
Obama won re-election on 2012 by defeating his Republican opponent Mitt Romney. During his second term, his administration filed briefs that urged the Supreme Court to strike down same-sex marriage bans as unconstitutional, which the court ultimately did in its landmark decision of Obergefell v. Hodges. Same-sex marriage was fully legalized in 2015. Obama also advocated for gun control in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. He supported a ban on assault weapons, and issued executive orders concerning climate change and immigration.
In his second term he ordered military intervention in Iraq in response to gains made by ISIL after the 2011 withdrawal from Iraq. He also continued plans to end U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan in 2016. He also supported the 2015 Paris Agreement on global climate change, and initiated sanctions against Russia following the invasion in Ukraine. Towards the end of his term his government signed a nuclear agreement with Iran, and normalized U.S. relations with Cuba.
Obama left office and retired in January 2017. Despite this being a time of political polarization, a December 2018 Gallup poll found Obama to be the most admired man in the nation for the 11th consecutive year. (Dwight D. Eisenhower was selected most admired in twelve non-consecutive years.) Obama's most significant accomplishment is generally considered to be the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. There have been many attempts by Senate Republicans to repeal this legislation, but so far these attempts have failed. This legislation constitutes the U.S. healthcare system's most significant regulatory overhaul and expansion of coverage since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, and it is at the center of Obama's legacy as president.
Obama is also given high marks from many commentators for his response to the Great Recession. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 11.3 million jobs were between February of 2009 and the end of his term. In 2010, Obama signed into effect the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which was passed as a response to the financial crisis. This legislation brought the most significant changes to financial regulation in the United States since the regulatory reform that followed the Great Depression under Franklin Roosevelt.
Part of Obama's legacy is the advances made in civil rights for the LGBT community. In 2009, Obama signed legislation containing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a significant addition to existing federal hate crime law. This legislation extends existing federal hate crime laws in the United States to apply to crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, and dropped the prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally protected activity. Obama also signed the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act, which brought an end to "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the U.S. armed forces. This policy had banned military service for openly LGB people. In 2016, his administration brought an end to the ban on transgender people serving openly in the U.S. armed forces as well.
But Obama continued many of the policies of his predecessors that his supporters had been critical of. He substantially increased the use of drone strikes against suspected militants and terrorists who were associated with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In the last year of his presidency, the US dropped 26,171 bombs on seven different countries. Obama left almost 15,000 US troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other nations in the region at the end of his presidency.
The Barack Obama Presidential Center is Obama's planned presidential library. It will be hosted by the University of Chicago and located in Jackson Park on the South Side of Chicago. It is expected to open in 2020 or 2021. Obama left office in January 2017 with a 60% approval rating. A 2017 C-SPAN Presidential Historians Survey ranked Obama in 12th place among Presidents-best US president.A 2018 ranking by APSA had him in 8th place, while a 2017 Siena ranking had him in 17th place. This divergence illustrates the difficulty in assessing presidencies that are so recent. Historians expressed various opinions about his effectiveness as president, and it may be that subsequent events will determine his ultimate legacy. Obama will of course always be would long be remembered as the first African-American president. His immediate legacy will reflect that he presided over an economic recovery and passed major domestic legislation, especially in the area of health care and civil rights for LGBT persons. The major goal that President Obama failed to achieve was to build a bridge across and ever-widening partisan divide. Doing so would be a pretty monumentous accomplishment for any president. Or, as another President might say, "that would be huge!"