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October 14th, 2019

Ranking the Presidents: Barack Obama

On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being best), how would you grade Barack Obama, based on the performance of his duties as President? You can go to this link to vote. In 2008 it was inevitable that a Democrat would win the Presidency. The nation was growing weary of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in late 2007, when the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression hit, the popularity of incumbent Republican President George W. Bush took a nosedive. In the 2008 election, the nation was given a choice between experience (John McCain) or "hope and change" (Barack Obama). The nation opted for the latter.

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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.

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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.

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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!"

Happy Birthday Ike

Today is the 129th birthday of President Dwight David Eisenhower. He was born on October 14, 1890. He is one of my favorite Presidents, and the Eisenhower Presidential Center in Abilene, Kansas, is also one of my favorite Presidential Libraries and Museums. I've been there three times (so far).

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Although Dwight D. Eisenhower is usually associated with Kansas (where his family lived for most of his life), he was actually born in Denison, Texas, the third of seven sons. His mother originally named him David Dwight but she reversed the two names after his birth in order to avoid the confusion of having two Davids in the family. (Ike's father was named David). In 1892, the family moved to Abilene, Kansas, the town that Eisenhower considered to be his home town. From his modest midwestern roots, Eisenhower accomplished much. Besides being the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961, he had previously been a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. In that role he had responsibility for planning and supervising the invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch in 1942–43 and later the successful invasion of France and Germany in 1944–45 from the Western Front. In 1951, he became the first supreme commander of NATO.

Eisenhower's parents had a strong religious background that included pacifist beliefs. In spite of this, Eisenhower attended and graduated from West Point Military Academy, where he was more of an athlete than a scholar. He played football for West Point, but a knee injury ended what might have been a promising athletic career. He married the former Mamie Doud, who by marriage acquired the turbulent and transient life of a military spouse. The couple had two sons. After World War II, Eisenhower served as Army Chief of Staff under President Harry S. Truman, and then assumed the post of President at Columbia University.

Eisenhower entered the 1952 presidential race as a very popular candidate. Both parties wanted him and Harry Truman offered to step aside if Ike ran for the Democrats. Eisenhower chose the Republican party instead and he won by a landslide, defeating Democrat Adlai Stevenson and ending two decades of the New Deal Coalition. Almost immediately he kept a campaign promise in which he told voters "I shall go to Korea", and that he did. When he was there he ate the same rations as the enlisted men instead of presidential cuisine. In the first year of his presidency, Eisenhower deposed the leader of Iran in the 1953 Iranian coup d'état and used the threat of nuclear aggression to end the Korean War in a stalemate as the United States squared off with China for the latter nation's first time as a major world power. Ike's policy of nuclear deterrence gave priority to inexpensive nuclear weapons while reducing the funding for conventional military forces. His goal was to keep pressure on the Soviet Union while reducing federal deficits.



In 1954, Eisenhower set out his "domino theory" in assessing the threat presented by the spread of communism. When the Soviets launched their Sputnik satellite in 1957, he believed that the United States had to play catch-up in the space race. He forced Israel, the UK, and France to end their invasion of Egypt during the Suez Crisis of 1956. In 1958, he sent 15,000 U.S. troops to Lebanon to prevent the pro-Western government from falling to a Nasser-inspired revolution. Near the end of his term, his efforts to set up a summit meeting with the Soviets collapsed because of the U-2 spy plane incident in which he was caught in a lie about the US spying on the Russians. He gave a very famous 1961 farewell address to the nation, in which Eisenhower expressed his concerns about future dangers of massive military spending, especially deficit spending, and warned Americans to be on guard against what he called the "military–industrial complex".

On the domestic front, he opposed Senator Joe McCarthy's witch-hunt against communists at home, though many believe that he didn't do so strongly enough. More important to his legacy, he launched the Interstate Highway System, and under the guise of improving national defense, he created a vastly improved set of roads for national domestic travel and commerce. He sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, for the first time since Reconstruction to enforce federal court orders to desegregate public schools. He also signed civil rights legislation in 1957 and 1960 to protect the right to vote. He implemented desegregation of the armed forces in two years and made five appointments to the Supreme Court. He didn't intend things to work out this way, but by appointing former California Republican Governor Earl Warren as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he brought about great advances in the field of civil liberties, albeit much too fast for the conservative Eisenhower, who preferred his social change at a more gradual pace. He was also the first term-limited president in accordance with the 22nd Amendment. He suffered a heart attack prior to the end of his first term, but still managed to win a second term.

Eisenhower's two terms were peaceful ones for the most part and saw considerable economic prosperity except for a sharp recession in 1958–59. Eisenhower is often ranked highly among the U.S. presidents. Eisenhower spent his final years as an elder statesman.

On March 28, 1969, Dwight Eisenhower died in Washington, D.C. of congestive heart failure at Walter Reed Army Hospital at the age of 78. He is interred in a small chapel on the grounds of the Eisenhower Presidential Library, alongside his son Doud, who died at age 3 in 1921. His wife Mamie was buried next to him after her death a decade later in 1979. The marble walls surrounding the couple's resting place contain some of Eisenhower's greatest oratory.

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When Dwight Eisenhower died, his former Vice-President was now in the Oval Office. Richard Nixon said of his former boss:

"Some men are considered great because they lead great armies or they lead powerful nations. For eight years now, Dwight Eisenhower has neither commanded an army nor led a nation; and yet he remained through his final days the world's most admired and respected man, truly the first citizen of the world."

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