He was most effective as a “normal” president, and he helped put the presidency back on a human scale. He was a devoted and involved father, a loving husband, a man with acknowledged (albeit minor) vices, and someone who made it clear that he did not regard himself as omniscient. As president, he showed that effective governing requires careful deliberation, discipline, and the willingness to make hard and imperfect decisions, and he let us all watch him do just that. Even when one disagreed with his choices, one knew that his acts were never impulsive or cavalier. Future historians will give him full marks for that.
~Stephen Martin Walt, Harvard Professor of International Affairs
Barack Obama, the obvious subject of this post, is the man best known for serving as the 44th president of the United States, and for being its first black one.
Launching into the public eye with his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama instantly associated himself with hope. He built his entire presidential campaign in 2008 on it, and he promised it to the country. In the young senator from Illinois, the nation saw relief from war, relief from the threat of terrorism, and relief from the financial crisis then striking the world.
In some regards, he delivered: by the end of his term, America had escaped its worst economic crisis since the Depression. Concerning the environment, he protected a total of 553,000,000 acres of federal lands and waters, more than any other U.S. president. Moreover, he made progress towards cleaner energy, covered more people with healthcare, and perhaps in his greatest accomplishment, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate revitalized the U.S. on the world stage—restoring or reinvigorating relationships with several nations, including China and Cuba, and demonstrating unprecedented courage in his speech at Hiroshima on the 71st anniversary of dropping the bomb, when he admitted the great travesty that was committed there.
Nonetheless, in his first 100 days, it became painfully obvious that he would not be the hope that we had dreamt of or even that he intended to be. In his first of many attempts to close the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, we witnessed as the Republicans in Congress would decidedly not cooperate. And over the course of the next eight years, the trenches were dug, the lines drawn, and the proud land grew stagnant. Paul W. Kahn, a professor of Law at Yale, commented on these recent years, “It was the moment at which gridlock became institutionalized.”
And so we look back on a presidency centered on hope that was, in the end, little more than a mild legislative affair. There was no new, bold action. Nothing on the books to remember him by. But in Barack Obama, we had infinitely more to appreciate than any revolutionary; we had a man that was noble—a man of profound dignity and wisdom, a man filled with compassion—theologically and politically astute—a man of values—a man to admire, and a leader to make his citizens proud.
For one such as this, we all will—enemy, ally—with wistful, thankful hearts wish him a glad goodbye.