By Léo Azambuja
On Jan. 20, President Barack Obama will drop the mic. We’ll say goodbye to one of the most successful United States presidencies in modern history.
When Obama first took office in January 2009, he inherited a country suffering from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The majority of the Western world was also falling apart financially.
Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush, had enjoyed a $128 billion surplus in 2001, his first year in office, thanks to a healthy economy inherited from President Bill Clinton. Before Bush took office, the Clinton administration had three consecutive years of federal budget surplus.
But it all crumbled under Bush’s leadership. Obama’s first year in office was tough. Operating pretty much under an economic scenario — and a budget — set by the Bush administration, the federal budget deficit soared at $1.41 trillion in 2009. Unemployment reached 10.1 percent by October 2009, and by the end of the year, the private sector alone lost nearly five million jobs.
But Obama would turn the tide around.
From 2010 through April 2016 — 74 consecutive months — we enjoyed the longest uninterrupted period of job creation in the private sector in American history, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. More precisely, 15.64 million jobs were created in the private sector from January 2010 through November 2016 (December data was unavailable by press time).
And last November, unemployment was down to 4.6 percent.
With that said, when President Elect Donald Trump talks about bringing jobs back from China to the U.S., he should consider consulting with Obama.
But what about Wall Street? The stock market has been on an upward trend since 2009, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average peaking at a record-high 19,843 last I checked Dec. 16. To have an idea of how much the Dow Jones has grown in the last eight years, on March 9, 2009, less than two months after Obama took office, it was 6,546.
And just in case Wall Street’s irresponsible behaviors prompt a new financial crisis, in July 2010, Obama signed into law the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Under the act, a number of provisions are aimed at curbing excessive risk-taking while holding Wall Street, rather than taxpayers, accountable for irresponsibility by financial firms. The act also includes ending the infamous bailouts.
Democrats are usually criticized for favoring big government and big spending. But looking at numbers, this becomes myth rather than truth. Since President Ronald Reagan took office in 1983, every single Republican president increased annual spending far more than any Democrat. Reagan actually tops the chart at 8.7 percent increased spending during his first term. On the other side of the spectrum, Obama has the lowest percentage of increased spending (1.4 percent according to Forbes and 3.3 percent according to The Washington Post) among all presidents since President Dwight Eisenhower, who left office 56 years ago.
Death and taxes may be inevitable. But you can prolong your life with healthy habits and lower your taxes with a presidency like Obama’s. According to the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, federal income taxes on middle-income families remained near historic lows during the Obama administration.
Obama provided temporary support to the auto industry, helping GM and Chrysler to quickly return to profitability after being on the verge of liquidation, which would mean at least one million jobs being lost. Instead, a year after emerging from bankruptcy, the auto industry added nearly 250,000 jobs, according to the White House.
Speaking of cars, under Obama, oil production in the U.S. reached its highest point, and today the country exports more oil and gasoline than it imports. Solar energy also soared in the Obama years.
In May 2011, a raid authorized by Obama did what Bush couldn’t do in seven years. Terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, considered the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was ambushed and killed in Pakistan by U.S. Special Operations Forces.
A champion for minorities, including LBGT, Obama repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law in the armed forces, and commended the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. As of Dec. 19, he commuted more sentences (1,176) and gave more pardons (148) to “deserving individuals” than any other U.S. president, and these numbers are expected to rise before he leaves office, according to the White House.
Obama also got the U.S. on board with global environmental practices, taking a leadership role in the historic Paris Agreement to combat climate change. More than 190 countries adopted the 2015 agreement, which sets ambitious goals to tackle climate change globally.
Additionally, last August, Obama expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument near Hawai‘i by more than 350 percent to 582,578 square miles, creating the world’s largest marine reserve. Then in September, he designated the first marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean, protecting 4,913 square miles of marine ecosystems with unique geological features that have been the subject of scientific exploration and discovery since the 1970s, according to the White House. Altogether, Obama has protected more land and water than any other U.S. president.
And then there is the Affordable Care Act, which allowed some 20 million people to gain health insurance. Among many benefits, the act prohibited coverage denials and reduction of benefits, protecting as many as 129 million Americans who have some type of pre-existing health condition — including 19 million children — according to the White House. Because of cost savings from ACA and lowered healthcare expenses, Medicare’s trust fund, which was about to run out of money by the end of 2016, will stabilize without running the risk of benefit cuttings until at least 2030.
There were hundreds of other accomplishments from Obama, too many to list. Overall, his actions helped to strengthen the economy for all, poor or rich, minority or majority, man or woman, young or old, Democrat or Republican. And he did it with class and wit, always. He even managed to squeeze a Nobel Peace Prize along the process.
You’ve done your part, Obama, now go enjoy some surfing in Hawai‘i.
Aloha ‘oe, my friend.