Thanks, Obama: A Fond Farewell

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • November 3, 2016

At issue: The end of Obama’s presidency

Our take: We didn’t realize how good we had it

It’s five days until the election, and our president has never been more popular. In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Monday, Americans learned that Obama has received his highest job approval rating since his second inauguration. And regardless of your personal opinion on Obama’s policies, it’s clear that he’s doing far better than his predecessor. Obama’s current approval rating is 51 percent; at this time in 2008, George W. Bush had an approval rating of only 29 percent. Maybe it’s the depressing election cycle, or maybe it’s the countless adorable videos of the Obamas with children, but it’s clear that Americans are not ready to see our president go.

Perhaps this is because, with today’s technology, we’ve never been closer to a president. He’s fully embraced the emergence of social media in the past eight years—he was the first president to take on the @POTUS Twitter handle. In an effort to promote the Affordable Care Act, Obama took to new platforms aimed at a younger audience, such as Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns.”

Obama famously took to Reddit for an “AMA,” or Ask Me Anything, in August 2012. For the online Q&A session, he answered questions on everything from money in politics to White House beer. This was unprecedented; big nerdy celebrities like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, and Ken Jennings had already come to Reddit for an AMA, but this was the POTUS! The response was so powerful that the Reddit servers actually crashed.

Wired’s November issue featured Obama as a guest editor, where he curated a selection of stories under the theme of “Frontiers,” where he praised and encouraged innovation at a personal, local, global, and cosmic level. Sure, Obama’s always been hip with the youths—and that’s definitely a draw. But his use of these paths demonstrates, more than anything, his attention to his audience, and his understanding of how he should address us. If John F. Kennedy was the first TV president, then Obama is the first Internet president.

But not every aspect of his presidency has been well-received—many of the decisions made under Obama’s watch haven’t. During his campaign and first term, he promised time and time again to close Guantanamo Bay. Despite this, Guantanamo is still open and still has 60 residents. And despite claims in 2009 that his White House would support transparency, Obama and his staff have prosecuted more information leakers than every previous president combined. James Goodale, a chief counsel to the New York Times in 1971, called Obama’s press policy “antediluvian, conservative, backwards. Worse than Nixon.” Perhaps this is why Obama only has an 8% approval rating among Republicans. But his policies aren’t the only thing that contribute to his popularity—a good part of the buzz surrounding Obama comes from his wife, Michelle.

Michelle is not only an exceptional, equal, and supportive partner, she’s also a celebrated leader. In the White House, the first African-American first lady launched the Let’s Move! Initiative to promote healthy eating and physical activity, and, in 2009, she worked with local elementary school students to plant a 1,100-square-foot vegetable garden on the South Lawn of the White House. She has had a hand in countless other programs, including Joining Forces in 2011, and Reach Higher during her husband’s second term. And, remember, she did all of this while also raising her two daughters, Sasha and Malia Obama.

Regardless of whether you view the Obama administration as the best or worst presidency of our generation, he will be remembered as one of the most influential presidents of our time. In his eight years in office, his administration reformed health care, increased tax rates for the wealthiest Americans, mandated higher nutritional value for meals in public schools, helped the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide in the environment and expanded wilderness protection, and, of course, killed Osama Bin Laden.

There are important decisions Obama has made that we can expect the next president to make as well. One of the two candidates—both loathed by many—will become the commander in chief and chief legislator. Their judgement will continue to stand even when their presidency is over—the president has the executive authority to appoint Supreme Court judges, negotiate foreign policy, and decide if and how military weapons will be used. These decisions cannot be undone. When casting your ballot for this election, it’s important to remember that the impact of a presidency continues on long after they leave office.