On election night of 2008, I was a freshman in high school rooting, as I always had, for the Republican to claim the night. On election night of 2012 as a freshman in college, I watched the night irritably knowing the third-party candidate for whom I had voted had absolutely no chance.
Regretfully, I have never voted for Barack Obama, despite the inspirational and accomplished figure he has become to me. But as his tenure comes to an end, I find myself incumbent to reflect upon his presidency.
The freshman Senator of Illinois, who had a knack for rhetoric and an unelectable name, captured the spirit of our nation. After his 2004 convention speech and book of the same name, The Audacity of Hope, and his presidential bid based on unity, inspiration, and hope, Obama became the agent and symbol of change.
Leading into this election, the anxiety and depression of our nation was astronomical. As we were still traumatized from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we entered multiple unfunded wars. And, if wartime were not enough, we helplessly watched as our entire economy devoured our savings, our homes and our entire way of life.
We were a nation in mourning.
Upon the election of our symbol of hope and change, we witnessed the audacity and ambition of a new, fresh and ever-hopeful president. Though as a constitutional scholar he was skeptical of the executive powers, he embraced them as a mechanism to achieve his ambitious agenda, in-step with the Democratic majority in the Congress.
Among his major, and arguably most controversial and consequential, accomplishments is the Affordable Care Act, which reformed the entire health insurance system by banning preexisting condition stipulations, allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance for longer, expanding Medicaid to the working poor, and providing subsidies to Americans to make healthcare more affordable. While ambitious and well-intended, reform was flawed.
Following his initial election and ambitious attitude, he would simply reply, “Elections have consequences,” when Republicans attempted to obstruct or subdue his agenda. The following 2010 midterm election turned out to be equally consequential when Democrats lost control of the House.
Unable to work with the new Republican leadership to fix the foreseeable kinks of the Affordable Care Act, the hopeful, young president lost his spark. The audacity of hope became the audacity of division; the agent of change became the agent of the status quo.
With that, the Obama Administration turned their eyes to opportunities to make the bureaucracy more efficient and effective and to foreign policy, working with Republicans where he could.
Under the Obama Presidency, our nation’s warmongering and intrusive reputation abroad has been mended with many, healthcare became tremendously more affordable for the sickest among us, equal rights and protections were continuously upheld and defended, the economy has begun to slowly recover, and our environment is quite a bit healthier and protected.
Although I never voted for him, Obama is among the many reasons I became a Democrat. As Democrats, we cherish his legacy. Recognizing flaws and reality, Barack Obama gave us the audacity to hope. With this hope, change, and the ambition of it all, we now look with hope toward the audacity of our future, where we will continue to fight for equality, opportunity and justice.
“The long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all and not just some.” –President Barack Obama, Farewell Address 2017
Nick Smith is the Chair of the Jackson Parish Democratic Party.