A little over eight years ago, a young and charismatic man was rallying a broad coalition of voters around a message of hope and change.
His rise was marked not by fear, not by hatred, nor by despair – even though it would have been relatively easy during those difficult times to prey on our battered national psyche.
Back then, the country was sliding into a Great Recession. Unemployment was high and getting higher, incomes were stagnant, the sagging housing market was hurting homeowners and our overall economy, millions upon millions suffered without health care, and the nation needed a positive outlook backed by positive policies.
Barack Obama, the skinny kid with the funny name, inspired so many desperately in need of hope.
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The new president moved quickly with a robust stimulus package and an auto industry boost, both of which saved and created jobs, significantly contributing to the country’s economic recovery. Despite very little help from detractors and political opponents in Congress, his combination of hope and smartly targeted policy brought change.
A year later, Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. The much-maligned health care reform law has allowed tens of millions to get care and has been a win not only for those now covered but for a system long-burdened by treating the uninsured.
Reform of the finance industry, largely responsible for the depth of the recession, if not the recession itself, came next. The livelihoods, savings and homes of so many became more stable.
Along the way, working with or in spite of Congress, Obama managed to eliminate terror leader Osama bin Laden, repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” reverse torture policies and restore the United States’ image around the world.
He made college more affordable, boosted fuel efficiency standards, increased support of veterans, signed a gender pay equity law, expanded environmental protections, negotiated and signed key international treaties on arms and climate impacts, expanded LGBTQ rights and protections, and promoted civil and voting rights.
One could argue that there have been missed opportunities or too much attention paid to a few misguided policy goals. An early push for bipartisanship cost time and looks downright foolish in retrospect. Well-intentioned attempts at reforming public secondary education have sadly only deepened the competitive divide at a cost to students.These shortcomings do not, however, diminish the progress our nation has made over the past eight years.
As we enter into a new, uncertain era, we need to keep in mind the grace, thoughtfulness, strength and welcoming presence the Obamas have brought to the White House and use those memories as inspiration in resisting malice and protecting the progress we’ve made.
Don Kusler is the national director of Americans for Democratic Action.
Tribune News Service