We have reached the end of an era. In a few short weeks, President Barack Obama will depart from the White House. As we evaluate the merits of his tenure, we will find out soon if absence truly makes the heart grow fonder. How should Christians view his presidency, or any presidency for that matter? I’d suggest that analyzing whether the Obama administration increased opportunities to experience the freedom and dignity of work, coupled with its treatment of the marginalized, are important places for Christians to begin.
There were more jobs created in 2014 than in any year this century. The Obama administration bailed out the American auto industry, saving 1.5 million jobs. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, 20 million more people now have health insurance. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, restoring basic protections against pay discrimination for women and other workers. The recession ended six months after his stimulus package, when GDP growth turned positive. The unemployment rate is 2.8 percent lower now than when he first took office.
In addition, Obama secured a $1.2 billion settlement for African-American farmers who were historically denied loans and assistance by the Agricultural Department. Furthermore, he signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which narrowed the disparity between sentencing for crack and powdered cocaine. In terms of foreign policy, he brokered a controversial nuclear deal with Iran, oversaw the demise of Osama bin Laden, and thawed the relationship between the United States and Cuba.
How should Christians view Obama's presidency, or any presidency for that matter?
Yet there are less-than-stellar portions of his record as well. Whether he can fully be blamed for this or not, he was unable to positively impact the rancor and vitriol in Washington. Additionally, he moved the bar on LGBTQ rights in ways that have failed to protect certain First Amendment religious freedoms. For the faith community, this has represented a considerable challenge. Overall, there are more people living in poverty in the U.S. than at any other time in history at 46 million people (although the percentage of people in poverty has not grown). He has also deported more people than any president in history. The federal debt has almost doubled under his leadership, and many believe that the growth of ISIS can be directly attributed to his foreign-policy efforts. These are all issues that require substantial discussion as well.
Given the totality of his presidency, however, it is difficult to give credence to claims that Obama was a failure or that the world is worse off because of him. Like many previous presidents, the perspective of the evaluator is the most significant factor in the final assessment. As one who understands the biblical mandate to protect the “least of these,” in evaluating access to healthcare, employment, and educational opportunities, I commend the work of this administration. While there is room for criticism in additional areas, I choose to make my assessment primarily using the aforementioned lens.
As we face a nation increasingly divided along ethnic and economic lines, the effectiveness of the “hope and change” president will be vociferously debated. If asked, 10 years ago, whether or not Obama could have achieved as many legislative accomplishments as he has, many would have said no. As we remember Barack Obama, let us remember him in relation to the title of his book, The Audacity of Hope. More than anything, this is what his legacy represents.