By Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
As President Obama’s eight years heads into its final stretch, his accomplishments are becoming clear, rising above the daily skirmishes, wins and losses. As the first African American president, Obama was always going to be an historic figure. But increasingly, it is becoming clear that he will be remembered as a significant president not simply for winning office, but for what he accomplished while holding it. The first inklings of the results are reflected in recent polls showing that 50 percent of Americans now think the Obama presidency has been a success – an impressive number given the bitter partisan divides of our politics.
Economically, the president inherited an economy that was in free fall, losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month. Now he presides over an economy that has created 12 million jobs, witnessed the fastest economic growth in a decade, and sets a record each month for the longest consecutive months of jobs growth.
Health care reform – with the Affordable Care Act reaffirmed once more in the Supreme Court – has provided a big step forward. Some 15 million Americans have gained insurance, even as health care costs have risen at the lowest levels this century.
On the environment, the president is the most important leader since…well, since Nixon. His stimulus plan provided a major boost to renewable energy. He used regulation and executive order – particularly the gas mileage standards and the soon to come carbon emission standards – to boost energy conservation and limit carbon emissions. He will carry a strong hand into the round of climate negotiations in Paris.
On immigration, the Congress has stymied comprehensive reform. But by executive order, the president has provided some hope for the millions left in the margins.
On social issues, the president has been more observer than actor. Yet on his watch, the Supreme Court has ratified gay marriage. After the publicity about police shootings garnered attention, a bipartisan turn against mass incarceration has gained momentum with the Justice Department weighing in.
On economic inequality, President Obama used his bully pulpit to put the issue in the front of the American people. In the budgetary wars, he has succeeded in raising taxes on the rich. He sought, with little success, to increase investment in the most vulnerable.
On foreign policy, the president’s effort to extricate us from the sectarian wars in the Persian Gulf have been largely frustrated. Troops are going back into Iraq, now to take on the threat posed by ISIS. He has emerged as a defender of presidential prerogatives in national security. By opening relations with Cuba, the president has created the basis for a new start with our neighbors in this hemisphere.
Much, of course, remains to be done.
But this president has faced unprecedented obstruction, insult and venomous hatreds. And has forged a potential majority political coalition that could insure – if its members show up at the voting booth – that reform accelerates rather than retreats.
Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is founder and president of the Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition. You can keep up with his work at www.rainbowpush.org
Read entire editorial in New Journal and Guide, July 9-15, 2015.