Loop 21’s Look at the Obama Presidency
Loop 21 looks at the impact of the history-making leader of the free world
At first, black folks were skeptical. Who was this upstart Senator from the State of Illinois throwing his hat into the ring for the presidency of the United States?
It was not only that his youth and relative inexperience on the national stage seemed to pale in comparison with the political gravitas of then-U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former first lady and matriarch of the Democratic powerhouse family that blacks had long given their trust and electoral support.
Barack Obama was a black man, and, after five centuries of political, economic and overall racial oppression, black folks had long ago learned to look askance at blacks’ aspirations to become leader of the free world. Black candidates were more for making statements, not history.
And then, Barack Hussein Obama, the black man with the even blacker name, beat Clinton in Iowa’s Democratic primary. Iowa, one of the whitest states in the union. Black folks – and everyone else – began to see what would eventually come to pass: Barack Obama was presidential material.
Millions of Americans – along with people around the world – rejoiced when Obama made history four years ago by becoming the nation’s first black president.
For African Americans, Obama’s election was especially poignant. The election seemed to finally put an end to the constitutional notion that blacks were only three fifths a person. It seemed as if for the first time in the nation’s history, blacks were finally being fully accepted into the fold. The power of the moment resonates to this day, with little black boys dressing up in suits to become Obama for Halloween and black youth feeling empowered enough to wear a copy of the presidential seal on the backs of their bomber jackets.
But make no mistake, Obama’s impact has been more than racially cosmetic. In the four years since Obama became president, he has made history in terms of public policy as well. He shepherded the passage of historic legislation mandating health insurance for all. He ended the war in Iraq and oversaw the military operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, the architect of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He is the first president to publicly support same-sex marriage. The first piece of legislation he signed into law mandates equal pay for women. By executive order, he provided respite for young people brought across this nation’s borders illegally through no fault of their own, allowing them to attend colleges and get driver’s licenses without fear of immediate deportation. His Race to the Top education program encourages states to come up with innovative solutions to training young people for the highly skilled tomorrow.
With few overt nods to the needs of African Americans, Obama has faced criticism that he has taken for granted a key voting bloc that supported and continues to back him by upward of 95 percent. Criticism has been especially harsh when it comes to jobs. The issue is one Obama has struggled with throughout his presidency, but it is one that has hit African Americans especially hard, with unemployment nearing 17 percent at the height of the Great Recession.
However, black people do not live in a bubble and statistics show that they are clearly impacted by Obama’s policies. Blacks make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population, but 15 percent of those without health insurance. Recent figures show that blacks make up 16 percent of new enlistees in the nation’s military. A new Gallup poll shows 4.6 percent of blacks identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, a higher percentage than any other racial or ethnic group in the nation. And with college graduates employed at rates almost 4 times higher than high school dropouts, improving African American educational outcomes could have a direct impact on their high unemployment numbers.
This week, Loop 21 is taking an in-depth look at the impact of President Barack Obama’s first term in office. We begin Monday with a look at African American critics who say the president hasn’t done enough for the black community. Tuesday, we focus on Obama’s war policies, while Wednesday, we look at his historic healthcare reforms. We will also cover the immigration policies of the president on Thursday, and wrap up our coverage Friday with a story about Obama’s education policies.