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Barack Obama

Barack H. Obama was the 44th President of the United States. He was the first African American man to be elected to that office and the first U.S. president that had been born in Hawaii. He served two terms as president, from 2009 to 2017.

Obama’s ideology, exhibited in his speeches before, during, and after his presidency, along with his post-presidency work, all follow the general doctrine that he touted in his campaign slogans, “Yes, we can.”

Obama came into office during a tumultuous and difficult time in U.S. history. The Subprime Housing crises of 2007 and resulting recession had hit the economy hard and the country was war-weary after decades of conflict in the Middle East.

Most historians agree that Obama’s tenure in office was relatively scandal-free and that he and his family conducted themselves with dignity while in the White House.

He enacted several first-term economic policies to address the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 and ameliorate what was, at the time, the worst recession since the Great Depression. His landmark legislation on healthcare, the Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as Obamacare), offered access to health care for all Americans. While Obama’s foreign policy achievements are debated (and some of his administration's treaties and agreements have been nullified by his successor), America’s standing abroad with its allies improved while he was in office.

Obama’s administration is credited with finding and killing Osama bin Laden, the man who orchestrated the attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001 and was in part responsible for the deaths of nearly 3,000 people.

Michael Peters, professor of Educational Policy Studies at University of Illinois, summarized Obama’s over-arching political philosophy as based on the notions of unity, community, equality, and hope.

“Alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga. A belief that we are connected as one people,” said Obama in a speech he made at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. “…It’s that fundamental belief—I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper—that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family.”

Youth and Early Career

Barack Hussein Obama Jr. was born on August 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii to Stanley Ann Dunham and Barack Hussein Obama Sr. His parents parted when Barack was a year old, and Barack subsequently spent most of his young life in Indonesia with his mother and step-father and in Hawaii with his grandparents.

He earned a degree in political science from Columbia University and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where he had become the first black president of the prestigious Law Review.

He spent much of his early career in community organizing until his election to the Illinois State Senate in 1996. He later became a U.S. Senator for Illinois until his run for presidency.

Obama has authored several books, including The Audacity of Hope, Dreams From my Father, Of Thee I Sing, and A Promised Land. He is known for his love of watching and playing basketball (he played in high school), especially his hallmark jump shot.

Election 2008

The presidential election of 2008 was initially noteworthy for something that had not occurred in more than 50 years: the lack of an incumbent candidate such as a president or vice president running for office. Twenty candidates began the winnowing process, but by early 2008 the races were between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the Democratic side, and Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney (who was the first Mormon to run for president).

After the primary elections, the race for president narrowed to largely between Obama and McCain. The election results on November 4, 2008, gave an overwhelming victory to Barack Obama, who won the popular vote by nearly 53 percent to McCain’s 45.7 percent (69,498,516 votes for Obama and 59,948,323 votes for McCain). Obama also won the electoral college vote with 365 votes to McCain’s 173.

First Lady Michelle Obama

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1964 to Fraser and Marian Robinson. She studied sociology and African American studies at Princeton University, graduated Harvard Law School, and obtained her J.D. in law in 1988. Michelle met Barack Obama while working at a law firm in Chicago and they married in 1992.

Before becoming First Lady, Michelle worked in Chicago City Hall, was the founding director of the Chicago chapter of Public Allies (an AmeriCorps program), was the associate dean of student services at the University of Chicago and vice president of community and external affairs at University of Chicago Medical Center.

Although Michelle was initially reluctant to enter public life, she took an active role in campaigning for Barack’s presidential election bids, speaking at hundreds of events and delivering speeches at both the 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions.

While serving as First Lady, Michelle focused on four initiatives—Let’s Move, Joining Forces, Reach Higher, and Let Girls Learn—which were primarily intended to inspire young people and support military families. These programs promoted healthy eating habits and increased physical activity for kids; provided support for service members, veterans, and their families; encouraged post-high school education for young people across America; and supported education for girls around the world.

Upon leaving the White House, there was speculation and support for Michelle running for president. Michelle, however, is adamant that she is not interested in a political career. In her memoir, Becoming, she writes, “I have no intention of running for office, ever.” Michelle says that she wants to impact as many people as possible, but says that “politics can be a means for positive change, but this arena is just not for me.”

Michelle has written two books: American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, published in 2012; and Becoming, a memoir published in 2018 that chronicles her life from her early years in Chicago through her experiences as First Lady in the White House.

Reelection

In the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama competed against the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan. The incumbent, Obama, along with vice president, Joe Biden, won the election on November 6, 2012, and were re-appointed to a second term.

Obama won the popular vote by 51 percent over Romney’s 47 percent (65,915,795 votes for Obama and 60,933,50447 votes for Romney). Obama also won the electoral college with 332 votes to Romney’s 206 votes.

Supreme Court Judges and Decisions

During his time as president, Obama selected two judges to the Supreme Court: Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, who assumed their roles as associate justices in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Sotomayor is the first Hispanic person to sit on the court.

The death of justice Antonin Scalia in early 2016 would have offered Obama a third selection to the court, but the Republican-controlled Senate refused to consider his nominee, or any nominee, contending that no replacement should be made until after the 2016 election.

Post-Presidential Years

Barack left the White House on January 20, 2017, and he and Michelle currently live in Washington D.C. After leaving office, the Obama’s created the Obama Foundation, whose mission is to foster leadership in young people, support civic innovators, build supportive communities for young men of color, and help adolescent girls across the world get an education.

The couple also launched the independent entertainment company, Higher Ground Productions, in 2018. The company’s first documentary, American Factory, premiered on Netflix in 2019 and won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2020.

“We created Higher Ground to harness the power of storytelling,” said Barack Obama in a media release from Netflix. “Touching on issues of race and class, democracy and civil rights, and much more, we believe each of these productions won’t just entertain, but will educate, connect, and inspire us all.”

In May 2020, Barack delivered a commencement speech to the graduating class of 2020 on a national television program. Barack’s memoir, A Promised Land, was released in November 2020.

Barack Obama has endorsed Joe Biden for president in the 2020 election.

Sources and Further Reading

Bausum, Ann. (2017) Our Country’s President’s: A Complete Encyclopedia of the U.S. Presidency. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Partners

Federal Election Commission. (2009). Federal Elections 2008: Election Results for the U.S. President, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. Washington, D.C. www.fec.gov/resources/cms-content/documents/federalelections2008.pdf

Federal Election Commission. (2013). Federal Elections 2012: Election Results for the U.S. President, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives Washington, D.C. www.fec.gov/resources/cms-content/documents/federalelections2012.pdf

Obama, Barack. (2004a). Democratic National Convention in 2004. www.librarian.net/dnc/speeches/obama.txt

Barack Obama’s Commencement Speech, “Dear Class of 2020” www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGEvASSaPyg

Obama, Barack. (2007) Renewing American Leadership. July/August, Foreign Affairs. www.foreignaffairs.org/20070701faessay86401/barack-obama/renewing-american-leadership.html

Obama Foundation www.obama.org

Obama, Michelle. (2018) Becoming. New York: Crown Publishing.

Peters, Michael A. (2009). Renewing the American Dream: Obama’s political philosophy. Volume 7 Number 1, Policy Futures in Education.

Sullivan, Robert (Ed.) (2008) Life: The American Journey of Barack Obama. New York: Little, Brown, and Company.

Supreme Court Justices and Rulings. www.supremecourt.gov

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