For someone who came into office with grand dreams and hopes for making a difference in the life of our country as its first African-American president, Barack Obama met with an almost immovable wall of resistance. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told his caucus in their first meeting that their goal would be to make sure that Obama was a one-term president.
They failed to achieve that, as Obama's eighth year as president winds down. And there are some significant achievements, including: the Affordable Care Act, which just had its biggest year yet of new enrollments; saving the U.S. auto industry; presiding over an amazing economic recovery -- amazing for Wall Street and the stock markets, but not so much for Main Street. Nevertheless, the unemployment rate has fallen to almost half what it was early in his term following the inherited economic disaster. He also oversaw significant reforms in bank regulations, in getting rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell; and his administration supported SCOTUS' overturning the ban on same-sex marriage. He made significant progress in ending the war in Iraq and winding down the one in Afghanistan. And led the U.S. to become a signatory of the most comprehensive international climate control agreement
You wouldn't know it from the way President Obama was denigrated by the Trump campaign and the Republicans in general; 'cause that's politics. But the American people know, and it shows in Obama's approval ratings.
Here in his last weeks in office, though, Obama is tying up a loose end here and there: putting large areas of the northern coastlines, both in the North Atlantic and in the Artic regions, off limits for future oil drilling.
This one is symbolic in effect, in that it can be changed by his successor; but the U.S. opted for an abstention rather than a veto this week as the United Nations Security Council voted on a resolution to condemn the Israeli settlement building on land claimed by the Palestinians since the 1967 war. It has led to a spat, with President-elect Trump tweeting out that it will be different after January 20th, signalling his full-throated support for Israel, right or wrong. But Obama at least finally got to assert his disagreement with Netanyahu about the settlements. And all 14 other members of the Security Council got to cast a vote of condemnation too -- which had been denied when we always stepped in to veto it.
Obama has been obviously chafing at Natanyahu's antics and extremism for years now. He had one last chance to act on it -- and he allowed our U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power to vote accordingly. The final vote was 14 to 0 for the resolution, with the U.S.'s abstention. All other members voted yes. Netanyahu is furious. But it was important, both for Obama and for others of us who think the Israeli settlements are a block to peace negotiations for a two-state solution.
There will be lots of time, and books, to explore the Obama legacy. These are only what come to my mind at this moment -- when the worry seems to be that Trump will undo most of what Obama has accomplished.