Head to Head: Was Barack Obama a successful president?

Our commentators give their opinions on some of the most important debates in politics. Look out for our Twitter poll, where you can answer this month's question.



Was Barack Obama a successful president?




Beatrice Barr


'We make our own success, politicians more than anyone. For American politicians, success means keeping the promises made on convention stages every four years, insofar as the executive branch has the power to. For Obama, this meant Obamacare and gun control.


Obamacare was, of course, Obama’s greatest success story. Despite being forced to pass the senate’s version of the bill, which was further from his desired version than the House’s, Obama pushed through legislation that no previous President had been powerful enough to pass. This meant achieving what Bill Clinton, Harry Truman and Richard Nixon had been unable to, bringing America’s healthcare into the 21st Century. Obamacare may not be the perfect bill, but with the percentage of uninsured Americans now at its lowest in history, its success is undeniable.


The other side may argue that Obama was unsuccessful because he was unable to institute the kind of wide-ranging gun control that he envisioned. However, since the 2008 case of District of Columbia v. Heller established that the second amendment guarantees the individual right to bear arms, instituting gun control would have required wrangling with the Constitution. It’s a fact, albeit an inconvenient one, that US executive power simply does not extend to gun control. We cannot judge Obama’s success on the achievement of the impossible.


Clearly, Obama has been as successful presidential power has allowed him to be. To do more would require the GOP to overcome their hyperpartisanship, and the Constitution to be more suited to the modern day. The former of these two options is unlikely. The latter is impossible.'






Daniel Clark


'The reason that Donald Trump’s campaign slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ struck such a chord with American people is because Barack Obama wasn’t just an unsuccessful President, he was a disastrous one.


Take his much heralded attempt at introducing Obamacare, which became a complete mess. Premiums soared and potential suppliers of insurance rapidly decreased. Something that was intended to help the poor ended up hurting them the most.


He commuted the sentence of Private Manning, who leaked confidential documents that could potentially have caused great danger to American security. This isn’t quite as bad as his commutation of Oscar Lopez Rivera’s sentence who had been found guilty of seditious conspiracy (terrorism to me and you.)


It isn’t just Obama’s domestic policy that was such a problem. He was at war throughout the entirety of his two terms, and he shamefully sanctioned John Kerry’s bizarre (and empty) attack on Israel. This Nobel Peace Prize winner also sanctioned the dropping of 100,000 bombs during his presidency and – on his last day in office – he bombed Libya.


I refuse to say that Obama was a success. Sure; he wore smart suits and cracked a joke every now and again. But was he a successful president? Not a chance.'



Jake Kovacs


'Upon leaving office the Obama administration was characterised as ‘scandal free’ by the mainstream media – despite ‘fast and furious’, the IRS scandal and of course Benghazi.


While Obama’s signature healthcare reform provided 20 million more people with health insurance, it was wildly unpopular and stymied the growth of small business. 


While some may argue that his economic policies led to a recovery and growth to the economy, many others will look on with fear at the $9.3 trillion that was added to the national debt - a debt that will eventually have to be addressed by a president and congress of the near future.


As the national leader of the Democratic Party, he oversaw the loss of over 1000 Democrat seats across all levels of government. After losing the House in the 2010 midterms, Obama faced particularly stiff opposition from the Republicans (forced to the right by the Tea party in response to the aggressively progressive early Obama agenda) ,and was largely unable to influence congress into passing any of his legislation.


His response of “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone” when he failed to pass legislation, led to an even deeper entrenchment of the hyper-partisanship that was caused by his administration. 


Not to mention foreign policy errors and his unprecedented failure to convince the Senate to even hold hearings on his SCOTUS nominee Merrick Garland.  By almost every measure Barack Obama’s presidency was unsuccessful.'


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