A look at Obama's legacy: 9 ways he left his mark

He made friends and he made enemies. And like every other man who has held the office, he made history.

Barack Obama, who got into politics as a community organizer, will leave the White House next week, eight years after he swept into power promising “Hope and Change.” What he delivered was, by his own measure, not what he had hoped.

On the other hand, the first African American president had some victories. One in particular,  the Affordable Care Act, was historic in scope, changing the health care landscape across the country.

His biggest achievement as president, however, has become a symbol of what appears to be one of his biggest fears – the disappearance of his legacy.

Here’s a look back at the Obama years and achievements, courtesy of The Associated Press. Click on the headlines to read the full stories.


WASHINGTON (AP) — He was a first-term senator-turned-president, a former law professor with little experience in economics or management. When he entered the White House he had one essential task: piece together the shards of a shattered U.S. economy.

It wasn't smooth and it wasn't fast. But President Barack Obama will leave behind, by most measures, an economy far stronger than the one he inherited. Unemployment is 4.6 percent, a nine-year low. Stocks keep setting highs. An additional 20 million Americans have health insurance coverage. The nation has shifted toward cleaner energy sources: natural gas, wind and solar.

Yet it's also an economy that left many people feeling neglected. Polling after the November election found that nearly two-thirds of voters described the economy as "not so good" or "poor."

The costs of housing, college and prescription drugs kept outpacing paychecks. Job options had been dwindling for workers with only high school diplomas even before Obama took office, but the downturn and slow recovery magnified the pain of that trend. Many people gave up looking for work. Struggling rural towns never enjoyed the uplift that benefited major cities.


WASHINGTON (AP) — He entered the White House a living symbol, breaking a color line that had stood for 220 years.

Barack Obama took office, and race immediately became a focal point in a way that was unprecedented in American history. No matter his accomplishments, he seemed destined to be remembered foremost as the first black man to lead the world’s most powerful nation.

But Obama’s racial legacy is as complicated as the president himself.

To many, his election was a step toward realizing the dream of a post-racial society. He was dubbed the Jackie Robinson of politics. African-Americans, along with Latinos and Asians, voted for him in record numbers in 2008, flush with expectations that he’d deliver on hope and change for people of color.

Some say he did, ushering in criminal justice reforms that helped minorities, protecting hundreds of thousands of immigrants from deportation and appointing racially diverse leaders to key jobs, including the first two black attorneys general. These supporters say he deserves more credit than he gets for bringing America back from the worst recession since the Great Depression, the killing of Osama bin Laden, and a major expansion of health care that secured insurance for millions of minorities. They celebrate his family as a sterling symbol of black success.

But Obama also frustrated some who believe he didn’t speak out quickly or forcefully enough on race or push aggressively enough for immigration reform.


WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's inability to overhaul the nation's immigration system will stand as the most glaring failure in his effort to enact a vision of social change. Despite two campaigns full of promises and multiple strategies, he imposed only incremental, largely temporary modifications.

When his presidency ends in January, Obama will leave behind an outdated and overwhelmed system, with some 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally.

The missed goal is part of a legacy that included a sometimes contradictory mix of policies — some aimed at bringing immigrants "out of the shadows," others at removing them from the U.S.

Obama will be remembered for protecting 730,000 young people, a generation of so-called Dreamers, who were brought to the U.S. as children. Advocates and allies will credit him with embracing a newly aggressive assertion of executive power that, despite last week's Supreme Court deadlock and political opposition, remains a legal pathway for the next president. And he will go down as a leader who consistently defended the importance of immigrants in American life, as anti-immigrant sentiment swelled up in parts of the U.S. and abroad.

"Immigration is not something to fear," Obama said last week. "We don't have to wall ourselves off from those who may not look like us right now or pray like we do, or have a different last name."

LGBT strides

WASHINGTON (AP) — It was a new look for the White House: illuminated in rainbow colors to celebrate the Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriage nationwide.

President Barack Obama, who was inside, felt the glow on that June night in 2015.

“To see people gathered in the evening outside on a beautiful summer night, and to feel whole and to feel accepted, and to feel that they had a right to love, that was pretty cool,” he said a few days later.

"Pretty cool." That might be a fair description of how Obama himself is viewed by legions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans who consider him, among all of the nation's presidents, the greatest champion of their rights and well-being.

The relationship was slow in developing.

Obama took office in 2009 as a self-described "fierce advocate" for gay rights, yet for much of his first term drew flak from impatient, skeptical activists who viewed him as too cautious, too politically expedient. They were frustrated that he wouldn't endorse same-sex marriage, Obama cagily said he was “evolving”, and wanted him to move faster on several other issues. But the pace of Obama's actions steadily accelerated.


WASHINGTON (AP) — Seven years ago this week, when a young American president learned he'd been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize barely nine months into his first term — arguably before he'd made any peace — a somewhat embarrassed Barack Obama asked his aides to write an acceptance speech that addressed the awkwardness of the award.

But by the time his speechwriters delivered a draft, Obama's focus had shifted to another source of tension in his upcoming moment in Oslo: He would deliver this speech about peace just days after he planned to order 30,000 more American troops into battle in Afghanistan.

The president all-but scrapped the draft and wrote his own version.

The speech Obama delivered — a Nobel Peace Prize lecture about the necessity of waging war — now looks like an early sign that the American president would not be the sort of peacemaker the European intellectuals of the Nobel committee had anticipated.

On matters of war and peace, Obama has proven to be a confounding and contradictory figure, one who stands to leave behind both devastating and pressing failures, as well as a set of fresh accomplishments whose impact could resonate for decades.

Health Care

WASHINGTON (AP) — Although his signature law is in jeopardy, President Barack Obama's work reshaping health care in America is certain to endure in the broad public support for many of its underlying principles, along with conflicts over how to secure them.

The belief that people with medical problems should be able to get health insurance is no longer challenged. The issue seems to be how to guarantee that. The idea that government should help those who can't afford their premiums has gained acceptance. The question is how much, and for what kind of coverage.

"The American people have now set new standards for access to health care based on the Affordable Care Act," former Surgeon General David Satcher says. "I don't believe it will ever be acceptable again to have 50 million people without access to health care."

Obama's influence will continue in other ways, less visible and hardly divisive:

  • —Medicare is shifting to paying for value, not just volume.
  • —The importance of prevention and front-line primary care is more widely recognized.
  • —Doctors and hospitals have computerized their records systems, even if connectivity remains elusive.
  • —The government has opened up massive files of health care billing data, enabling independent analysts to look for patterns of questionable spending.

But conflict is part of Obama's legacy, too. He leaves the country deeply divided about the government's role in health care.

Pop culture

WASHINGTON (AP) — From his campaign fist bump to his theatrical mic drop at the last White House correspondents’ dinner, Barack Obama ruled as America’s pop culture president.

His two terms played out like a running chronicle of the trends of our times: slow-jamming the news with Jimmy Fallon, reading mean tweets with Jimmy Kimmel, filling out his NCAA basketball bracket on ESPN, cruising with Jerry Seinfeld on “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

“I’m appreciably cooler than I was two minutes ago," Obama declared after taking the wheel of a 1963 Corvette Stingray with Seinfeld in 2015.

And, months before the end of his term, he delivered what could be his with-it farewell line as he ended his remarks at the correspondents dinner by embracing a gesture popularized by rappers and comedians.

“Obama out,” he deadpanned, as he dropped his microphone and left the lectern.

Michelle Obama matched the president on-trend moment for on-trend moment: She strapped on a seatbelt for "Carpool Karaoke" with James Corden, beat Ellen DeGeneres in a push-ups contest and rapped with a turnip.

It wasn’t just frivolity, though.

In an increasingly fragmented media world, the Obamas used niche pop culture platforms to serious ends.


WASHINGTON (AP) — In boasting about his tenure in the White House, President Barack Obama often cites numbers like these: 15 million new jobs, a 4.9 percent unemployment rate and 74 months of consecutive job growth.

There's one number you will almost never hear: More than 1,030 seats.

That's the number of spots in state legislatures, governor's mansions and Congress lost by Democrats during Obama's presidency.

It's a statistic that reveals an unexpected twist of the Obama years: The leadership of the one-time community organizer and champion of ground-up politics was rough on the grassroots of his own party. When Obama exits the White House, he'll leave behind a Democratic Party that languished in his shadow for years and is searching for itself.

"What's happened on the ground is that voters have been punishing Democrats for eight solid years — it's been exhausting," said South Carolina state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, who lost two gubernatorial campaigns to Nikki Haley, President-elect Donald Trump's pick for ambassador to the U.N. "If I was talking about a local or state issue, voters would always lapse back into a national topic: Barack Obama."

When Obama won the presidency, his election was heralded as a moment of Democratic dominance — the crashing of a conservative wave that had swept the country since the dawn of the Reagan era.

Democrats believed that the coalition of young, minority and female voters who swept Obama into the White House would usher in something new: an ascendant Democratic majority that would ensure party gains for decades to come.

The coalition, it turns out, was Obama's alone.

Social media

WASHINGTON (AP) — When President Barack Obama called on world leaders at the United Nations to do more for the world’s refugees, his mention of a young boy named Alex could have just been a footnote, a forgotten paragraph in a daily blizzard of speeches and press releases.

The White House had other plans. Social media gurus at the White House built on the president’s remarks by sending a video crew to Alex’s home in New York. They recorded an adorable Alex reading aloud a letter he had written. Alex asked the president to bring to his house a 5-year-old bloodied boy the world had seen sitting in an ambulance in Aleppo, Syria. He promised: “We will give him a family, and he will be our brother.”

When the White House posted the video on the president’s Facebook page it was watched 27 million times. It also generated a wave of stories in media outlets around the country _ drawing attention to the boy’s compassion and, by association, Obama’s desire to persuade the United States and the rest of the world to embrace more Syrian refugees.

The Alex video demonstrated how the Obama administration has increasingly turned to a new menu of options to engage the public. The first American president of the social media age, Obama has for years been breaking ground on how politicians connect with a digitally savvy electorate. He has used social media as a tool to educate, to amuse, to spin, and, undoubtedly, to shape his legacy. And judging by his successor’s Twitter account, it’s one of the few legacies he’s leaving that President-elect Donald Trump has embraced.

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