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Government and Economy

President Barack Obama’s Legacy and Unresolved Issues

Takashi Yoshino
Professor, Waseda University Faculty of Political Science and Economics

In his address to the U.N. General Assembly on September 28, 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama highlighted his administration’s diplomatic achievements reached through dialogue and cooperation. These achievements included the nuclear agreement with Iran and the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba. It has already been six years and nine months since President Obama was sworn into office in January 2009 and presidential primaries for the next US president begin in a few months. In this article, I would like to discuss the legacy of the Obama administration and the unresolved issues it will leave behind.

Domestic policy

We can evaluate President Obama’s domestic policies from two perspectives. One is from the idea of “One America,” a talking point President Obama emphasized during his 2008 bid for the presidency. At that time, policy conflicts between the two major parties (Democratic and Republican) had intensified since the mid-1990s, and critics commented that American politics were divided based on policy that differed greatly, particularly in the state government level, depending on which party was in power. Many Americans hoped President Obama’s campaign to realize a united “One America” would succeed. However, the political divide deepened further when the conservative Tea Party movement that opposed big government gained traction following the Lehman shock and the introduction of President Obama’s healthcare reform. Finding it difficult to find bipartisan-led solutions, President Obama searched for solutions within the Democratic Party. As a result, conflicts concerning the raising of the federal government’s debt ceiling continued. The Obama Administration has not realized its vision for “One America”, nor has it even put forward the roadmap to achieving it.

The second perspective for evaluating the Obama administration is from the guiding principles President Obama advocated when he talked about a reinvigorated America. President Obama is not a conventional liberal politician but rather an advocate of middle-of-the-road ideas that looks for new relationships between the government and markets. Under the slogan “One America,” he has attempted to realize an affluent America by eliminating discrimination and disparities among Americans as well as restore the middle class through the concepts of competition and economic growth. It has not been easy to complete this objective in the midst of globalization and deregulation, but one of the most important concrete results of his efforts is the general agreement reached on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which President Obama is currently seeking early ratification for in Congress.

Foreign policy

President Obama’s most specific campaign pledge regarding foreign policy was the withdrawal of U.S. armed forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and the fight against terrorism. He completed the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011 but abandoned the plan to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of his term in office (January 2017). This is because policy makers have increasingly called for troops to remain in Afghanistan following the emergence of the Islamic extremist group, the Islamic State, in Iraq. Meanwhile, President Obama has failed to put forward effective countermeasures for the civil war in Syria and resulting refugee crisis. However, it is unfair to consider such failure the result of President Obama’s negligence or blunder. It is common knowledge that President Obama prioritized economic issues and although he stated the U.S. would shift the focus of its foreign policy to Asia, his administration has failed to suppress China’s hegemonistic behavior in the East China Sea. In this regard, the general consensus on the TPP was a clear measure to counter the establishment of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Unresolved Issues

As we approach the 2016 presidential election, the race for the Democratic and Republican presidential nomination has begun. However, the televised presidential debates have not effectively communicated candidates’ visions for America to viewers. The U.S. faces many issues such as interparty conflicts, confrontational politics, and the country’s role in international politics, but what’s more concerning is immigration policy. America is a country of immigrants and its economy needs immigration in order to be reinvigorated. However, opinion is divided between the Democrats who advocate for tolerant policy of accepting immigrants from Mexico and Republicans who insist on strict regulatory policy. Given that the percentage of Hispanics in the U.S. will continue to grow, no candidate can win the presidency without the Hispanic vote. Hispanic voters have not displayed a clear allegiance with either party as Hispanic Americans supported Republican candidate George W. Bush in 2000 and Barak Obama in 2008 and 2012. The party that presents policies that can win the Hispanic vote will determine trends in American politics. Looking back at the long history of American politics reminds us that previously marginalized groups such as African Americans, women, and Southern conservative whites have been incorporated into the political process through election campaigns between the two major parties. The next group is Hispanic Americans. When and how Hispanics will be incorporated into American society and politics will be an important perspective to consider when attempting to understand and analyze the future of American politics.

Prediction of the percentage of ethnic groups to America’s total population (2014–2060)

  2014 2060
Total population 318.75 million (100.0) 416.8 million (100.0)
Ethnic groups Whites 246.94 million (77.5) 285.31 million (68.5)
Whites (excluding Hispanics) 198.1 million (62.6) 181.93 million (43.6)
Blacks or African Americans 42.04 million (13.2) 59.69 million (14.3)
Asians 17.08 million (5.4) 38.97 million (9.3)
Hawaiians and Polynesians 730,000 (0.2) 1.19 million (0.3)
Hispanics Persons of Hispanic descent 55.41 million (17.4) 119.04 million (28.6)
Other than Hispanics 263.34 million (82.6) 297.75 million (71.4)

The unit is persons (%). Hispanics do not refer to an ethnic group and are defined as people who (1) come, or whose ancestors came, from a Spanish-speaking Latin American country, (2) identify themselves as such, and (3) reside in the United States.
Source) Projections of the Size and Composition of the U.S. Population: 2014 to 2060
Population Estimates and Projections
http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2015/demo/p25-1143.pdf

Takashi Yoshino
Professor, Waseda University Faculty of Political Science and Economics

[Profile]

Takashi Yoshino was born in Nagano Prefecture in 1954. He graduated from the Waseda University School of Political Science and Economics. In 1988, he completed the Doctoral Program in the Graduate School of Political Science. In 1995, after working as a research associate and assistant professor at the School of Political Science and Economics he became a professor at the Faculty of Political Science and Economics. From July 1984 to June 1986, he studied political science at the Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. From March 1991 to March 1993, he was a visiting research fellow at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. In 2010 he became the head of the Waseda University Organization for Japan-US Studies, and since 2015 has been the head of Waseda University’s Organization for Regional and Inter-regional Studies. His field of expertise is Anglo-American political science, political parties and elections, and American politics.

[Major publications]

His major writings include Amerika no Shakai to Seiji (American Society and Politics; co-author, Yuhikaku Publishing Co., Ltd., 1995), Gendai no Seito to Senkyo (Political Parties and Elections Today; co-author, Yuhikaku Publishing Co., Ltd., 2001), Dare ga Seijika ni Narunoka (Who Become Politicians?; co-author, Waseda University Press, 2001), Obama go no Amerika Seiji: 2012 nen Daitoryo Senkyo to Bundan sareta Seiji no Yukue (Post-Obama American Politics: The 2012 Presidential Election and the Outcome of Divided Politics; co-author and co-editor, Toshindo, 2014), and Ronten Nihon no Seiji (The Point at Issue: Japanese Politics; co-author and co-editor, Tokyo Horei Publishing Co., Ltd., 2015).