Last week was certainly a high point for President Barack Obama. Let’s use the vantage point of that height to gain a little perspective on his legacy.
The President’s opponents like to portray him as a leader who is great at making speeches but lacks substantive achievements. But one doesn’t need flowery rhetoric to illustrate the enormous successes this President has accomplished. A simple bullet-point list will do:
— He took an important step in solving America’s health care problem.
— He led the country through a massive demographic shift and moved forward on immigration through an executive order still being litigated in the courts.
— He made a steadfast shift on civil rights, including same-sex marriage.
— He focused on the future with priorities such as clean energy.
— He developed a pragmatic, new foreign policy based on our values — one that blended diplomacy with selected and concerted use of might.
He did all this despite a rigid, obstructionist opposition that was politically determined not just to defeat his policies, but make his presidency a failed presidency that left no footprint whatsoever.
The Supreme Court struck down the last major legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act. The ACA is now firmly the law of the land.
In all the baseless rhetoric about a government takeover of our health system, we forget President Obama’s twofold aim was to provide affordable health care for all and to reduce the national deficit. The ACA is doing that. It is succeeding so well that if Republicans were able to repeal the law, they would have to come up with billions of dollars in cuts in other programs to match the savings.
Demographic shift and immigration change
This nation’s demographic makeup is changing, and President Obama is gently but powerfully leading us through the tumult of that change. By 2050, it’s estimated that there will no longer be any racial majority.
Immigration reform has stymied many presidents. Though there was universal agreement that reform was needed, there was no agreement whatsoever on what should be done, and no president was able to move Congress.
After Congress repeatedly blocked every road, Obama used the power of executive orders to kick-start reform. He created a furor, but the result is that leading contenders for the 2016 Republican nomination are talking about formalizing some of those same orders into legislation.
Shift on civil rights
Many in this country have been pushing the notion that racism is over and equality has been achieved. It was even argued that minorities were suppressing the racial majority.
As incidents of racial conflict and issues of racial inequality arose, Obama gently, beseechingly, patiently addressed each of them, providing leadership as the country searched for solutions. A national consensus has emerged that we can and will find those solutions as one American people. We are on that road, and we won’t turn back.
On the issue of same-sex marriage, the nation was ahead of Barack Obama, but he rethought his position and took the lead. People of same-sex orientation now enjoy the same fundamental right to marriage as all and continue to struggle for full equal rights.
Focus on the future
Obama has led America into action on clean energy just as global warming has become undeniably real. From the BP oil spill to Keystone Pipeline to energy regulations, he has led with an eye toward our long-term energy future.
It’s little noted, but Obama also privatized space travel, opening up to private industry the transportation and exploration of outer space. He has set a U.S. goal of landing on Mars so that we’re in a race with at least three other nations to be first there.
A pragmatic foreign policy
President Obama ended two wars. He veered away from the idea that the answer to every foreign threat should first and foremost be a military solution. He ended America’s role as the world’s policeman, instead making this country a leader of concerted action with other nations.
He has relied on diplomatic and political solutions, applying military might sparingly, strategically and powerfully. His use of diplomacy combined with economic and military power brought an end to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. He is forging a concerted action against ISIS.
Obama is moving, step-by-step, to recognizing Cuba at a time when having good relations with that nation is essential to our national security.
He has opened a diplomatic door with Iran, allowing us to have negotiated agreement over their use of nuclear power. He is shifting our focus to Asia, which is long overdue. In sum, he puts the interests of the American people first.
By any measure, Obama’s accomplishments are a legacy to be proud of. The country is going through a profound demographic and social shift. Indeed, he is the right leader for this moment in American history.
In his last year and a half, we can expect President Obama to add to this legacy and to continue challenging the American people to move forward.
Read CNNOpinion’s Flipboard magazine.