Naturally, any attempt today to designate Barack Obama’s place in the history books is condemned to fail. One knows how his presidency began — as that of the first black [president] in the White House — and that was historic enough already, worthy of its own chapter [in history]. But much of what constitutes the legacy of a president still lies hidden in the fog of the future. And yet, the contours of a legacy are more clearly recognizable than they have been up till now, as a result of the events of the past few weeks.
Outlines can now be seen where everything was still diffuse a few months ago. A presidency that meandered and threatened to become a big misunderstanding, has recently gained solidity. One can more easily say today what will remain of Barack Obama’s [legacy], what he has achieved — as well as what he has not.
What will remain is this: “Obamacare,” that body of laws often referred to as a laughable piece of health care reform but that is in truth a social reform of historic magnitude. With it, Obama finally created reasonable, affordable, universal health insurance in America. That was a powerful advance for civilization. For years, the Republicans angrily attempted to roll back this movement, until the Supreme Court affirmed the reform in a momentous decision on June 25 — once and for all. Obama’s opponents may scream, but they also know this: No future president will dare to take health insurance away from 10 or 20 million people.
Four Weeks Have Changed the Image of the President
What will also remain: In Barack Obama, America’s blacks have had one of their own in the White House. That sounds banal because, obviously, Obama was the first black president. But it took many years for Obama to become the president of black [Americans] — from Jan. 20, 2009, when Obama entered office, until June 26, 2015, an extremely sad Friday when thousands of mourners in a church in Charleston, South Carolina commemorated the black victims of a white racist assassin and Obama consoled them with the singing of “Amazing Grace.” That was an unparalleled moment in American history. Up until then, Obama had concerned himself little with the problems of African-Americans. In Charleston, however, he plunged deep into the pain of the black congregation and soothed them in the simplest way: with a song. A white president could only have shown sympathy; Obama, on the other hand, could give the affected minority dignity.
What will further remain: Obama’s attempt to end the decades-old animosities between America and other countries that plagued generations. In that, he is well on the way with Cuba; with Iran, he is still at the beginning. Whether the nuclear deal he had negotiated with the regime in Tehran will be conducive or detrimental to security in the Middle East and the world will not be known for some years. It can prove to be a spectacular success or a dramatic mistake.
In both cases, however, it is critical: In spite of often-bitter resistance, Obama dared rapprochement with — one can hardly say it otherwise — sworn enemies. If one adds up the years in which America and Cuba and America and Iran faced one another as adversaries, then one arrives at well over nine decades. Obama had the courage to fight almost a hundred years of hate. Maybe that is then retroactively worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.
But this also remains of Obama: world-wide drone deployment and global NSA espionage; a world in turmoil; a Middle East that is sinking into a bloody vortex of civil war and terror; a president who only comments upon the danse macabre, and for whom staying out of — as he once called them — “other peoples’ wars,”* has become security policy; a growing economic and social inequality in the United States during Obama’s terms of office; and the end of the American dream, as many experts appallingly ascertain. [America] remains a country that has capitulated to a cutthroat gun lobby, but at the same time is so liberal that it allows homosexuals to marry.
If Obama’s political legacy consists of everything described above, then perhaps there is an embedded lesson: An American president can do a few great, important things. A few do more, a few do less. If one looks back at the past week, Obama does not compare so badly after all.
*Editor's note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.