President Barack Obama: Election, Policies & Accomplishments

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  • 0:01 Election of Barack Obama
  • 2:03 First Term Domestic Agenda
  • 3:45 First Term Foreign Policy
  • 7:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

Barack Obama became the first African American President of the United States in 2009. Learn about his first term including his domestic and foreign initiatives, and his successes and failures.

Racing Toward History

Barack Obama's quest to become the President of the United States gained momentum in 2007. Obama began his campaign when he formally announced his candidacy for the Democratic Party's nomination on February 17. His campaign strategy focused on winning the hearts and minds of three groups of people: African Americans, liberals and students.

His message was simple: the United States needed 'Hope and Change.' He relayed his message through previously untapped networks, such as social media. The only real obstacle in Obama's path toward the presidency was his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

The race for the Democratic nomination was heated between Obama and Clinton. At the onset of the competition, many Americans preferred Hillary Clinton's experience in politics over the relative newcomer. However, Obama was able to turn the tide of the race when he highlighted Clinton's voting record. This effort, combined with mounting support from students and liberals, helped Obama capture the nomination on June 7, 2008. His candidacy was made official in August, when Obama was formally recognized by the Democratic National Convention as the party's contender for the presidency.

Obama immediately announced his campaign promises following his victory at the Democratic National Convention. He promised an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an overhaul of the health care industry, massive tax breaks and major investments into renewable energy. The last remaining challenge was to overcome a very formidable opponent in Senator John McCain, the presidential nomination from the Republican Party. Obama and McCain sparred throughout September and October. In the meantime, the American economy continued to sink; this benefited Obama.

Americans became more interested in Obama's campaign promise of 'Hope and Change.' McCain's narrow lead eventually evaporated, and Obama never looked back. On November 4, Obama easily defeated McCain by an electoral margin of 365 to 173. Obama altered the course of history by not only completing his goal of becoming president, but by becoming the first African American to reach the nation's highest office.

First Term Domestic Agenda

Obama immediately focused on stabilizing the American economy. In 2009, he diverted funds from the $700 billion Economic Stabilization Act, enacted under President George W. Bush, to bail out the large American automakers. Obama then proposed a stimulus package, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, worth $800 billion, to Congress. This legislation called for tax breaks, new job creation and higher unemployment compensation for jobless Americans. It also recommended appropriating funds for national infrastructural repair.

Another significant undertaking by Obama was his overhaul of the healthcare industry. Obama placed the Affordable Healthcare Act (AHA) before Congress in 2009. The foremost goal of the legislation was to provide access to affordable healthcare, but it also mandated that all Americans carry a form of health insurance, whether it was private or federally-funded.

Obama faced significant opposition to the bill from a number of interest groups. The blossoming Tea Party argued that the Affordable Healthcare Act deepened the federal debt. It also maintained that the AHA was unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated state and personal rights by forcing Americans to purchase insurance under the threat of paying a significant fine. Pharmaceutical companies and hospitals also challenged the law, citing outrageous costs associated with the change in law. Others were concerned that the AHA would provide healthcare coverage to illegal immigrants.

Nevertheless, Obama rallied enough support following a passionate speech to Congress on September 9, 2009 to ensure that the legislation would at least be voted on. After months of negotiating, the landmark bill was passed on March 23, 2010 without a single vote from the Republican Party.

First Term Foreign Policy

While domestic concerns were at the forefront of Obama's agenda, he never lost sight of maintaining a credible foreign policy. Obama kept his campaign promises of disengagement in the Middle East, more specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2009, Obama announced that over 100,000 American combat troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by 2010. The remaining were removed from Iraq in 2011. He created something of a paradox in Afghanistan; he sent more American personnel to begin the withdrawal process. In late 2009, Obama approved of a troop surge into Afghanistan to bolster the struggling government, prevent Al-Qaeda from gaining a foothold and expedite disengagement. He formally began removing troops from Afghanistan in 2011 and set the completion date for 2014.

Many opponents of Obama criticized his escalation of troop levels in Afghanistan after promising to withdraw. However, the heightened level of American personnel resulted in a significant achievement for the Obama Administration: the elimination of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Obama had received information several days prior to the event on the possible location of the infamous leader of Al-Qaeda. On May 1, 2011, Obama authorized the United States Navy SEALs, under Operation Neptune Spear, to conduct a raid on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The SEALs successfully located and eliminated bin Laden. Following the confirmation of a successful mission, Obama formally announced the accomplishment to the American public. This event was viewed as one of Obama's most risky, yet significant foreign policy accomplishments.

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