I have begun to think about the last year of President Obama’s second and final term. What really struck me as I was listening to his final State of the Union address to the nation, is that this presidency very well may be the last time (in my generation) that this country has an African- American leader. The full gravity and significance of Barack Obama as the leader of this nation, and the country’s responses to his role and leadership, is still something I cannot completely intellectually grasp. The year 2016 will be the year the president begins to wrap up his eight years in office, tie up loose ends and, hopefully, step out with some bold policy initiatives and executive orders before he leaves office.
In 2009, when Obama assumed office, the country was saddled with crippling debt and was on the precipice of financial disaster and ruin. I am not being hyperbolic. The American economy under the Bush years and two lengthy wars had left the financial state of this nation almost as fragile as the era of the Great Depression. Obama and his advisors saved the American economy (and the auto industry) and passed legislation for universal health care, all within the first two years. There were national and international emergencies this president has dealt with while simultaneously negotiating with a Republican Congress, which has sworn to obstruct this president at each turn.
Although the accomplishments of this president are too numerous to even begin to catalogue here, some have been disappointed with what he has not done in seven years. I have a wish list for this president that I will outline in subsequent posts. However, Obama’s latest executive order pertaining to gun control is a necessary addition to his legacy, even if it is quite late. The president has taken a firmer stance on guns and gun control. The executive order was a great first step, but the president must put pressure on Democratic members of Congress (and the few remaining moderate Republicans) to pass actual legislation. Reminder, executive orders such as the one the president recently issued are only in effect so long as his successor chooses to uphold them. Executive orders are not laws. Therefore, if a Republican president is elected in November 2016, he or she can, and likely will, overturn this order.
My hope is that the next year is filled with bolder declarations from the president on issues pertaining to mass incarceration, police brutality, reproductive rights, increased funding for public education and the humanitarian crisis in Flint, Mich., as well as specific issues affecting poor people and people of color across the country. My hope is that the president will be able to lead from the front during his last months in office.
I am not expecting radical rhetoric to emerge from this particular president, but moving the needle forward on important progressive issues would be a great way to secure his legacy with the left. And while I’m making a wish list, pardoning Assata Shakur before leaving office could be added to the list.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream.” You can find her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.