President Obama's legacy: How will we remember him best?

In January 2009, 47-year-old Barack Hussein Obama, who campaigned on hope and change and the words "Yes we Can" became the 44th U.S. President and the first of African-American descent.

Eight years later, he exits the White House with his place in history uncertain and politically polarized.

"It's one of the few regrets of my presidency, that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better," President Obama said in his final State of the Union Speech in 2016.

And yet, history, he hopes will be on his side.

"We've made extraordinary progress as a country these past eight years," President Obama said as he recounted some of his accomplishments in his final weekly White House address.

When he took office in 2009, President Obama faced a nation in a financial crisis at home and mired in two wars abroad.

The U.S. Economy was in a recession with a collapsing housing market, weakened banks, an 7.8% unemployment rate that was rising to 10%, and a broken auto industry with GM and Chrysler in bankruptcy.

Within one month of taking office, President Obama and a Democratic-controlled Congress acted, passing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, an $800 billion dollar stimulus plan. The success came, however, with no Republican votes.

Then, a federal auto bailout steered GM and Chrysler through bankruptcy.

And fourteen months after taking office, President Obama worked again with congressional Democrats on the goal of enacting bold, sweeping national health care reform.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, later dubbed Obamacare, narrowly passed Congress. His signature legislation, however, came with a political price. 

Disappointed liberals saw it falling short and the bill angered conservatives who called it unconstitutional. Once again, President Obama's hope of compromise never materialized. Not a single Republican voted for the bill.

"He arrived with a set of very radical left wing beliefs.  He interpreted the information he got through those left wing beliefs," said Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House Speaker

"History will record President Barack Hussein Obama as being one of the most successful Presidents in our history," said Congresswoman Barbara Lee, "He did everything he could do with a Republican congress that would not support him."

Congresswoman Lee of Oakland, the former chair of the Black Congressional Caucus says she'll remember President Obama for what he managed to accomplish.

He pushed for the re-opening of U.S. relations with Cuba, working with Congresswoman Lee to the country.

He appointed two liberals to the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina and Justice Elena Kagan.

Abroad, he followed through on a campaign promise to bring troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

President Obama would win a Nobel peace prize and on May 2, 2011, he authorized the strike that led to Osama bin Laden's death.

But disputes over how to handle the emergence of ISIS and its call for terror attacks in the U.S. Led to bitter clashes with Republicans.

President Obama still easily won a second term but Republicans won control of Congress in 2015.

"I think Barack Obama can be measured one as a Democratic president. I think Barack Obama can then be measured as the first Black man to occupy the office," said James Taylor, University of San Francisco Professor of Political Science.

Professor Taylor says the image of the first Black family in the White House will endure, but he says some Blacks felt President Obama fell short and, in the end, all the hope he brought to the nation's highest office.. couldn't repair race relations.

"I think Barack Obama represented a great deal of symbolic importance for African Americans. I don't think there's a specific policy outcome that African Americans can point to," said Taylor.

Congresswoman Lee says the flare-ups around fatal police shootings and mass shootings such as the 2015 massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina forced the President to address gun control, race relations and urban issues.

"We see now at the end of his tenure as President, he's confronted criminal justice reform, talked about mass incarceration," said Rep. Lee.

President Obama's repeated calls for compromise, however, at times left both sides feeling discontent.

Liberals were disappointed by his administration's high number of deportations.

Conservatives called his executive orders unconstitutional, blasting him on immigration.

-Obama" >Republicans also criticized him for his handling of the Middle East, for not rejecting Syrian refugees, and they called his strategy for handling Syrian President Bashir Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin's intervention a failure in foreign policy.

Now, as he leaves office, the tide has turned, and the nation's 45th President Donald Trump has promised, along with the Republican majority in Congress to undo many of President Obama's historic actions.

"Welcome to the dawn of a new unified Republican government, " said House Speaker Paul Ryan of  Wisconsin after the November election.

The Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate accord, clean energy initiatives, and the TPP or Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement have all been named as possible targets for reversal.

What is less controversial is President Obama's personal side, his decorum and the image he projected as a Black leader who is young and fit and a family man.

Often his public image came with the acknowledgement that he always aimed to balance his duties as Commander-in-Chief, with his deep devotion to his wife Michelle and their two daughters Malia and Sasha.

"I think they really showed what true family values are and I think that's part of their legacy as first family," said Rep. Lee.

Congresswoman Lee remembers Mr. Obama taking leave of guests at one White House reception.

"And a certain time came and he said goodbye, I've got to go. I've got to get upstairs and I promised the kids I'd be there for dinner," Rep. Lee recalled, adding that some members of Congress were upset that he didn't stay to socialize with the other politicians.

"Barack Obama has been an amazing model for America regardless of race for how an American President should look and behave himself," said Prof. Taylor.

And yet, he adds that some people feel the President's restraint did little to help him succeed.

"He couldn't have gotten a worse response if he had become a Black nationalist militant in the office of the President than what he got trying to be a middling, safe, respectable Black president," Taylor said.

As President Obama's second term drew to a close, the White House website posted a record of his accomplishments.

In a final farewell speech in Chicago January 10th, the President acknowledged one issue that remains painful for the country. 

"After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society," President Obama said.

In the final week of public appearances and speeches, President Barack Obama stopped at a school on Martin Luther King, Junior Day.

He painted butterflies on a mural showing Dr. King. It was a moment captured by the cameras and videos of one icon facing the other, both Black men, with dreams of transformation and change.

The legacy of one, however, is still to be written.

"I will be right there with you as a citizen for all my remaining days," President Obama told the crowd at his Chicago farewell speech.

"Yes we can, Yes we did. Yes we can," he said, "Thank you. God Bless you. May God continue to bless the United States of America."

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