Opinion: Obama Earned His Own Holiday

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Obama Day is far from the outrage conservatives have made it out to be (regardless of one’s stance on his politics).

On Friday, August 4, 2017, the government of Illinois honored former President Barack Obama by designating the former President’s birthday, August 4th, as a state holiday. This holiday will be celebrated each year, beginning in 2018. The day will be a commemorative holiday, which means that workplaces will not close. It joins other such days like Adlai Stevenson Day, Ronald Reagan Day and Jane Addams Day.

The bill, however, is far from uncontroversial. Many people, especially those on the right, feel as though the first African-American President does not deserve to be honored, even in a symbolic way. Regardless of what one may think of his politics, President Obama is one of the most consequential people to reside in the White House.

For one, he signed into law a comprehensive national health insurance bill, a goal that had eluded progressive presidents for a century — and built it strong enough to withstand assaults from the Supreme Court and avoid repeal from a Republican administration. He accomplished this with more opposition in the House than the social insurance programs it followed.

“FDR and LBJ had lots of fellow Democrats in Congress when they pushed for the New Deal and Great Society,” College of William and Mary political scientist Chris Howard says. “Their opponents, in and out of government, were not nearly as ideological or hostile as the ones facing Obama. The fact that the ACA exists at all is pretty remarkable.”

President Obama passed consequential reforms on Wall Street, not to mention a stimulus package that both blunted the recession and transformed education and energy policy. He managed to get the Dodd-Frank Act passed, which was the first crackdown on the power of Wall Street in more than a generation. The success of this Act has been far greater than commonly acknowledged.

The former President has also managed to put in place the toughest climate rules in American history and has signed a major international climate accord, the Paris Agreement. Even though it is not a legally binding deal, the amount of international cooperation this has entailed and engendered is remarkable in and of itself. He made it possible for gay and lesbian people to serve in the military and passed laws that helped women and minorities fight wage discrimination. He opened the U.S. to Cuba for the first time in more than half a century, and reached an unprecedented peaceful settlement to the nuclear standoff with Iran.

Barack Obama had his flaws and failures, amongst which were failing to contain the growth of ISIS, the disastrous drone war, failing to close Guantanamo Bay, and the Syria debacle.

His complete legacy considered, despite what people may think of his politics, his presidency has left an enduring legacy on American policies, domestic and otherwise. For this legacy of accomplishment alone, I think this commemorative holiday is well deserved.

Adarsh Venkataraman is a student at The University of Texas at Austin.

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