His path to the presidency
Barack Hussein Obama Jr. was born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, the capital city of Hawaii.
His father, Barack Hussein Obama Sr., did not play a significant role in Obama’s life, while he was growing up. He was an African American man with Kenyan roots and married Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, in 1961, however, the couple ended up getting divorced only a few years later. In 1982, Obama Sr. died in a car crash and since Obama had had little to no contact with his father during his lifetime, he was not aware that he did in fact have 7 half siblings until he was of age (cf. Waldschmidt-Nelson 2018, p. 471).
Obama’s mother saw her son’s potential and continuously worried about Obama’s education. Convinced that the education he was already receiving at a public primary school, located in Jakarta, was insufficient, she started teaching her son proper English at home, in an attempt to open doors for him in the future. By the time Obama was ten years old, she arranged for him to live with his grandparents back in Hawaii, to ensure that he would get the best education possible (cf. Waldschmidt-Nelson 2018, pp. 471-472).
Despite the advantageous state of affairs, Obama also went through difficult times in his youth. Like any adolescent, Obama struggled to discover his own identity. Being the only African-American student in his class, he often felt lost and never felt like he truly belonged to either the black or the white community. Moreover, he was increasingly confronted with the prejudices that a disturbingly large proportion of the white population tends to have against African-Americans, which undoubtedly worsened the situation altogether (cf. Waldschmidt-Nelson 2018, pp. 471-473). In order to come to terms with his heritage, he tried to live up to the expectations of what he considered the ideal African-American man. With his own father being out of the picture, Obama was more or less forced to look up to other men that he thought embodied the exact stereotype of an African-American man and found many of his role models in pop culture. As a result, young Obama took some focus away from school and instead focused heavily on sports. He became an avid basketball player and spent a lot of his free time at the beach or partying, like any rebellious teenager (cf. Mendell 2007, pp. 44-45). However, the situation threatened to get out of hand when Obama turned to alcohol and drugs, due to a lack of more suitable coping strategies. Nevertheless, it is important to mention that he overcame this rebellious phase rather quickly and returned to being his old self in a relatively short amount of time.
As a young adult, Obama’s dedication earned him a scholarship to Occidental College, which caused him to stay in California for a while before he eventually moved to New York, where he received a Bachelor’s Title in Political Science in 1983 as a student of Columbia University (cf. Waldschmidt-Nelson 2018, p. 472).
The racial factor
Equality and social justice have always been a matter of great concern to Barack Obama. In order to fully understand the reasons for Obama’s triumph in the election and his motives as a politician, it is inevitable to understand the issues that African-Americans had- and still have to deal with on a regular basis. Although the situation has undoubtedly improved in certain areas, nobody can claim that America is a country in which the black and the white population can coexist in a peaceful manner.
Many critics claim that it is due to the racial inequality in the country that Obama was backed up by such a huge number of supporters during the campaign and the election process, and saw Obama’s victory as an unprecedented sign that the American citizens were more willing than ever to integrate people of color into society. Furthermore, experts were convinced that the advancement prospects for African-American citizens would enhance drastically.
Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that there are still various problems that need to be addressed. To this day, the living conditions of African-Americans are still fairly poor compared to those of the white part of the population, if one considers the fact that a large part of the black population of America is living in ghettos. Unfortunately, the lives of those living in ghettos oftentimes revolve around criminality, drugs, and poverty, and it is nearly impossible to get back on your feet again, once you have moved into such an area or were born into these circumstances.
At this point, it is also appropriate to mention that African-Americans are still paid far less than white people on average and that the unemployment rate of the latter is only half as high (cf. Waldschmidt-Nelson 2018, pp. 4472-73).
Obama was widely aware that most African-Americans did not receive the benefits of an upbringing like his own and were not fortunate enough to be given the same opportunities. Determined to see first-hand what impact racial injustice had on the lives of the poorer part of the African-American population, he decided to work in the social sector, once he had graduated from university. Back then, this was a decision that entailed a great risk, given the fact that Obama was working for Business International Cooperation at the time, where he would have had a great chance of promotion. Instead, he chose to work as a community organizer at a ghetto on the South Side, a job that would have a long-lasting impact on Obama (cf. Waldschmidt-Nelson 2018, pp. 472-473). Years later, Obama would even go as far as saying that he learned more during his time as a community organizer than at any other point in his life. Every other form of education he had received up until this point had been purely theoretical and Obama quickly came to the conclusion that he would have to let go of some of his more idealistic visions, because he realized that, no matter how well educated you thought you were in a certain field, reality oftentimes looks different (cf. Mendell 2007, p. 68).
He realized early on that a lot of white people do, in fact, not differentiate between race and social class and represent different viewpoints than the African-American citizens themselves, when it comes to racial equality issues.
At this point, it is fitting to mention that a large part of the white population living in the USA is convinced that African-Americans do not face any kind of discrimination due to their ethnicity. Over 90% of African-Americans, on the other hand, disagree with this statement. When Obama was working for the Developing Communities Project as a community organizer, he was taken aback by what was happening right before his eyes and was more determined than ever to fight for racial equality for the rest of his life.
This time in his life defined Obama’s character in another significant way. Due to the fact that Developing Communities Project was led by church communities, young Obama, who had, up until this point, questioned the existence of a god altogether, gained insight into what was happening within the black church and developed an interest in Christianity. What inspired him most about the black church, especially the black church of Chicago, was its positivity and strong faith in god. His growing interest in religion was further underpinned by a Reverend called Jeremiah Wright, whose sermon proved to be a turning point for Obama, as it fully converted him to Christianity (cf. Waldschmidt-Nelson 2018, pp. 473-474).
Despite his growing faith and his appreciation of the church itself, Obama also saw firsthand, how religion can be used as a tool or weapon and how easily the pastors of churches were able to exert a considerable amount of influence on the political conditions in the South Side African-American communities (cf. Mendell 2007, p. 68).
Desperate to learn more about his origin, Obama decided to take some time off and travel to Kenia. During this time, Obama got a better understanding of his heritage and learned to think of it as an asset rather than something negative. It was during this five-week stay in Kenia that Obama made contact with the black part of his family for the first time.
After he had gained clarity about his heritage, Obama returned to America, where he began studying at the Harvard Law School in 1988. He was, again, fortunate enough to receive a scholarship (cf. Waldschmidt-Nelson 2018, p. 474). At this point, it is also worth mentioning that Obama became the very first black president of the renowned Harvard Law Review (cf. Mendell 2007, p. 104).
After he had graduated with magna cum laude about a year later, all doors were open, but instead of taking on a job as a lawyer, like everyone expected him to, he resumed his old position as a community organizer in Chicago (cf. Waldschmidt-Nelson 2018, p. 474). Going back to Chicago had been his plan throughout his Harvard studies, as his ultimate goal- at the time- was to become the mayor of the city, since he believed that this was the office, in which he could influence the lives of the people living in Chicago most efficiently (cf. Mendell 2007, p. 92).
In 1992 Obama became the leader of a particularly important project, called Project Vote. The project’s aim was not only to do educational work but also to help register as many poverty-stricken African-Americans as voters as possible since there was a presidential election coming up. The project drastically improved the situation by increasing the number of African-American voters to over 150 000 (cf. Mendell 2007, p. 103).
In the same year, a new chapter in Obama’s private life began: He married Michelle Robinson, who was working as a lawyer at the time and had also only been able to study at Harvard University because she had been granted a scholarship. Together they started a family. Their first daughter, Malia Obama, was born in 1998, followed by Natasha in 2001.
In the following years, Obama had two other jobs. He worked as a civil rights lawyer for several years, before eventually obtaining a job as a lecturer in 1993. During this period, he was also working on his first book, Dreams from my Father. The book was successful enough to stay on The New York Times Best Seller list for multiple months and had a major impact on his life. Obama gained a lot from the success of the book, as it helped him to build a platform for himself and attracted many supporters, who would later become his allies and voters. In addition, a huge weight was lifted off the shoulders of the Obama family: Due to the high sales figures of the book, they no longer had to worry about their financial situation.
Although his career was already going incredibly well at that point, Obama wanted an even higher position and tried to defeat Bobby Rush in an election for a seat in the US Congress in the year 2000. This election was a major defeat for Obama. Rush, who is also African-American, was fully backed by the people of Chicago, due to the fact that he was already an important part of the black civil rights movement and was formerly a Black Panther.
Despite the poor outcome, Obama learned a few valuable lessons from this particular defeat. He lost the election because the people of Chicago had serious doubts about whether or not Obama was even black enough to defend their rights and distrusted him because of his high educational level (cf. Waldschmidt-Nelson 2018, pp. 474-475). Those rumors, however, did not revolve around his ethnic background, but instead around his upbringing and overall demeanor. A large part of Chicago’s black community did not think of Obama as part of their community, because of his elitist education and claimed that he acted and talked like a white man (cf. Mendell 2077, p. 132). Obama realized that he had to be able to fully rely on the black community in order to succeed in his career and that he had to further deepen his connections within the world of politics.
It quickly became obvious that Obama had learned from his past mistakes, as he made it a paramount concern to gather a tight group of African-American consultants and followers when he ran for his next election. Obama applied for a seat in the Senate of Illinois, which was vacant back then, although he had previously been eager to become mayor of Chicago. He won the election, which got him into the Senate straightaway, and was successful to be reelected twice.
This campaign did not only get him a higher position job-wise as well as a better political reputation but once again improved his public status. This was mainly due to Obama’s oratorical talent, which he was able to show off in Boston, at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. It was the speech “The Audacity of Hope” that made Obama the face of the Democrats and put him in the spotlight more than ever before. (cf. Waldschmidt-Nelson 2018, pp. 474-475).
In 2005, Obama became a US Senator. This was the last significant occupational step Obama took before he made the decision to run for president in the year 2008 (cf. Waldschmidt-Nelson 2018, p. 475).
In February 2007, Obama announced his candidacy for the 2008 Democratic nomination for the U.S presidency. Later on, in June 2008, Obama got enough Democratic delegate Votes to become the main party nominee for the presidential race. In November he defeated the Republican presidential nominee John McCain. Obama to become the first African- and the 44th American President of the United States. This moment was very memorable in American History because Obama made it possible for all African Americans to put their mind to anything they want to become or achieve.
But Obama had three advantages that enabled him to win. First, he was able to contrast his consistent opposition to the war in Iraq with Clinton’s vote in 2002 to authorize the war before later turning against it. Second, Obama ran on a theme of change and Clinton on a theme of experience. Third, while fighting Clinton, He strongly out-organized Clinton in those contests, winning fourteen of seventeen caucuses..
Obama broke a Barrier in History. He united America during his 8-year presidency term. He accomplished many things which will affect the world forever. In his first 100 days in office, he expanded health care insurance for children and provided legal protection for women seeking equal pay. He got Congress to pass a $787 billion stimulus bill to promote short-term economic growth, and he also cuts taxes for working families, small businesses, and first-time home buyers. He loosens the ban on embryonic stem cell research and improved relations with Europe, China, Cuba, and Venezuela. These are his many achievements as president. (Gill)
1 year into his Presidency Obama is awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for his accomplishments. Obama made a lot of accomplishments during his first term of presidency. In March 2010, he signs his health care reform plan, known as the Affordable Care Act, into law. In May 2011, he allowed a covert operation in Pakistan that leads to the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by a team of U.S. Navy SEALs.(Gill)
After his 4-year term is up, Obama started running for his second term. In November 2012, he won his second presidential campaign against Republican Mitt Romney. He received nearly 5 million more votes than Romney. Obama broke a barrier again becoming the first African American to become reflected. During his second term, Obama made many more accomplishments(Gill).
In June 2013, Obama reduced the federal deficit by raising taxes on the wealthy. The following year, Obama orders sanctions on Russia because of its annexation of Crimea. This caused a lot of complications in the White House. Which led to Republicans gaining control of the Senate. Republicans controlled both houses of Congress during the final two years of his second term(Gill).
In 2015, Obama has two major Supreme Court victories this year. The Affordable Care Act’s tax subsidies are upheld, and same-sex marriage becomes legal nationwide. Also, Obama and the five world powers (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) reach a historic nuclear deal with Iran. And Obama launches his Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gases and emissions. In 2016, his final year in office, Obama tackles gun control. He also broke another barrier by becoming the first sitting African American U.S. president to visit Cuba since 1928.
Finally, in 2017, Obama delivers his farewell address in January in Chicago. During his last day in office on January 19, he announces that he will commute the sentences of 330 nonviolent drug offenders(Gill). Barack Obama became an inspiring figure in American history even before his inauguration. His achievements in office have led him to break many barriers in history and have made him one of the most transformative presidents of the past hundred years. After serving two terms, he has impacted America even to this day. We are living in a more flourishing country because of him.
Works Cited Page
- “Barack Obama: How an ‘Unknown’ Senator Became President of the USA.” E, www.e-ir.info/2014/12/12/barack-obama-how-an-unknown-senator-became-president-of-the-usa.
- Gill, Kathy. “The Political Career of Former Senator and US President Barack Obama.” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 23 Oct. 2019, www.thoughtco.com/barack-obamas-political-career-3368167.
- Moberg, David. “Obama’s Community Roots.” The Nation, 29 June 2015, www.thenation.com/article/obamas-community-roots/.
- “OBAMA, Barack.” US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives, history.house.gov/People/Detail/19276.