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Barack Obama Biography, Parents, Education, Presidency

The 44th President of the United States was Barack Obama. His tale embodies the American experience: ideals from the heartland, a middle-class upbringing in a solid family, the belief that a life so blessed should be lived in service to others, and the conviction that hard effort and education are the keys to success.

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Barack Obama became the first African American to hold the office when he was elected president in 2008. Our leaders shouldn’t be restricted to wealthy or privileged Americans, as the Constitution’s authors always hoped. Most of them would not have predicted an African American president if they had been subject to the biases of the time—many of them held slaves. In Hawaii, where Barack was born on August 4, 1961, Barack Sr., a Kenyan economist, met his mother Stanley Ann Dunham while they were both students. After their eventual divorce, Barack’s mother wed an Indonesian, and he spent his early years there. He moved back to Honolulu before entering the fifth grade to live with his maternal grandparents and receive a scholarship to Punahou School.

In his 1995 autobiography Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama discusses the challenges he had while trying to figure out who he was as a teenager. He spent two years studying political science and international relations at Columbia University after transferring from Los Angeles’ Occidental College. After earning his degree in 1983, Obama worked in New York City before moving to Chicago’s South Side to work as a community organiser. He collaborated with local churches to improve housing conditions and establish job-training programmes in a neighbourhood that had been severely affected by the closure of steel mills. He enrolled in Harvard Law School in 1988, when he made headlines across the country as the school’s first African American president of the law review. He joined a tiny civil rights law firm upon his return to Chicago.

Michelle Robinson, a lawyer who had also succeeded at Harvard Law, and Barack Obama got married in 1992. Malia and Sasha, their daughters, were conceived in 1998 and 2001, respectively. In 1996, Obama won a seat in the Illinois Senate. In 2004, he won a seat in the United States Senate. In the summer of that year, he gave a highly praised keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. Although some pundits predicted that he would become president right away, most did not think it would happen for some years. Nevertheless, he defeated Arizona senator John McCain in the 2008 election by 365 to 173 electoral votes.

Obama has a lot of obstacles to overcome as the next president, including the ongoing threat of terrorism, the economic crisis, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama advocated historic federal expenditure during his inauguration speech in front of an estimated 1.8 million spectators in an effort to resuscitate the economy and restore American prestige abroad. Three of his key initiatives were passed during his first term: an economic stimulus package, legislation expanding access to and lowering the cost of health care, and financial institution reform. Obama also pushed for legislation on financial reform, consumer protection, and a fair pay act for women. Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, making him the fourth president to do so.

He defeated Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, by 332 electoral votes in 2012 to win reelection. The Middle East continued to be a major problem for international policy. Osama bin Laden had been eliminated under Obama’s watch, but the Syrian civil war saw the emergence of a brand-new Islamic State that started encouraging terrorist strikes. Obama tried to control a hostile Iran by signing a pact that prevented it from developing nuclear weapons. In order to minimise greenhouse gas emissions and moderate global warming, the Obama administration also ratified a climate change pact that was signed by 195 governments.

Obama spoke at two occasions that plainly touched him in the final year of his second term: the dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march. He declared in Selma, “Our marriage is not yet complete, but we are getting closer. He reminded those in attendance at the opening of the museum in Washington, “And that’s why we celebrate, conscious that our work is not yet done.”

The presidential biographies on WhiteHouse.gov are taken from Frank Freidel and Hugh Sidey’s book “The Presidents of the United States of America.”

Barack Obama, full name Barack Hussein Obama II, (born August 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.), was the first African American to serve as president of the United States (2009–17). Before being elected president, Obama served in the U.S. Senate as a senator for Illinois (2005–08). He was the third African American since the conclusion of Reconstruction to be elected to that body (1877). The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to him in 2009 “for his exceptional efforts to improve international diplomacy and cooperation amongst peoples.”

Early life

Obama’s father, Barack Obama, Sr., was an adolescent goatherd in rural Kenya, got a scholarship to study in the United States, and eventually became a senior Kenyan government economist. Obama’s mother, S. Ann Dunham, was raised in the states of Kansas, Texas, and Washington before her family settled in Hawaii. Less than a year after meeting in a Russian language class at the University of Hawaii in 1960, she and Barack Sr. wed.

Barack Sr. departed to attend Harvard University when Obama was two years old; shortly thereafter, Ann and Barack Sr. separated in 1964. Obama only saw his father once again, during a quick visit when he was 10 years old. Ann later remarried, this time to an Indonesian international student, Lolo Soetoro, with whom she had a second child, Maya. Obama lived in Jakarta with his half-sister, mother, and stepfather for several years. Obama attended a government-run school where he received some Islamic education and a Catholic private school where he received Christian education.

He returned to Hawaii in 1971 and lived in a humble apartment, sometimes with his grandparents and sometimes with his mother (she remained in Indonesia for a time, returned to Hawaii, and then moved abroad again, in part to obtain a Ph.D., prior to their divorce in 1980). His mother received food stamps for a brief time, although the family primarily maintained a middle-class lifestyle. Obama graduated from Punahou School, a prestigious college preparatory school in Honolulu, in 1979.

Obama spent two years at Occidental College in suburban Los Angeles before transferring to Columbia University in New York City, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1983. Obama’s intellectual growth was influenced by professors who pushed him to take his studies more seriously during college and the years that followed. He followed an ascetic lifestyle and read the writings of William Shakespeare, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Toni Morrison, among others. After a few years as a writer and editor for Business International Corp., a Manhattan-based research, publishing, and consulting organisation, he became a community organiser on Chicago’s predominantly poor Far South Side in 1985. Three years later, he returned to school and earned his law degree from Harvard University in 1991, when he was the first African-American to serve as president of the Harvard Law Review. In 1989, while a summer associate at the Chicago law firm Sidley Austin, Obama met Michelle Robinson, a local Chicagoan and young lawyer at the company. The couple wed in 1992.

Obama relocated to Chicago after earning his law degree and became active in the Democratic Party. Project Vote, which registered tens of thousands of African Americans to the voter lists, is credited with helping Bill Clinton win Illinois and the president in 1992. The movement also contributed to the election of Carol Moseley Braun, a state senator from Illinois, as the first African-American woman to the U.S. Senate. During this time, Obama wrote and released his first book. Obama’s autobiography, Dreams from My Father (1995), chronicles his search for his multiracial identity by tracking the lives of his now-deceased father and his extended family in Kenya. Obama was a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago and a civil rights attorney.

Barack Obama’s politics and path to the president

Most notably, he helped enact legislation that tightened campaign finance controls, offered health care to disadvantaged families, and altered criminal justice and welfare laws after being elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996. In 2004, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, defeating Alan Keyes, a Republican, in the first U.S. Senate election between two African Americans. Obama achieved national recognition while campaigning for the U.S. Senate by delivering the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in July 2004. Obama’s personal biography was interwoven with the idea that all Americans are connected in ways that transcend political, cultural, and geographical boundaries. The address catapulted Obama’s once-obscure memoir onto best-seller lists, and after he was elected president the following year, Obama became a prominent figure in his party almost immediately. Obama’s star continued to rise when his return to his father’s house in Kenya in August 2006 garnered international media attention. A few weeks later, his second book, The Audacity of Hope (2006), a mainstream diatribe on his vision for the United States, was published and became an instant bestseller. In February 2007, he declared at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, where Abraham Lincoln had served as a state senator, that he would seek the Democratic candidacy for president in 2008. (For coverage of the 2008 election, see 2008 Presidential Election in the United States.)

Obama’s personal charm, rousing oratory, and his pledge to alter the current political system resonated with many Democrats, particularly young and minority voters. Obama won the Iowa caucus, the first major nominating vote, on January 3, 2008, to the astonishment of Sen. Hillary Clinton, who was the overwhelming favourite to win the nomination. Five days later, however, Obama finished second to Clinton in the New Hampshire primary, and a vicious and frequently acrimonious primary fight erupted. On Super Tuesday, February 5, Obama won more than a dozen states, including Illinois, his home state, and Missouri, a historic electoral bellwether. However, no clear frontrunner for the nomination developed, as Clinton won many populous states, like as California and New York. Obama won 11 primaries and caucuses following Super Tuesday with ease, giving him a substantial lead in pledged delegates. Early in March, Clinton’s huge victories in Ohio and Texas stalled his momentum. Obama lost the crucial Pennsylvania primary on April 22, although still holding the lead in delegates. Two weeks later, he lost a close race in Indiana but won the North Carolina primary by a significant margin, increasing his delegate advantage over Clinton. She held a large lead in so-called superdelegates (Democratic Party officials who assigned votes at the convention unrelated to state primary results), but as Obama won more states and actual delegates, many superdelegates shifted to Obama. On June 3, after the final primaries in Montana and South Dakota, the number of delegates pledged to Obama exceeded the minimum required to secure the Democratic nominee.

Obama became the first African American to be nominated for president by a major political party on August 27, 2008. He then challenged Republican Sen. John McCain for the nation’s highest office. McCain accused Obama, a freshman senator, for lacking the necessary experience. Obama countered by selecting Joe Biden, a veteran Delaware senator with extensive experience in foreign policy, as his vice presidential running mate. Obama and McCain ran a vicious and costly campaign. Obama, still buoyed by a wave of public support, shunned federal funding for his campaign and raised hundreds of millions of dollars, the majority of which came from a record number of modest online donations. Obama’s fundraising advantage enabled him to purchase large quantities of television advertising and establish robust grassroots organisations in crucial swing states and states that had voted Republican in past presidential elections.

The two candidates presented voters with a stark ideological option. Obama called for a swift withdrawal of the majority of combat forces from Iraq and a restructuring of tax policy that would provide more relief to lower- and middle-class voters, whereas McCain stated that the United States must wait for complete victory in Iraq and charged that Obama’s rhetoric lacked substance. Obama’s campaign blamed Republican free-market-driven policies of George W. Bush’s eight-year presidency for the economic catastrophe that followed September’s catastrophic failure of U.S. banks and financial institutions.

Obama captured approximately 53 percent of the popular vote and 365 electoral votes to win the election. Not only did Obama retain all the states that John Kerry had won in 2004, but he also won a number of states (such as Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia) that the Republicans had won in the two previous presidential elections. Obama’s win was seen by tens of thousands in Chicago’s Grant Park on election night. Obama resigned from the Senate soon after his victory. On January 20, 2009, hundreds of thousands gathered in Washington, D.C., to witness Barack Obama take the presidential oath.

Presidency

The Nobel Peace Prize and Political Polarization

Obama made a variety of actions that signalled a substantial shift in tone in an effort to repair the United States’ image abroad, which many considered had been severely harmed under the Bush administration. He signed an executive order prohibiting excessive interrogation techniques; ordered the closure of the controversial military detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, within a year (a deadline that was not met); proposed a “fresh start” to strained relations with Russia; and travelled to Cairo in June 2009 to deliver a historic speech in which he extended an olive branch to the Muslim world. Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 largely as a result of his efforts. However, several left-wing critics charged that he had adopted and even intensified the majority of his predecessor’s military and national security programmes. In fact, when Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in December, he stated, “Evil does exist in the world” and “there will be moments when nations, acting alone or in concert, may find the use of force to be not just necessary but morally justified.” Others attacked Obama for offering a tepid denunciation of the Iranian government’s crackdown on pro-democracy protestors following the June 2009 disputed election. Moreover, the Obama administration’s management of national security was questioned after a Nigerian terrorist trained in Yemen was foiled on Christmas Day, 2009 in an attempt to attack a Detroit-bound airliner.

After enjoying soaring popularity early in his term, Obama became the target of increasing criticism, primarily due to the slow pace of economic recovery and continued high unemployment rates, but also due to widespread opposition to Democratic efforts to reform health care insurance policy, the centrepiece of Obama’s presidential campaign. Obama had promised to stop partisan bickering and legislative paralysis when he took office, but in the absence of genuine bipartisan cooperation, congressional Democrats, according to Republicans, have settled into governing without significant Republican participation. According to Democrats, Republicans have become the “Party of No,” aiming to oppose Democratic legislative objectives without proposing viable alternatives. Obama and the Democrats attempted to enact health care insurance reform in this atmosphere of extreme polarisation.

As legislators presented the proposed reforms to their people in town hall meetings in the summer of 2009, which occasionally broke into shouting battles between those with different perspectives, the popularity of health care reform decreased. During this time, the populist Tea Party movement, composed of libertarian-minded conservatives, formed in opposition to the Democratic health care policies and, more broadly, to what they perceived to be excessive taxes and government meddling in the private sector. Republicans warned that Democratic ideas for health care constituted a “government takeover” that would be too expensive and mortgage the future of future generations. Their opposition to the Democratic party’s plans was nearly unanimous.

In many respects, the president gave congressional leaders the impetus for health care reform. In response, House Democrats in November 2009 passed a package that called for extensive change, including the development of a “public option” — a lower-cost government-run programme that would compete with private insurance. The Senate’s deliberation was more deliberate. Obama appeared to allow conservative Democrat Sen. Max Baucus to lead the “Group of Six,” which consists of three Republican and three Democratic senators. The bill that was ultimately passed by the Senate, with the support of all 58 Democrats plus independents Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, barely survived a Republican filibuster attempt, and provided far fewer changes than its House counterpart, notably omitting the public option. Before a compromise could be made on the two proposals, the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority was destroyed by Scott Brown’s victory in the special election for the seat formerly occupied by Ted Kennedy. Many Democrats assumed that this meant they would have to start from scratch, as had been demanded by Republicans.

Protecting Patients and Affording Coverage Act

Obama and other Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, disagreed and continued to press for passage. Obama went on the attack by deftly presiding over a nationally televised conference of Republicans and Democrats where the virtues and disadvantages of Democratic plans were explored. In speech after speech delivered outside the Beltway, he emphasised the theme that health care was a right, not a privilege, and sharpened his condemnation of the insurance business. Obama promised to sign an executive order in March 2010 in an effort to win the support of Democrats in the House who opposed the legislation because they believed it would ease restrictions on abortion funding. Sunday evening, March 21, Pelosi confidently brought the Senate bill to the House floor for a special vote with the support of this important group. The bill passed with a vote of 219–212 (34 Democrats and all Republicans opposed it) and was followed by the passing of a second bill proposing “fixes” for the Senate bill. In order to carry these amendments through the Senate, Democrats planned to utilise the reconciliation method, which required only a simple majority for approval. Obama stated on national television shortly after the House vote, “This is what change looks like.”

Obama signed the bill into law on March 23. More than 40 amendments that were voted down along party lines were introduced by Senate Republicans in an attempt to compel a second House vote on the bill of recommended improvements. Ultimately, on March 25, the Senate passed the law by a vote of 56–43. However, due to procedural irregularities in some of its phrasing, the bill was sent back to the House, where it was ultimately approved by a vote of 220–207. No Republicans supported the bill in either chamber.

Once all of the legislation’s provisions take effect over the following four years, it would prohibit coverage denials based on preexisting conditions and give health coverage to around 30 million previously uninsured Americans. The plan mandated that all people obtain health insurance, but it also called for a tax hike on the wealthiest Americans to primarily fund premium payment subsidies for households earning less than $88,000 per year. In addition, the law provided a tax benefit to small businesses who offer coverage to their workers. In some quarters, the bill was viewed as an unconstitutional “government takeover” of an industry comprising one-sixth of the economy, whilst in others, it was welcomed as legislation on par with that which resulted from the civil rights struggle.

Economic difficulties

Obama, aided by large Democratic majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, pushed through Congress a $787 billion stimulus package in response to the 2008 economic crisis, which prompted a government rescue of the financial industry with up to $700 billion in funds (see Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008). The plan was successful in reversing the severe decrease in GDP by the third quarter of 2009, resulting in annual growth of 2,2 percent. However, unemployment had also increased, from 7.2% when Obama took office to almost 10%. In addition, Republicans protested that the cost of the stimulus package had increased the government deficit to $1.42 trillion. Nevertheless, it looked that the U.S. economy was slowly improving. In June 2009, General Motors declared bankruptcy, prompting a $60 billion government rescue and takeover of about three-fifths of its equity. However, by May 2010, the automaker, utilising a new business strategy, had posted its first profit in three years. Obama anticipated the return on the substantial federal investment in infrastructure-improvement measures designed to create jobs and stimulate the economy during the “Recovery Summer.” As the summer of 2010 continued, however, the economic outlook appeared to deteriorate as unemployment remained stagnant (partly because of the demise of temporary jobs tied to the decennial census). Some experts anticipated the onset of a second recession, while others believed that the stimulus package was insufficient.

Obama was able to claim another big legislative success in July, when Congress passed the most comprehensive financial regulation since the Great Depression (60–39 in the Senate and 237–192 in the House). The bill established, among other provisions, a financial consumer-protection bureau within the Federal Reserve, authorised the government to take over and shut down large troubled financial firms, established a council of federal regulators to monitor the financial system, and subjected derivatives, the complex financial instruments that contributed to the financial crisis, to government oversight.

Deepwater Horizon oil spill

The spring and summer of 2010 would be remembered more for a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest marine oil spill in recorded history (see Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010). Eleven personnel were killed in an explosion and fire that led to the collapse and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform on April 22 approximately 40 miles (60 km) off the coast of Louisiana. The subsequent oil spill damaged marine life, polluted beaches, and halted fishing in a vast region. Some characterised the Obama administration’s response to the oil leak as ineffective, as the majority of Americans felt helpless in the face of BP’s mainly fruitless efforts to stop the flow. Ironically, only weeks prior to the oil spill, the president had suggested removing a long-standing moratorium on offshore oil drilling from northern Delaware to central Florida and other regions. In the aftermath of the disaster, the Interior Department imposed a six-month embargo on new deepwater drilling, including the suspension of operations at more than 30 exploratory wells. Before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was successfully halted in July 2010 and the well was shut, an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil were discharged into the water.

Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq

Obama, like George W. Bush, was a wartime president, notwithstanding his efforts at rapprochement with most of the world. Obama expanded the U.S. military commitment in Afghanistan to 68,000 troops in February 2009, as the situation in Iraq continued to improve and the planned date for the conclusion of U.S. combat operations there approached. With the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Pentagon recommended that Obama deploy an additional 40,000 troops there. During his presidential campaign, he had emphasised that the focus of U.S. military efforts should be on Afghanistan rather than Iraq. Obama’s decision to send an additional 30,000 troops was attacked by many members of his own party after he carefully weighed the situation for three months.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of NATO-U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and members of his staff made disparaging remarks about top Obama administration officials to a reporter from Rolling Stone magazine in June 2010. At the time, the Afghanistan War had surpassed the Vietnam War as the longest war in U.S. history, and the number of American war deaths in Afghanistan had surpassed 1,000. Obama removed McChrystal of command and replaced him with Gen. David Petraeus, who had been in charge of the Iraq surge strategy. The U.S. combat mission in Iraq concluded on time in August; although 50,000 American troops remained, the vast majority of U.S. forces had been removed. Obama, in a televised national address commemorating the conclusion of Operation Iraqi Freedom, emphasised the importance of American and NATO operations in Afghanistan, despite the fact that corruption continued to damage the Afghan people’s faith in their government.

Numerous columnists and political cartoonists were eager to draw comparisons between Obama’s lofty intentions for social legislation and the way the Vietnam War thwarted President Lyndon B. Johnson’s efforts to establish the Great Society. With the possibility of a double-dip recession approaching in the summer of 2010, some said that Obama had been too busy with the conflicts to devote sufficient attention to the economy.

In the run-up to the midterm congressional elections in the fall, Obama was embroiled in a controversy over whether an Islamic centre and mosque should be constructed near the site of the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York City. Initially, the president responded by forcefully supporting the constitutional right of Muslim Americans to freedom of religious expression, but he then appeared to waver on the placement of the mosque. All of this occurred at a time when polls indicated that about one-fifth of Americans erroneously considered Obama to be a Muslim, up from roughly one-tenth a year earlier.

The congressional midterm election and its aftermath

As 2010 midterm elections approached, a large portion of the American population was labelled as angry and pessimistic. In an election that was widely perceived as a referendum on the first two years of Obama’s presidency, the faltering economy and persistently high unemployment rates dominated the conversation. In the weeks preceding the election, Obama vigorously campaigned for Democratic candidates and attempted to persuade voters of the significance of his administration’s successes, including preventing what some experts feared to be an imminent economic depression. In addition, he highlighted that both the transformation he had pledged as a presidential candidate and the efforts of the Democratic Congress to revitalise the economy would take time. In the end, many of the independents who had supported Obama and other Democrats in the 2008 election switched to the Republicans, and the Republicans regained control of the House with an increase of almost 60 seats (the biggest swing since 1948). Even though the Democrats maintained control of the Senate, their majority was drastically diminished. Obama began the second half of his administration and the problems of a divided government with a fresh push for bipartisanship, despite being humbled by the election results.

Obama and his administration aggressively courted Republicans with compromise suggestions, resulting in a flurry of substantial legislation that made the lame-duck Congress one of the most productive in recent memory and boosted the president’s popularity. Obama agreed to prolong for an additional two years the Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans (including the wealthiest) in violation of a campaign vow. In exchange, Republicans supported an extension of jobless benefits. Additionally, Congress repealed the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in the armed forces (fulfilling one of Obama’s campaign promises). The Congress enacted legislation that increased the number of children served by the school lunch programme and enhanced the quality of the food served. And Congress extended medical coverage and compensation to the rescue workers who had responded to the attacks of September 11th. In addition, the Senate ratified a new Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) deal with Russia, one of the administration’s most important foreign policy objectives. In contrast, a Republican filibuster in the Senate halted the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would have guaranteed eventual citizenship to immigrants brought to the United States at or before the age of 16.

Despite the fact that gridlock was at least temporarily dislodged and partisanship eased during the season of legislative success, the debate over the severity of political polarisation quickly returned to the forefront of national discourse when, on January 8, 2011, a gunman killed six people and critically wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords as she met with constituents in Tucson, Arizona. Giffords, a moderate Democrat who had voted in favour of the health care reform, had already had her office trashed and faced a strong challenge to her seat from a Tea Party-backed Republican candidate. She escaped the gunman’s assault. Obama, in a well-received speech at a memorial service for the dead in Tucson, urged for civility in American politics and public dialogue, as well as conversations that heal rather than destroy. “Rather of pointing fingers or assigning blame,” he added, “let us use this occasion to extend our moral imaginations, to listen to one another more attentively, to hone our instincts for empathy, and to remind ourselves of all the ways in which our hopes and goals are intertwined.”

Conflict in the Middle East

In the Middle East, popular political protests in 2011 led to the rapid end of longtime authoritarian regimes in Tunisia (see Jasmine Revolution) and Egypt (see Egypt Uprising of 2011), as well as major rallies and fighting in other countries in the area. The Obama administration endeavoured to communicate its support for the demonstrators’ democratic ambitions with care, balancing prior commitments to some of the endangered regimes with U.S. support for free representative governance. In addition, Obama attempted to assume a position of global leadership without directly intervening in the affairs of other nations.

In Libya, however, where the political revolt against Muammar al-four-decade Qaddafi’s rule effectively morphed into a civil war (see Libya Revolt of 2011), Obama deemed U.S. intervention necessary to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe as Qaddafi used his overwhelming military advantage to brutally eradicate opposition. On March 19, U.S. and European forces began targeting Libyan targets with jets and cruise missiles in an effort to degrade Libya’s air force and air defence systems. On March 27, the Obama administration handed over command of these operations to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, after initially taking the lead role.

On April 4, Obama officially declared his intention to run for reelection. On May 1, less than a month later, the president delivered a dramatic late-night Sunday television speech to alert the world that U.S. special forces had killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a shootout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, near the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. (U.S. soldiers took custody of the body, which they buried at sea, and DNA testing verified bin Laden’s identity.) Obama stated, “Justice was served.” “Americans are cognizant of the consequences of war. Yet, as a nation, we will never tolerate a danger to our security or stand by while our people are murdered. We shall defend our citizens and our friends and allies with vigour.

Budget battles

During the passionate debate and tough talks about the approval of the federal budget for the remainder of fiscal year 2010, partisan bickering grew as members of both parties dug in their heels. Beginning in October 2010, the Congress authorised a series of stopgap measures that allowed the federal government to continue running while negotiations continued. As the April 8, 2011 funding deadline for another of these stopgap budgets approached, the new Republican majority in the House threatened to vote against more short-term financing, causing a government shutdown if severe budget cutbacks were not imposed. While conceding the necessity for budget cuts, the administration and Democratic-controlled Senate remained strong in their support of a variety of entitlement programmes the Republicans sought to restrict or destroy. Only hours before the government shutdown, the two parties reached an agreement on a budget that included $38 billion in funding reductions.

As spring transitioned into summer and federal borrowing reached the $14.29 trillion national debt maximum set by Congress, the worry over the growing deficit, which was at the centre of the budget dispute, escalated. The government neared this limit in mid-May, but the Treasury Department was able to delay the predicted date of default on the public debt until August 2 by moving funds. Late in June, as the behind-closed-doors negotiations between legislative leaders led by Vice President Biden faltered, Obama began to play a more active role. The Republican leadership, heavily influenced by the Tea Party movement, persisted in its pursuit of a substantial deficit reduction through major spending cutbacks (indeed, the Republican-controlled House passed a bill that prohibited an increase in the debt ceiling unless accompanied by commensurate spending cuts). In addition to proposing expenditure cutbacks, the president and Democrats sought to block a radical revamp of Medicare and Medicaid and demanded tax increases for the wealthiest Americans and the revocation of tax incentives for some industries, particularly the oil industry.

Obama and Republican House Speaker John A. Boehner nearly reached a “grand bargain” that would have included trillions of dollars in spending cuts, reforms to Medicare and Social Security, and tax reform in early July, amidst intensifying partisan posturing. Increases in tax revenue were essential to the “balanced approach” espoused by the president, who wanted the cost of deficit reduction to be borne by everybody, even the wealthiest Americans who profited from Bush-era tax cuts. At the end of the month, however, the agreement collapsed over the projected tax-revenue increases. According to media reports, Boehner had agreed to an increase in tax revenue of $800 billion, but backed out of the accord when the president requested an extra $400 billion. Widespread opinion held, however, that Boehner would have had difficulty gaining sufficient Republican support for the pact regardless.

As the prospect of default and the possibility of a credit rating downgrade for the U.S. government became more real, there was a growing bipartisan consensus on the need to raise the debt ceiling. In the absence of a broader agreement, consensus appeared to rely mostly on the question of whether the ceiling would be raised in two or one steps, with the latter option pushing the rise beyond the 2012 election. On July 31, just two days before the deadline, the president and congressional leaders of both parties negotiated an agreement to raise the debt ceiling in two main stages by around $2.4 trillion, with similar deficit reductions to be delivered over a 10-year period. The agreement called for a $900 billion short-term rise in the debt ceiling, of which $400 billion would be immediate, to be offset by a $400 billion immediate cap on domestic and defence spending, resulting in a $917 billion decrease in the deficit. In addition, the deal required the formation of a legislative “super committee” entrusted with submitting recommendations by the end of November 2011 that would lower the deficit by an extra $1.2 to $1.5 trillion in order to allow for a proportional increase in the debt ceiling. The agreement did not involve any tax hikes and neither Medicare nor Social Security were significantly altered. It did, however, stipulate that if the bipartisan committee failed to establish a consensus or if Congress failed to accept the committee’s plans by December 2012, automatic across-the-board cutbacks of up to $1.2 trillion would be enacted, with defence and nondefense expenditure reduced by an equal amount. The agreement also required the House and Senate to vote on a constitutional amendment ensuring a balanced budget. The final bill was approved by a vote of 269–161 in the House and 74–26 in the Senate.

Obama formally launched his reelection campaign with addresses in Ohio and Virginia on May 5, 2012, although he has been effectively campaigning for weeks. A few days later, on May 9, he made headlines again when he disclosed a shift in his position on same-sex marriage, stating in a television news interview, “At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that it’s vital for me to affirm that I believe same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.” Earlier in the week, Vice President Biden made another television interview in which he voiced his strong support for same-sex marriage.

The economy continued to recover, albeit slowly and unevenly, prompting Time magazine to dub the comeback “The 97-Pound Recovery” in April 2012 (a reference to bodybuilder Charles Atlas’ 97-pound weakness). The stock market had rebounded from the dark days of the Great Recession from December 2007 to June 2009, but wages remained largely stagnant, foreclosures were still common as the housing market struggled to regain equilibrium, and unemployment remained high at 8.2 percent in May, despite a general decline. Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican presidential contender and former governor of Massachusetts, has devoted most of his campaign to criticising President Obama’s economic management. On the other hand, other analysts emphasised that the U.S. economy was significantly more robust than Europe’s, which remained stuck in the euro-zone debt crisis. More than a few ascribed the relative health of the U.S. economy to the government’s stimulus efforts and the results of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (established by the Emergency Economic Stabilisation Act), which rescued failing American financial institutions.

In June, in response to the Senate’s earlier failure to enact the DREAM Act, the Obama administration made a significant policy move, ending the prompt deportation of illegal immigrants who had entered the country as children. Although the policy did not embrace the “pathway to citizenship” promised by the DREAM Act, it granted a two-year reprieve from deportation and the opportunity to apply for a work permit to those under the age of 30 who had immigrated before the age of 16, had been in the country for at least five years, did not have a criminal record or pose a threat to national security, and were either students or high school graduates or veterans.

The Supreme Court struck down three provisions of Arizona’s controversial 2010 immigration law, but upheld its “Show me your papers” provision, which required police to check the legal status of anyone they stop for another law-enforcement reason if they have a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally. Obama hailed the court’s decision to strike down three other portions of the law, including one that made it illegal for illegal immigrants to seek employment, but he voiced concern that the provision that was upheld could lead to racial profiling.

On the penultimate day of its term (June 28), the Supreme Court released a decision in a case widely regarded as the most significant considered by the court in more than a decade: it sustained the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (see Affordable Care Act cases). This decision provided the president with an enormous victory by preserving the administration’s signature legislative achievement. Important to the 5–4 decision was the court’s decision not to strike down the act’s “individual mandate” section, which would penalise Americans financially for not having health insurance, a provision that many Republican leaders felt was unconstitutional.

2012’s election

Obama and Biden were officially nominated as the Democratic Party’s candidates for president and vice president of the United States at the beginning of September 2012, at the party’s national conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. On the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Obama and the rest of the world focused on Benghazi, Libya, where an attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility resulted in the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Initially, it was believed that the incident was the result of spontaneous rioting outside the post in response to a U.S.-made anti-Islam film. Elsewhere, particularly at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, there were angry rallies against the film. In the days and weeks that followed, however, it became increasingly clear that the incident was a deliberate terrorist act. Obama committed to investigate the situation, but both he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted their ultimate responsibility. Romney and the conservative movement in general continued to criticise Obama on this topic.

Obama maintained a strong lead over Romney in September national opinion polls, due in part to a “convention bounce” and unfavourable opinions of his Republican opponent held by some. The release of secretly filmed footage from a private fund-raiser in which Romney said, “There are 47 percent of people who will vote for the president no matter what…who believe that they are victims” and whom he would never be able to persuade to “take personal responsibility and care for their lives” exacerbated these perceptions. Romney stood by his words while admitting that they had not been “elegantly delivered” in the ensuing controversy.

It was predicted to be the most costly presidential campaign in history, the first since the introduction of the public financing system in which neither contender accepted public cash and the associated spending restrictions. Totals did not include the tens of millions spent by “super PACs,” the political action committees that—as a result of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission—were permitted to accept unlimited donations from wealthy individuals, corporations, and unions, as long as they operated independently of the candidate.

Both Obama and Romney portrayed themselves as advocates of the middle class and those aspiring to join it. While the president gave a picture of American wealth that expanded centrifugally from the centre, his Republican opponent thought that economic well-being was launched by “job creators” at the top and flowed downward, a strategy that Obama argued had been tried and failed in the past. Obama, in highlighting the importance of addressing the deficit, emphasised the need for spending cuts but proposed reverting the tax rates on the wealthiest Americans to those in effect during the administration of Bill Clinton. Romney supports preserving the Bush-era tax cuts, especially those for those at the top of the economic pyramid, and delivering additional tax cuts, while vowing to reduce the deficit through expenditure cutbacks and the removal of tax loopholes. While accusing Obama of a lack of commercial sensitivity, he cited his own success as an entrepreneur as a primary qualification for the job of repairing the economy as president. Much of Romney’s campaign was based on his criticism of Obama’s handling of the economy. Romney blames Obama for the slow recovery and the resulting hardships endured by the middle class, particularly the long-term unemployed. Obama was quick to acknowledge the suffering of many Americans caused by the Great Recession and the slow pace of recovery, but he was equally quick (according to many Republicans, too quick) to point out the “bad hand” he had been dealt by the Bush administration. Some of the president’s supporters believed that he did not emphasise strongly enough how his policies helped avert a far worse economic catastrophe. Romney also pledged to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which he derisively branded as “Obamacare” — a term the president joyfully embraced as he touted the act’s benefits on the campaign trail. Obama consistently emphasised the murder of Osama bin Laden under his watch, thereby reversing the customary Republican edge on defence and security matters. He also emphasised the successful withdrawal of American forces from Iraq and his pledge to withdraw the American military from Afghanistan by 2014.

FAQs

Who were Barack Obama’s parents?

Barack Obama’s parents were students at the University of Hawaii when they wed. His Kenyan father, Barack Obama Sr., became an economist for the Kenyan government. S., his mother, She became an anthropologist: Ann Dunham. They split up in 1964. Ann subsequently married (and later divorced) the Indonesian Lolo Soetoro.

Where did Barack Obama attend school?

Barack Obama attended Punahou School, an elite school in Honolulu, and then Occidental College before transferring to Columbia University and getting a B.A. in 1983. in political science. He was the first African American to serve as president of the Harvard Law Review after graduating from Harvard Law School with highest honours in 1991.

What did Barack Obama do for a living?

After working as a writer and editor in Manhattan, Barack Obama became a community organiser in Chicago, lectured on constitutional law at the University of Chicago, and practised civil rights law before serving in the Illinois Senate (1997–2004), the U.S. Senate (2005–08), and as president of the United States (2009–present) (2009–17).

What did Barack Obama write?

Dreams from My Father (1995) is the account of Barack Obama’s search for his multiracial identity by exploring the lives of his late father and extended relatives in Kenya. His second book, published in 2006 and titled The Audacity of Hope, is a polemic on his vision for the United States.

What is Barack Obama famous for?

Barack Obama was the nation’s first African American president (2009–17). He oversaw the recovery of the U.S. economy (after the Great Recession of 2008–2009) and the implementation of historic health care reform (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act). He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.

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