Political positions of Barack Obama

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Barack Obama campaigning in New Hampshire, August 2005

Barack Obama has declared his position on many political issues through his public comments and legislative records. The Obama Administration stated that its general agenda was to "revive the economy, provide affordable and accessible health care to all, strengthen our public education and social security systems, define a clear path to energy independence and tackle climate change, end the War in Iraq responsibly and finish our mission in Afghanistan, and work with our allies to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon."[1]

Economic policy[edit]

Before his presidency Barack Obama was a U.S. senator from Illinois, from 1997 to 2004. President Obama was inaugurated in January 2009, in the depths of the Great Recession and a severe financial crisis that began in 2007. His administration continued the banking bailout and auto industry rescue begun by the previous administration and immediately enacted an $800 billion stimulus program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), which included a blend of additional spending and tax cuts. By early 2011, the economy began creating jobs consistently each month, a trend which continued through the end of his tenure.[2]

President Obama followed with the legislation that bears his name ("Obamacare"), the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. By 2016, the law covered approximately 23 million people with health insurance via a combination of state healthcare exchanges and an extension of Medicaid.[3] It lowered the rate of those without health insurance from approximately 16% in 2010 to 9% by 2015.[4] Throughout his tenure, healthcare costs continued to moderate. For example, healthcare premiums for those covered by employers rose by 69% from 2000-2005, but only 27% from 2010 to 2015.[5] By 2017, nearly 70% of those on the exchanges could purchase insurance for less than $75/month after subsidies.[6] The law was evaluated multiple times by the Congressional Budget Office, which scored it as a moderate deficit reducer, as it included tax hikes primarily on high income taxpayers (roughly the top 5%) and reductions in future Medicare cost increases, offsetting subsidy costs.[7] No Republicans in the House and only a few in the Senate voted for the law.[2]

To address the excesses in the banking sector that precipitated the crisis, Obama signed the 2010 Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. This law limited bank risk-taking and overhauled the outdated regulatory regime that was ineffective in monitoring the non-depository or shadow banking sector at the core of the crisis, which had outgrown the traditional depository banking sector. It also created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. However, it did not breakup the largest banks (which had grown even larger due to forced mergers during the crisis) or separate investment and depository banking, as the Glass-Steagal Act had done. Only a few Republicans voted for the law.[2]

Next came the federal budget debates. The Great Recession had caused federal government revenues to fall to their lowest level relative to the size of the economy in 50 years. At the same time, safety net expenditures (including automatic stabilizers such as unemployment compensation and disability payments) and stimulus measures caused expenditures to rise considerably. This drove the budget deficit up, creating significant debt concerns. This resulted in a series of bruising debates with the Republican Congress. President Obama signed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which included the expiration of the Bush tax cuts for high income earners and implemented a sequester (cap) on spending for the military and other discretionary categories of spending. Compared against a baseline where the Bush tax cuts were allowed to expire on schedule in 2010 for all levels of income, it significantly increased future deficits. Compared against the prior years, it significantly reduced the deficit and limited future cost increases. This law and the recovering economy lowered the deficit back to the historical average relative to GDP by 2014.[2]

With the economy recovering and major budget legislation behind him, President Obama began to shift to another priority, income and wealth inequality. From 1950-1979, the top 1% earned roughly a 10% share of the income. However, this had risen to 24% by 2007, due to a combination of globalization, automation, and policy changes that weakened worker's bargaining position relative to capital (owners).[8] He referred to the widening income gap as the "defining challenge of our time" during 2013.[9] His tax increases on higher-income taxpayers lowered the share of after-tax income received by the top 1% from 17% in 2007 to 12% by 2015,[8] while job creation remained robust.

Wealth inequality had also risen similarly, with the share of wealth owned by the top 1% rising from 24% in 1979 to 36% by 2007.[8] While U.S. household net worth rose nearly 30% from its pre-crisis peak in 2007 to 2016, much of this gain went to the wealthiest Americans, as it had prior to his tenure. By 2015, the share of wealth owned by the top 1% reached 42%.[10]

President Obama also attempted to address inequality before taxes (i.e., market income), with infrastructure investment to create middle-class jobs and a federally-mandated increase in the minimum wage, but these initiatives were defeated by the Republican Congress. However, many states did increase their minimum wages, due in part to his support.[2]

Energy policy[edit]

President Obama's energy policy can be understood by looking at the different investments in clean energy that were evident in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.[specify]

On March 31, 2010 at Andrews Air Force base, President Obama announced a “Comprehensive Plan for Energy Security”, stating that "moving towards clean energy is about our security. It’s also about our economy. And it’s about the future of our planet."[11] The President's plan includes raising fuel efficiency standards. He also announced a decision to double the number of hybrid vehicles in the federal government's fleet and a decision to expand domestic offshore oil and gas exploration in Alaska, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and off the east coast of the United States.[12]

Federal emergency management / Disaster relief[edit]

Obama has proposed cuts of $1 billion, or 3%, to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for 2013. More money would be given to state and local programs under Obama's proposal.[13]

Foreign policy[edit]

Obama addressed the Save Darfur rally at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on April 30, 2006.[14]

Obama's overall foreign policy philosophy has been postulated as "The Obama Doctrine" by Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, which Dionne explains as "a form of realism unafraid to deploy American power but mindful that its use must be tempered by practical limits and a dose of self-awareness."[15] A New York Times op-ed article by David Brooks identified Obama as having enormous respect for and being deeply influenced by the philosophy of Reinhold Niebuhr.[16]


His first major speech on foreign policy was delivered on April 23, 2007, to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He identified the problems that he believes the current foreign policy has caused, and the five ways the United States can lead again, focused on "common security", "common humanity", and remaining "a beacon of freedom and justice for the world":[17]

  • "Bringing a responsible end" to the war in Iraq and refocusing on the broader region.
  • "Building the first truly 21st century military and showing wisdom in how we deploy it."
  • "Marshalling a global effort" to secure, destroy, and stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
  • "Rebuild and construct the alliances and partnerships necessary to meet common challenges and confront common threats," including global warming.
  • "Invest in our common humanity" through foreign aid and supporting the "pillars of a sustainable democracy – a strong legislature, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, a vibrant civil society, a free press, and an honest police force."

During the speech, Obama called for an expansion of the United States Armed Forces "by adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 Marines", an idea previously introduced by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

In a Washington, DC, speech entitled "A New Strategy for a New World"[18] delivered July 15, 2008, Obama stated five main foreign policy goals:

  • Ending the war in Iraq responsibly.
  • Finishing the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban.
  • Securing all nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists and rogue states.
  • Achieving true energy security.
  • Rebuilding US alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Law enforcement and security policy[edit]

United States electronic surveillance has reached an all-time high under Obama, with increased monitoring of emails, text messages and phone conversations.[19]

Social policy[edit]

The Almanac of American Politics (2008) rated Obama's overall social policies in 2006 as more conservative than 21 percent of the Senate, and more liberal than 77 percent of the Senate (18 percent and 77 percent, respectively, in 2005).[20]

In 2010, Obama signed into law the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 which ended a policy of not allowing gays to state their sexual orientation openly in the military. In May 2012, he became the first sitting U.S. president to announce his support for the legalization of same-sex marriage.[21]

During his second inaugural address on January 21, 2013, Obama called for full equality for gays: “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” This was a historic moment, being the first time that a president mentioned gay rights or the word gay in an inaugural address.[22][23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://change.gov/agenda/
  2. ^ a b c d e "In Defense of Obama". Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 19, 2016. 
  3. ^ "Federal Subsidies for Health Insurance coverage". CBO. Retrieved November 19, 2016. 
  4. ^ "Health Insurance Coverage-2015 National Health Interview Survey". CDC. Retrieved November 19, 2016. 
  5. ^ "Employer Health Benefits 2015". Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved November 19, 2016. 
  6. ^ "Rates Up 22 Percent For Obamacare Plans, But Subsidies Rise, Too". Retrieved November 19, 2016. 
  7. ^ "Budgetary and Economic Effects of Repealing the Affordable Care Act". Retrieved November 19, 2016. 
  8. ^ a b c "Striking it Richer" (PDF). Emmanuel Saez Berkeley. Retrieved November 19, 2016. 
  9. ^ Obama says income inequality is defining challenge for U.S. PBS NewsHour. December 4, 2013. Retrieved December 26, 2013.
  10. ^ "FRED Households and non profit organizations net worth". Retrieved November 19, 2016. 
  11. ^ "Remarks by The President on Energy Security at Andrews Air Force Base, 3/31/2010". whitehouse.gov. 2010-03-31. Retrieved 2016-11-09. 
  12. ^ By the CNN Wire Staff (2010-03-31). "Obama energy plan would open Atlantic and Gulf drilling". CNN.com. Retrieved 2016-11-09. 
  13. ^ Sonmez, Felicia (October 30, 2012). "Romney ignores questions about eliminating FEMA". The Washington Post. 
  14. ^ Hunt, Kasie (May 1, 2006). "Celebrities, Activists Rally Against Darfur Genocide". USA Today. Retrieved January 14, 2008.  For excerpts from Obama's speech, see: "More Must Be Done in Darfur". The Hill. April 30, 2006. Retrieved January 14, 2008. 
  15. ^ "E.J. Dionne Jr. - The Obama Doctrine in Action". Washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2016-11-09. 
  16. ^ "Obama, Gospel and Verse". David Brooks. The New York Times, April 27, 2007. April 26, 2007. Retrieved March 19, 2010. 
  17. ^ "Foreign Policy Remarks at CCGA". my.barackobama.com. Retrieved 2016-11-09. 
  18. ^ Obama, Barack (July 15, 2008). "A New Strategy for a New World". Obama for America. Retrieved July 16, 2008. 
  19. ^ John Pike (2012-09-29). "Report: Surge in U.S. Gov't Electronic Surveillance". Globalsecurity.org. Retrieved 2016-11-09. 
  20. ^ Michael Barone with Richard Cohen. Almanac of American Politics (2008). National Journal. p. 538. 
  21. ^ "Obama says same-sex couples should be able to marry". BBC.co.uk. May 9, 2012. 
  22. ^ Robillard, Kevin (21 January 2013). "First inaugural use of the word 'gay'". Politico. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
  23. ^ Michelson, Noah (January 21, 2013). "Obama Inauguration Speech Makes History With Mention Of Gay Rights Struggle, Stonewall Uprising". Huffington Post. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 

External links[edit]

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