Every presidential election is historic but some more than others. The 2008 and 2012 presidential elections were historic for an obvious reason: Barack Obama. And the 2016 Presidential Election will also be historic because of him. It’s a post Obama world that we live in now or more specifically, a post Obama political landscape. Because of his policies and persona, Obama will leave behind a pair of very large shoes for his successor to fill.
President Obama’s list of accomplishments can hardly be summed up in one simple sentence, but just within this past year alone, he has changed history. He has appointed more women on the Supreme Court, produced the Affordable Care Act, recently maneuvered contraception blockades out of the antiquated Hobby Lobby ruling of a year ago, legalized and supported same-sex marriage, vocalized a need for equal pay among sexes, has begun the removal of American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, signed an executive action for deferred action for 4.3 million immigrants and established foreign policy pillars of compromise and enterprise for US relations by lifting the Cuban Embargo and by reaching middle ground in a nuclear deal with Iran. And those are just a few highlights from recent months. We can also include battling pirates in the open seas during his first presidential term among his list of successes.
Obama is one of the most progressive presidents the US has had in a long time and that is the great misfortune that this new pool of presidential candidates face. Not only has this man spearheaded historic policies into realities, but he has also been a physical symbol of progress as a black president, a visual representation of the millions who live in this country. He is the first African-American president of the United States. He ran his 2008 presidential campaign on a platform of political change – on which he delivered with admittedly a few losses. The honeymoon period for a president usually lasts a couple of weeks; his went on for months, if not years.
This is the burden that the 2016 presidential candidates must bear. The “change” that swept Americans off their feet and made so many fall in love with Obama in 2008 is difficult to revitalize again. While Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush and even Donald Trump have been able to attract hordes of crowds to their campaign speeches, they are not as visually symbolic as Barack Obama was in 2008 or even 2012.
Clinton has some leverage to be a beacon of change, not just because of her sex, but also because of her political history as senator and former secretary of state. Sanders can also be a poster for political progress with his mass appeal to young voters and his no-nonsense attitude about reforms in the private sector and student debt. While Sanders is politically progressive, some might be put off by the image of another old, white man running for office.
Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and the younger brother of former president, George W. Bush, is an interesting candidate. His wife, Columba Bush, is Mexican-American and a philanthropist. Bush himself is fluent in Spanish, but where does he stand on the growing number of Hispanic immigrants in this country from Mexico and several other Central American countries? What are his objectives in reducing student debt from the pursuit of higher education? He has aligned himself with the young voters but would he champion the cause that economically affects us the most? I’m waiting to hear his answer.
What would it take for a candidate to be groundbreaking now? It would take authenticity and conviction in their promises on policies that individuals are still battling for: prison reform, gun violence, immigration reform, student debt, wage equality among the sexes and across racial lines, societal and medical support for the transgender community, police brutality, closing Guantanamo Bay, privatization of water and the dysfunctional allocation of public school funds based on standardized tests. These are only some of the issues that impact Americans, immigrants and the international community. A candidate willing to deliver not just speeches, but also strong action on these causes would perhaps be heralded as another champion of change.