A few months away from the end of Barack Obama's second term in office, a slender majority of Americans approve of his performance – an achievement in itself given how politically divided the USA has been since the rise of the Tea Party in 2010. While his successor will also be historic – either the first woman or the first talking sweet potato to hold presidential office – Obama's run was filled with standout moments (fully explored in the SBS documentary series Obama: Eight Years of Power). Here are the top ten, as chosen by The Guide...
He won by not being George W Bush
So relieved were Americans after the serial bungling of GWB, that Obama coasted to his initial win in 2008 with the Democrats retaking both houses of Congress. So relieved was the world that Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize just eight months into office which, given his record in expanding drone strikes, can be considered premature. But at least he didn't invade Syria.
He sang at the Harlem Apollo
This New York theatre has been an iconic black music venue for decades, but Obama's moment came during a campaign fund-raiser held there in 2012. Spotting the Reverend Al Green in the audience, Obama crooned the opening line of Green's 1972 soul classic “Let's Stay Together”: “I'm… so in love with you...” While the good reverend's day job is safe, Obama's imitation of his distinctive falsetto was more than passable.
He improved healthcare access
The United States is still a long way off a civilised health system, but Obama did what no other president had managed in 50 years and expanded access to almost all the population. His Affordable Healthcare Act has throttled health inflation costs, and despite a few wobbles – and resentment from Americans forced to buy private health insurance – is doing what it's designed to do: stop citizens of a country as rich as America from not being treated when sick.
He closed Guantanamo Bay... sort of
Well, not quite true. He did sign an executive order – something US presidents can do to take action and avoid dealing with Congress – closing GWB's Cuban prison gulag, on January 22, 2009, but the deadline of a year came and went… seven times. Sixty-one men remain there, a relic of the Bush-era's assault on legal rights.
Talking of Cuba, Obama began lifting the embargo on travel and trade to the Caribbean island, imposed in the dim days of the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear war loomed large and there were Commies under every bed. The US re-opened its embassy in Havana in August 2015, the first time the Stars and Stripes had fluttered there in the tropical breeze in 54 years.
He started telling it like it is
While Obama's soaring rhetoric of hope during his first run failed to appear once he was in power – stymied by a combination of his caution and an increasingly combative Republican Party – his last year as president saw him become increasingly blunt. And funny. His 2015 state of the union speech saw him declare: “I have no more campaigns to run.” Following a few laughs, he ad-libbed: “I know, because I won both of them.”
Telling it like it is, part 2
“I'm a mellow sort of a guy,” declared Obama, at the White House Correspondents' Dinner in 2015, before inviting Luther, his “anger translator” out on stage to stand by his side, a man who looked like a bouncer desperate to take his migraine out on someone. “We [the media and I] won't always see eye to eye,” said Obama, followed by Luther ranting at CNN for its coverage of the Ebola “crisis”. “For two whole weeks, we were one step away from The Walking Dead!” raved Luther, while Obama deadpanned perfectly.
He welcomed gay marriage
Sounds like a slam dunk for a Democratic president, right? Wrong. His possible successor, Hillary Clinton, only began supporting it in 2013 - a year after Obama. But Obama praised the Supreme Court's 2015 decision to rule gay marriage legal, calling it a victory for people “willing to endure bullying and taunts and [who] stayed strong and came to believe in themselves and who they were, and slowly made an entire country realise that love is love”.
He took out Osama Bin Laden
The low-level internet chuntering and conspiracy theories will never cease, but it seems the Osama bin Laden was hiding in plain sight in an Abbottabad compound near a military academy in Pakistan. Enter a team of Navy SEALs who busted in, executed him and dumped his body at sea.
He sealed a nuclear deal with Iran
Obama's plan to negotiate a delay for when Iran could theoretically enrich uranium for a bomb by a decade was fiercely opposed by the neoconservative element in US foreign policy, whose track record in foreign wars has been so impressive - if you redefine impressive as "disaster central". But Obama went ahead, and opening up relations with the country's complex power structure may bring stability to a region which really, really needs it.
Watch part 1 of Obama: 8 Years of Power right here: