Our Opinion: Obama served nation with class and grace

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On Tuesday, President Barack Obama will deliver his farewell address following eight years in the White House. In his two terms there have been successes, disappointments and controversies both real and imaginary, but the bottom line is that he will be leaving the nation in better shape than he found it.

The numbers attest to the success of his presidency, but a U.S. president cannot be measured solely or even largely by economic statistics. The president serves as the symbol of a nation that for all its faults still stands as a beacon of hope and idealism for much of the world, and with his unfailing grace and class, President Obama did America proud by its citizens and before the world.

But first, some of those numbers. President Obama took office as a recession was crippling the economy, and his budget stimulus package and bailout of the auto industry were instrumental in bringing needed stability. The deficit has declined by roughly 65 percent since he took office, an achievement conservative deficit hawks have reacted to with stony silence. Unemployment has dropped from 7.6 percent to 4.6 percent, adding roughly 10 million jobs, and while too many Americans struggle with stagnant wages, more Americans are working than eight years ago. The stock market has been soaring and the U.S. trade deficit has shrunk by about 20 percent.

Then there is the Affordable Care Act, which reduced the number of Americans without health insurance by 15 million. Washington Republicans who long promised to "repeal and replace" the ACA when they had no chance to do either appear to be leaning toward a "repeal and delay" policy now that they are in position to act but have no health reform ideas to offer and certainly none better than the successful ACA.

When considering the ACA and other Obama administration accomplishments it is impossible not to wistfully consider what other good could have been done by the White House had not Republicans decided early on to block the Democratic president at every opportunity regardless of the merit of his proposals. Washington has always been partisan in nature, but that partisanship reached new levels of spite and obstructionism because of congressional Republicans. Mr. Obama is the first president since Dwight Eisenhower to win at least 51 percent of the vote twice and that support generated a rage among Republicans that contributed to the poisonous atmosphere permeating the last election and continuing today.

President Obama's signature foreign policy accomplishment was launching the operation that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, just months before the 10th anniversary of the al-Qaida terrorist attacks on the United States. Al-Qaida still exists but has been scattered to the winds and been supplanted by ISIS as a global terrorist force.

With the death of bin Laden and the routing of al-Qaida, the war in Afghanistan lost its mission. The president failed to end the war completely, however, and he didn't find a solution to the ongoing tragedy that is Syria. Still, Americans are no longer dying in droves in foreign wars, which we hope will not change under Republican leadership in Washington.

President Obama also succeeded in avoiding any hint of scandal in his eight years. So unblemished is the president personally that opponents had to manufacture scandals, such as the "birther" nonsense, with Donald Trump at the forefront. The election and re-election of an African-American president was a great achievement for America, but it unfortunately elevated the delirium of his foes and the racism always bubbling below the nation's surface erupted, in particular over the past year.

That vitriol directed at the president, and also at the first lady, prompted both to take the high road, or as Michelle Obama said at the Democratic National Convention, "When they go low, we go high." Over the course of their eight years in the White House, both Obamas increasingly demonstrated a sharp wit and winning sense of humor. Given the level of hysteria the president somehow generated - he never did come for everyone's guns or declare Sharia Law - the ability to laugh was undoubtedly critical to the Obamas' mental health.

President Obama's legacy is now in jeopardy, with efforts protecting the environmental, where the president made strides despite opposition from anti-science Republicans, perhaps most immediately in jeopardy. Issues aside, however, President Obama, through his empathy, humanity, grace under pressure and well-chosen words during times of tragedy, did the nation proud before its citizens and the world. That is something that cannot be taken away and will be remembered.

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