Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States on Jan. 20,
2009. The son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, he is the first
African-American to ascend to the highest office in the land.
He defeated Hillary Rodham Clinton in a lengthy and bitter primary battle before defeating
Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, in November 2008.
As president, Mr. Obama has won passage of a number of sweeping pieces of legislation,
notably a health care bill that will eventually provide near-universal coverage, a goal that had
eluded Democratic presidents for 75 years. Other big victories included the $787 billion
stimulus bill, passed in February 2009, meant to shore up a cratering economy, and a
financial regulatory reform measure, passed in July 2010, meant to reduce the odds of another
Wall Street meltdown.
But Mr. Obama has been stymied on measures like immigration reform and a cap and trade
system to reduce carbon emissions by the steadfast opposition of Congressional Republicans,
who were joined on some key votes by conservative Democrats. His popularity fell steadily
— from 70 percent to under 50 percent — as unemployment stayed stubbornly high. By
official accounts, the recession ended, but the recovery was too tepid to knock more than a
few fractions off the jobless rate. The White House admitted that it had underestimated the
extent of the recession, the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
With voters angry about the economy and frustrated with Washington, the Tea Party
Movement rose to prominence pushing a radically anti-government agenda, while on the left,
pride in accomplishments like the health care bill was diluted by a belief that Mr. Obama was
too quick to compromise, too concerned with the well-being of the banks and too reluctant to
A 'Shellacking' in 2010 Midterms
On Nov. 2, 2010, Republicans rolled to their greatest midterms gains in 80 years, recapturing
the House of Representatives and cutting the Democrats' majority in the Senate. After what
Mr. Obama termed a "shellacking,'' he pronounced himself ready to cooperate with
Republicans. The Republicans identified their top priority as rolling back or repealing health
Later that month, Congress returned to Washington for a lame-duck session that Republicans
said would be shaped by their new ascendancy. In fact, after striking a compromise with
Republican leaders on the Bush-era tax cuts, Mr. Obama and the Democrats reeled off a
string of victories, winning passage of the New Start treaty, the repeal of the military's "don't
ask don't tell policy'' and a fund for workers at the World Trade Center site after the Sept.
Mr. Obama gave in to the Republicans on their top priority -- extending the Bush tax cuts for
all income, not just that below $250,000 -- but in return the Republicans signed on to what
amounted to a second stimulus package, agreeing to keep benefits flowing to the long-term
unemployed, cut payroll taxes for all workers for a year and take other steps to bolster the
economy. The agreement provoked anger within the Democratic ranks.
But the deal not only changed the calculus within Congress, but seemed to buoy Mr. Obama's
poll numbers as well, and reinforce a sense that he was more willing than his opponents to
seek compromise. Mr. Obama also won praise for his speech at a memorial service for the
victims of the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., in January 2011.
Nobel Peace Laureate Amid Wars
Overseas, the president stuck by his decision to withdraw troops from Iraq, though on a
slower schedule, and began a major escalation of American forces in Afghanistan,
announcing in December 2009 that he would send an additional 33,000 troops there. But the
war in Afghanistan continued to drag on, and in June 2010 Mr. Obama dismissed his chief
commander there, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, after disdainful remarks he and his staff
members made about top administration officials became public. General McChrystal was
replaced by his boss, Gen. David H. Petraeus, who had been the architect of the anti-
insurgency strategy put in place in Iraq in 2007. In the fall of 2010, preliminary talks began
between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and administration officials began to speak
less of the 2011 that Mr. Obama had set as a date for American withdrawal to begin, and
more of 2014 as the time when security might be handed over entirely to the Afghan army.
In 2009, Mr. Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, an early accolade that the
Nobel committee said reflected his emphasis on diplomacy but which was widely seen as
being primarily a rebuke of his predecessor.
Mr. Obama’s diplomatic skills were tested in regard to Iran’s nuclear program, where he won
a new round of tougher United Nations sanctions; North Korea, which grew more bellicose as
its leader, Kim Jong-Il, appeared install a son as a successor; and climate change, where
personal intervention by Mr. Obama broke a stalemate at the Copenhagen climate talks in late
2009 but produced no substantive breakthrough.
His most ambitious diplomatic effort came with the relaunching of Middle East peace talks in
September 2010. The leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority came together for the
first time in two years, but the talks broke down almost immediately over the expiration of an
Israeli moratorium on some construction in the West Bank.
Mr. Obama put one judge on the Supreme Court in each of his first two years in office. Both
were women, bringing the number of female judges to three for the first time in the history of
the court. One, Sonia Sotomayor, was the first Hispanic member of the court. She replaced
Justice David Souter. Mr. Obama chose his solicitor general, Elena Kagan, to replace the
court’s oldest and most liberal justice, John Paul Stevens.
Other issues facing Mr. Obama were the sorts of unpredictable events that can force the
reshaping of plans, like the record-setting oil leak deep under the Gulf of Mexico that gushed
from April well into July. The spill dominated news coverage for months but appeared to
have played little to no role in the election that followed.
Fires in the Middle East
In 2011, the Middle East erupted in rebellion, with long-standing regimes overthrown in
Tunisia and Egypt and others like Libya engaged in bloody crackdowns. Mr. Obama, a
president often torn between idealism and pragmatism and faulted for moving too slowly,
found himself navigating the counsel of a traditional foreign policy establishment against that
of a next-generation White House staff worried that the American preoccupation with
stability could put a historic president on the wrong side of history. Ultimately, Mr. Obama
responded by offering cautious support for the protests spread throught part of the region in
the wake of the uprising in Egypt.
Mr. Obama formally opened his re-election bid in April 2011. To build the grass-roots
network that he believes is essential to winning a second term, he is preparing to undertake
the most ambitious fund-raising effort by a sitting president.