Barack Obama

Release date:
Apr 10, 2018
Barack Obama was the 44th president of the United States, and the first African American to serve in the office. First elected to the presidency in 2008, he won a second term in 2012.

Who Is Barack Obama?

Born in Honolulu in 1961, Barack Obama went on to become President of the Harvard Law Review and a U.S. senator representing Illinois. In 2008, he was elected President of the United States, becoming the first African-American commander-in-chief. He served two terms as the 44th president of the United States. 

Where Was Barack Obama Born?

Barack Hussein Obama II was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on August 4, 1961. His mother, Ann Dunham, was born on an Army base in Wichita, Kansas, during World War II. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dunham's father, Stanley, enlisted in the military and marched across Europe in General George Patton's army. Dunham's mother, Madelyn, went to work on a bomber assembly line. After the war, the couple studied on the G.I. Bill, bought a house through the Federal Housing Program and, after several moves, ended up in Hawaii.

Barack Obama Sr.

Obama's father, Barack Obama Sr., was born of Luo ethnicity in Nyanza Province, Kenya. Obama Sr. grew up herding goats in Africa and, eventually earned a scholarship that allowed him to leave Kenya and pursue his dreams of going to college in Hawaii. While studying at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Obama Sr. met fellow student Ann Dunham, and they married on February 2, 1961. Barack was born six months later.

As a child, Obama did not have a relationship with his father. When his son was still an infant, Obama Sr. relocated to Massachusetts to attend Harvard University and pursue a Ph.D. Obama's parents officially separated several months later and ultimately divorced in March 1964, when their son was two. Soon after, Obama Sr. returned to Kenya.

In 1965, Dunham married Lolo Soetoro, a University of Hawaii student from Indonesia. A year later, the family moved to Jakarta, Indonesia, where Obama's half-sister, Maya Soetoro Ng, was born in 1970. Several incidents in Indonesia left Dunham afraid for her son's safety and education so, at the age of 10, Obama was sent back to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents. His mother and half-sister later joined them.

Education

While living with his grandparents, Obama enrolled in the esteemed Punahou Academy, He excelled in basketball and graduated with academic honors in 1979. As one of only three black students at the school, Obama became conscious of racism and what it meant to be African-American. He later described how he struggled to reconcile social perceptions of his multiracial heritage with his own sense of self: "I noticed that there was nobody like me in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalog. . .and that Santa was a white man," he wrote. "I went into the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror with all my senses and limbs seemingly intact, looking as I had always looked, and wondered if something was wrong with me."

2008 Presidential Election

In February 2007, Obama made headlines when he announced his candidacy for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. He was locked in a tight battle with former first lady and then-U.S. senator from New York Hillary Rodham Clinton. On June 3, 2008, Obama became the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee after winning a sufficient number of pledged delegates during the primaries, and Clinton delivered her full support to Obama for the duration of his campaign. On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama defeated Republican presidential nominee John McCain, 52.9 percent to 45.7 percent, to win election as the 44th president of the United States—and the first African-American to hold this office. His running mate, Delaware Senator Joe Biden, became vice president. 

 

Inauguration

Obama's inauguration took place on January 20, 2009. When Obama took office, he inherited a global economic recession, two ongoing foreign wars and the lowest-ever international favorability rating for the United States. He campaigned on an ambitious agenda of financial reform, alternative energy and reinventing education and health care—all while bringing down the national debt. Because these issues were intertwined with the economic well-being of the nation, he believed all would have to be undertaken simultaneously. 

During his inauguration speech, Obama summarized the situation by saying, "Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met."

First 100 Days

Between Inauguration Day and April 29, 2009, the Obama administration took action on many fronts. Obama coaxed Congress to expand health care insurance for children and provide legal protection for women seeking equal pay. A $787 billion stimulus bill was passed to promote short-term economic growth. Housing and credit markets were put on life support, with a market-based plan to buy U.S. banks' toxic assets. Loans were made to the auto industry, and new regulations were proposed for Wall Street. Obama also cut taxes for working families, small businesses and first-time home buyers. The president also loosened the ban on embryonic stem cell research and moved ahead with a $3.5 trillion budget plan.

Over his first 100 days in office, President Obama also undertook a complete overhaul of America's foreign policy. He reached out to improve relations with Europe, China and Russia and to open dialogue with Iran, Venezuela and Cuba. He lobbied allies to support a global economic stimulus package. He committed an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan and set an August 2010 date for withdrawal of nearly all U.S. troops from Iraq. In more dramatic incidents, he ordered an attack on pirates off the coast of Somalia and prepared the nation for a swine flu outbreak. He signed an executive order banning excessive interrogation techniques and ordered the closing of the military detention facility at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay within a year (a deadline that ultimately would not be met). For his efforts, the Nobel Committee in Norway awarded Obama the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

2010 State of the Union

On January 27, 2010, President Obama delivered his first State of the Union speech. During his oration, Obama addressed the challenges of the economy, proposed a fee for larger banks, announced a possible freeze on government spending in the following fiscal year and spoke against the Supreme Court's reversal of a law capping campaign finance spending. He also challenged politicians to stop thinking of re-election and start making positive changes. He criticized Republicans for their refusal to support any legislation and chastised Democrats for not pushing hard enough to get legislation passed. He also insisted that, despite obstacles, he was determined to help American citizens through the nation's current domestic difficulties. "We don't quit. I don't quit," he said. "Let's seize this moment to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more."

 

Life After the White House

After leaving the White House, the Obama family moved to a home in the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, D.C., to allow their youngest daughter Sasha to continue school there.

On January 30, 2017, the former president released his first statement after leaving office in support of the widespread demonstrations protesting President Trump’s executive order that called for "extreme vetting" to "keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America." The order banned immigrants from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen for at least 90 days, and temporarily suspended the entry of refugees for 120 days. As a result, immigrants and refugees from predominantly Muslim countries traveling to the U.S. were detained at U.S. airports, sparking protests around the country.

Former President Obama's office released a statement in which a spokesman said that "The President fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion."

The statement also underscored Obama's support of American citizens getting involved in the country's democracy: "President Obama is heartened by the level of engagement taking place in communities around the country. ... Citizens exercising their constitutional right to assemble, organize and have their voices heard by their elected officials is exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake."

Obama embarked on a three-nation tour in late fall 2017, meeting with such heads of state as President Xi Jinping of China and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India. While in India, journalists took note of his seeming swipe at President Trump with his "think before you tweet" comment. A few days later, at a private event in Paris, the former president noted that more women should be promoted to positions of power as men "seem to be having some problems these days."

Returning stateside in December, Obama spoke at a Chicago gathering of mayors and municipal officials from around the world who pledged to sign the Chicago Climate Charter, part of efforts to push back against President Trump’s declaration that he would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. 

"In this environment right now, it's easy sometimes to feel discouraged, and feel as if people are talking past each other," said Obama. "This is where the particular talents of mayors come in. Because first of all, you are used to dealing with folks who can sometimes be unreasonable. You are accustomed to having to deal with the realities in front of you and take action, not just talk about it."

On February 12, 2018, the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery unveiled its official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama. Both rendered by African-American artists, Kehinde Wiley's work featured Barack in a chair surrounded by greenery and symbolic flowers, while Amy Sherald depicted the former first lady in a flowing dress, gazing back at viewers from a sea of blue.

In March, The New York Times reported that Barack and Michelle Obama were in advanced negotiations with Netflix to produce exclusive content for the streaming service. It was not known exactly what sort of content would be developed, though sources familiar with the discussions said that the former president and first lady were interested in producing shows that highlight inspirational stories. The multi-year deal was later finalized in May.

"President and Mrs. Obama have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire," said an adviser. "Throughout their lives, they have lifted up stories of people whose efforts to make a difference are quietly changing the world for the better. As they consider their future personal plans, they continue to explore new ways to help others tell and share their stories."

In July 2018, Obama delivered a speech in Johannesburg, South Africa, to mark the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's birth. Decrying President Trump's methods without mentioning him by name, Obama warned of the ascendancy of "strongman politics" and the lack of fact-based arguments in political discourse. Underscoring his belief in "Nelson Mandela's vision," he urged his audience to maintain hope in the face of troubling times. "Things may go backwards for a while, but ultimately, right makes might," he said. "Not the other way around."