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President Barack Obama basked in applause and cheers on Tuesday night for good reason: For eight long years, the nation's 44th president, cool, calm, and cerebral, led this country through the teeth-grinding depths of the Great Recession, ongoing...

President Barack Obama has been a class act: editorial

President Barack Obama basked in applause and cheers on Tuesday night for good reason: For eight long years, the nation's 44th president, cool, calm, and cerebral, led this country through the teeth-grinding depths of the Great Recession, ongoing...

President Barack Obama has been a class act: editorial

President Barack Obama basked in applause and cheers on Tuesday night for good reason: For eight long years, the nation's 44th president, cool, calm, and cerebral, led this country through the teeth-grinding depths of the Great Recession, ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, and frightening acts of terrorism, ranging from double deadly explosions at the Boston Marathon to mass murder in a centuries-old black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

History will judge Obama's ranking in the pantheon of American presidents, but he earns kudos for his inspirational style of governing that spoke particularly to young people, and for his unflappable leadership during a trying time for our nation.

He leaves a country that had been struggling for economic traction now standing solidly on two feet, with 80 months of job growth as President-elect Donald Trump takes the reins.

Reaction to Obama's last speech as president

And, in 2011, a Navy SEAL team gunned down Osama bin Laden, leader of al-Qaida and the long-hunted mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, after tracking him to his hide-out in a mansion in Pakistan. Obama gambled by authorizing that risky operation. Just as he did with forging a nuclear deal with Iran.

At home, he led by example. He was a president who urged people to become part of public service and to be their best selves. If you don't like something, "grab a clipboard, get some signatures and run for office yourself," he urged in his farewell speech. That was the Obama hope-and-change spirit that drew voters to the two-term president.

And yet, Obama also earns demerits for the problems that still fester: a comeback economy that didn't lead to comebacks for everyone; an embattled Syria disgorging refugees, along with worsened prospects for Middle East peace, not to mention a menacing Russia and North Korea.

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Obama also failed to breach the divide with a sharply partisan Congress. That was partly his fault for not wading into the political maelstrom, but also reflected party leaders who put a premium on political one-upmanship and gridlock rather than accomplishment.

Yet Obama managed to achieve significant reform, sometimes without Congress and in the face of public opposition or skepticism.

It took a few years for Obama's controversial $787 billion stimulus bill to kick in, but the economy eventually came roaring back. The 2009 bill cut taxes, extended unemployment benefits and gave homeowners, hanging on by their fingernails, foreclosure relief.

Obama signs a stimulus bill

His bitterly opposed signature health care bill, passed in an overly partisan manner, still ensured that 20 million people gained access to federally subsidized health insurance in the six years since 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

On Jan. 20, Obama will become just another citizen, albeit one with a huge megaphone that he seems prepared to use, and must use, to advance core issues of justice reform and economic fairness. That, too, could be part of his powerful legacy. 

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