Cogito n°3
13 October 2017
The challenges of metropolises: what is governed and what is not
14 October 2017

Obama facing crisis

As the United States experiences one of the most controversial times in its political life, an in-depth analysis of Barack Obama’s two terms does more than shed light on the past: it provides keys to understanding the present.

A unique history

Era Obama di Mario Del Pero, Feltrinelli, 2017

Era Obama, Mario Del Pero, Feltrinelli, 2017

Mario Del Pero, a history professor and researcher at Sciences Po, traces this history and presents it in his book “Era Obama: Dalla speranza del cambiamento all’elezione di Trump” (The Obama era: from hope for change to the election of Trump, 2017).

Through an analysis of the policies conducted by the 44th President of the United States, Mario Del Pero deconstructs Barack Obama’s responses to the 2007-2008 economic crisis; the most important reforms he implemented – particularly Obamacare; and his attempt to redirect US efforts abroad.

By examining and illustrating the successes and failures of Barack Obama’s presidency, Mario Del Pero’s book underscores the difficulties facing the President in a context of polarization that has deepened over the past twenty years, both between parties and between voters. This polarization, compounded by the radicalization of the Republican Party, which became hostage to its most extreme factions, created a considerable obstacle for Obama. Cases in point include the legislative paralysis that followed the 2010 mid-term elections and the Republican recapture of the House of Representatives in 2014.

A time of crises

AUSTIN -- APRIL 10: President Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States, speaks to the audience at the Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly). Domaine public

Austin, April 10: Barack Obama speaks at the Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library. Photo by David Hume Kennerly. Public domain

Throughout Era Obama, Mario Del Pero examines the successive crises that led to Obama’s victory in 2008, and that the first black president had to tackle.
First came the economic crisis, which started in 2007 and led to 3% drop in GDP and an unemployment rate of over 10% in 2009.

The second crisis, in foreign policy, was the challenge to the hegemony of the United States – a crisis characterized by structural weaknesses and contradictions exacerbated by mistakes that Washington made after the terrorist attacks of September 2001.

Finally, the third and last crisis involved the de-legitimization of a dysfunctional and polarized political system marked by an entrenchment of the two parties’ electorates and the virtual absence of bipartisan collaboration in Congress.


Many answers

Ford stamping plant Geelong by Marcus Wong Wongm CC BY-SA 3.0

Ford stamping plant Geelong by Marcus Wong Wongm CC BY-SA 3.0

The book goes over the Obama administration’s different responses to this triple crisis. They included:

  • An ambitious policy of public support for growth, such as incentives implemented at the beginning of February 2009, and for saving the automobile industry
  • Many social reforms
  • Discourse on the need for “bipartisan” solutions, especially on immigration and gun control
  • And finally, a prudent and realistic approach to and discourse about foreign policy, illustrated by a reticence to use military power in a traditional way, and post-facto criticism of the decision to follow France and Great Britain in the operation that led to the fall of the Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya.


Then-President Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office, November 10, 2016. Crédit: Pete Souza / White House Domaine public

B.Obama meets with D.Trump, Nov 2016. by P.Souza.White House. Domaine public

A future?

Drawing on this “autopsy” of the “Obama era”, Mario Del Pero tackles a question that has become even more urgent since Donald Trump came to power: was the Obama experience simply a parenthesis or did it constitute a deep and enduring break that was temporarily interrupted by the 2016 election?



Mario Del Pero  Era Obama: Dalla speranza del cambiamento all’elezione di Trump – Feltrinelli Editore, 2017


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Obama facing crisis