Happy Birthday, Barack Obama!

Obama has endured a ton of criticism in his presidency. His push for health care reform was socialist. His health care reform wasn’t socialist enough. He doesn’t know how to stand up to Republicans. He’s too passive. He’s trying to run our country into the ground by spending too much money. He’s not spending enough to assist the poor. He’s too soft on terrorism. Osama Bin Laden shouldn’t have been killed before having a trial. The list could go on, and on, and on. While I proudly voted for him in 2008, I will freely admit that I feel he’s dropped the ball on important issues. That said, today is his birthday, and I’d like to take a moment to point out some of the great things he has done in the last 2.5 years.

1. Fought for children to have access to their parents’ insurance plan until they’re 26.
This is near and very dear to my heart. I hadn’t been to a doctor in years. I made it through college with nothing more severe than a cold and a bruised ego from too many bad decisions. Naturally, 2.5 seconds after graduating, I got hit with a gnarly kidney infection. Pre-Obama, this would have meant that I was SOL because I was no longer a student. Luckily, that is no longer the case. Especially in this rough economic climate where millions and millions of people are unemployed or in jobs that offer no benefits, this is a great law that protects so many of us.

2. Cracked down on aggressive marketing of credit cards to college students.
We all know the danger of credit cards, but the lure of having hundreds (or thousands) of dollars at your immediate disposal can be great…but not if you lack the means to pay the bill every month. Credit card companies used to actively push credit cards onto students, who usually don’t have enough funds to be responsible credit card owners. So it was not uncommon to graduate college with thousands of dollars in credit debt in addition to student loan debt — making it easier for companies to justify raising interest rates (more debt = higher risk). Now anyone under 21 must have a co-signer and/or verification of independent income. Credit card debt can have a harrowing effect on one’s financial status for many, many years  and Obama’s emphasis on protecting college consumers is definitely admirable.

3. Signed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. 
This is a serious step forward in the gay civil rights movement. Allowing gays to serve openly in our military is an important step in removing the societal stigma that unfortunately still surrounds homosexuality. We still have a lot of work to do until gays are granted all the rights and protections of an American citizen. But, I can’t deny the fact that gays were willing to die for their country while fighting wars for freedom, despite not being able to express their love for their significant others was a serious stain on America’s reputation as the “land of the free.”

4. Made financial aid more accessible
College is getting obscenely expensive, and it’s completely not fair or just for higher education to only be accessible to the children who come from well-off families. Student loan companies were screwing over students by attaching exorbitant fees to loans — and Obama made that illegal. Moreover, he expanded the amount of federal money dedicated to funding Pell Grants, financial assistance granted to lower-income students. Education is absolutely necessary for most people to advance in the current structure of our society, and giving lower-income students the opportunity to create a better life for themselves is definitely laudable.

5. Refused to cut funding for Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood provides absolutely essential health care services for lower-income and college women. From pap smears to STD tests to abortion to health education, Planned Parenthood is an important organization. During negotiations to avoid the government shutdown a few months ago, Republicans lobbied to cut funding (abortion, the most controversial service PP provides, cannot be funded by federal money anyway). The sustained attack on women’s reproductive rights by oppressively conservative politicians is scary and unnerving, but I am so glad Mr. Obama is willing to fight on our behalf.

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