Barack Obama (1961– ) is the forty-fourth president of the United States. Before becoming the first African American elected to the nation’s highest office, Obama attended Columbia University and earned a law degree from Harvard. He also worked as a community organizer in Chicago for several years and in 1997 became a member of the Illinois senate. He was elected to the US Senate in 2004, and that same year his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention lifted Obama into the national spotlight. In 2007 he announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. After a long and tumultuous primary season, Obama beat out Senator Hillary Clinton for the nomination. In the general election, with Delaware Senator Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate, Obama took the presidency over Arizona Republican John McCain, who had paired with Alaska’s governor Sarah Palin.

While Obama faced many political challenges and policy problems as the first African American presidential candidate put forward by a major party—and then as the first African American president—he was also confronted with more personal attacks concerning his race and questioning his nationality and religion. Overcoming detractors, Obama entered office at a difficult moment for the nation, facing a major domestic financial crisis and ongoing problems abroad—particularly the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. During his first term, Obama helped to push through financial regulation reform and health care reform, though he earned criticism for those efforts from both ends of the political spectrum. Obama’s first term also saw the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, a disaster that devastated the ecology and economy of the states surrounding the Gulf of Mexico. Among the major achievements of the Obama administration’s first term was the President’s win of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize and the killing of Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

In 2012 Obama prepared to seek a second presidential term, as Republican presidential hopefuls attacked the President for perceived failures while his supporters waited for the fulfillment of Obama’s 2008 campaign promise of “change we can believe in.”

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