Barack Obama claimed this year to be America's first "Pacific president." Born and raised mostly in Hawai'i and partly in Indonesia, Obama is celebrating his holidays in the islands with his family and his sister's family. AsiaPacificUniverse.com recognizes Barack Obama as a Pacific president and has chosen him as 2009's Person of the Year.
There were some other good contenders this year including Japan's new prime minister Yukio Hatoyama and his "New Age" wife Miyuki.
Miyuki made headlines this year as Japan's first wife of a Japanese prime minister to claim she had visited the planet Venus! The prime minister himself ushered in a new era in Japan when he defeated the old ruling party candidate -- something done only once before since World War II.
Obama's story is well-known by now but indeed he is the first American president raised in the Pacific islands and Asia. Except for four years spent on Java in the nation of Indonesia from ages six to 10, Obama was raised entirely in Hawai'i.
His parents met while both were attending the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. They divorced shortly after he was born, and Obama's mother -- the former Stanley Ann Dunham -- would eventually marry Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian business man.
So indeed, Obama has a genuine Asia Pacific experience, which he proudly claims and still revisits on his regular vacations to Hawai'i. His sister, Maya, is half-Indonesian and she is married to a Canuck of Chinese extraction. Maya and her husband Konrad Ng have two children Suhaila and Savita.
Obama also has the distinction of being the nation's first African American president -- something many Americans did not think was possible yet. Indeed there were some who thought it would take 50 years or 100 years before America would be ready to elect a black president.
Maybe his electoral accomplishment alone would have been enough to earn him the distinction of this year's Person of the Year, however, the campaign was over before the year started.
In his first year in office, Obama faced what was probably the hardest start in the White House since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The country had plunged into the greatest recession since the Great Depression of FDR's time.
He faced the problems of wrapping up one war in Iraq, while trying to solve and increasingly difficult conflict in Afghanistan. And the same time, he was determined to fulfill his promise of reforming America's healthcare system in his first year in office.
Should he succeed in this latter goal -- and things look good right now -- then he will have accomplished the most sweeping social reform since Social Security. Maybe the heathcare bill is not what some of his more progressive supporters were hoping for. However, the reform is still very significant and will greatly change the landscape as we know it today.
The president got a bit of surprise late in the year when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Ironically the announcement of his win came just shortly before Obama was to decide to increase America's troop presence in Afghanistan.
Obama also had to swallow a bit of a bitter pill at United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Due to the Senate''s busy schedule working on healthcare reform, they were not able to pass a climate change bill. Still, the president was able to reach a non-binding agreement at Copenhagen, that could be pushed through the legislature next year. That's not a bad turnaround for a nation that refused to participate at all at the last climate change conference in Kyoto. And the new agreement will also include emerging nations like China and India agreeing for the first time to set legally binding limits on their greenhouse gas emissions.
Yes, it was a whirlwind year for both the country and the president. Both had to get accustomed to something that America has not seen before -- a black first family in the White House.
While Barack Obama's popularity is not soaring like it did when he was first inaugurated, a recent poll showed that the president is still by far the most admired man in the country. He faces a challenge in 2010 making sure that his party does not lose anymore seats in Congress, especially in the Senate. So far, it has been extremely difficult for him to pass legislation due to the number of conservative Democrats in that legislative body. Many think that the tide is going against him, but Obama has shown before that he fights best when behind. He did not graduate magna cum laude from Harvard Law School for nothing. This is one smart cookie!
We congratulate President Barack Obama for his great accomplishments as the country's first black and Pacific president, and are we are proud to choose him as our Person of the Year for 2009.