Barack Hussein Obama II (US Listeni/bəˈrɑːk huːˈseɪn oʊˈbɑːmə/ bə-rahk hoo-sayn oh-bah-mə; born August 4, 1961) is an American politician who is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to be elected to the U.S. presidency and the first one born outside the contiguous United States. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he was president of the Harvard Law Review. He was a community organizer in Chicago before earning his law degree. He worked as a civil rights attorney and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004. While serving three terms representing the 13th District in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004, he ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for the United States House of Representatives in 2000 against incumbent Bobby Rush. In 2004, Obama received national attention during his campaign to represent Illinois in the United States Senate with his victory in the March Democratic Party primary, his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in July, and his election to the Senate in November. He began his presidential campaign in 2007 and, after a close primary campaign against Hillary Clinton in 2008, he won sufficient delegates in the Democratic Party primaries to receive the presidential nomination. He then defeated Republican nominee John McCain in the general election, and was inaugurated as president on January 20, 2009. Nine months after his inauguration, Obama was named the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. During his first two years in office, Obama signed into law economic stimulus legislation in response to the Great Recession in the form of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010. Other major domestic initiatives in his first term included the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often referred to as "Obamacare"; the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act; and the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010. In foreign policy, Obama ended U.S. military involvement in the Iraq War, increased U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, signed the New START arms control treaty with Russia, ordered U.S. military involvement in Libya in opposition to Muammar Gaddafi, and ordered the military operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. In January 2011, the Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives as the Democratic Party lost a total of 63 seats; and, after a lengthy debate over federal spending and whether or not to raise the nation's debt limit, Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. Obama was re-elected president in November 2012, defeating Republican nominee Mitt Romney, and was sworn in for a second term on January 20, 2013. During his second term, Obama has promoted domestic policies related to gun control in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and has called for greater inclusiveness for LGBT Americans, while his administration has filed briefs that urged the Supreme Court to strike down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (United States v. Windsor) and state level same-sex marriage bans (Obergefell v. Hodges) as unconstitutional. In foreign policy, Obama ordered U.S. military intervention in Iraq in response to gains made by ISIL after the 2011 withdrawal from Iraq, continued the process of ending U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan, promoted discussions that led to the 2015 Paris Agreement on global climate change, brokered a nuclear deal with Iran, and normalized U.S. relations with Cuba.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama Meets with President Obama and Attends Programs at National Endowment for Democracy
June 16th 2016
Washington DC, USA, 15 June 2016 - On a day that dawned under overcast skies His Holiness the Dalai Lama began by participating in a meeting with Chinese scholars facilitated by the Brookings Institution. He was welcomed and introduced by the Brookings President, Strobe Talbott, accompanied by Senior Fellow David Dollar.
President Barack Obama greets His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the entrance of the Map Room of the White House on June 15, 2016. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
His Holiness went from this meeting to the White House, where he was received by President Obama. The two leaders discussed matters of common interest including human rights and climate change. At the end of their forty-five minutes together, President Obama walked His Holiness through the Rose Garden and saw him into his car before bidding him farewell.
Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy since its founding in 1984, welcomed His Holiness to lunch with 30 other guests. The program that followed focussed on the themes of hope and democracy. As Gershman said, “In the struggle for human dignity there is always hope.” He welcomed barefoot lawyer Chen Guangcheng and labour organizer Han Dongfang to the gathering before inviting Congressman Peter Roskam to speak. He said that confronted by voices of authoritarianism, those of us who perceive them as hollow have to speak out and say, “That’s not true.” He praised His Holiness for articulating the truth that democracy matters.
Richard Gere spoke of visiting the refugee camps at Lampadusa while he was recently in Sicily to promote a film. The Africans he met there were seeking escape from bad government and violent people—“It’s the violent and those who perpetuate bad government that we should point our fingers at,” he said.
In the first of two awards, NED presented its Democracy Service Medal posthumously in honour of the courageous work of the Tibetan Buddhist Monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. He was a prominent political prisoner who died in a Sichuan prison in 2015 at the end of 13 years’ incarceration. He consistently asserted he had been framed and condemned to death for crimes he did not commit, saying, “I have always taught others not to damage life, why would I have done what they accuse me of.” After his death, police secretly cremated his body and seized his ashes.
Geshe Jamyang Nyima accepting NED's Democracy Service Medal posthumously awarded to Ven Tenzin Delek Rinpoche at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC, USA on June 15, 2016. Photo/Scott Henrichsen
The medal was accepted by Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s cousin Geshe Jamyang Nyima, who reiterated Rinpoche’s intense loyalty to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He noted that Rinpoche’s dedication to the welfare of the Tibetan people was expressed in the schools and clinics he set up for them. He stressed that it was important to keep up the struggle in Rinpoche’s memory and not to give up hope.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a long-term friend of Tibetans, briefly addressed the gathering. She recalled first meeting His Holiness with her husband in Dharamsala in 1978. Later, they were to deliver letters from His Holiness to Chinese premier Jiang Zemin in which he declared: “We are not seeking independence, but we want to be able manage our own affairs.”
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi also spoke, remarking that His Holiness “encourages us to shed our negative attitudes and adopt a compassionate approach.”
Carl Gershman called on Martin Frost, Chairman of the National Endowment for Democracy and a former Congressman, to recognize the democratic accomplishments of the Central Tibetan Administration. He presented a framed copy of the preambles to the US and Tibetan exile constitutions. In his acceptance speech Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay recalled an occasion in 1960 when His Holiness the Dalai Lama paid a visit to Tibetan road workers in Dalhousie, North India. He told them:
“I’m here to give you a message of encouragement. We must create a democracy in exile.”
Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay accepting an award of recognition for the Central Tibetan Administration from the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC, USA on June 15, 2016. Photo/Scott Henrichsen
Later in 1960, the first parliament in exile was elected, followed in 1963 by the election of the first women members. The Sikyong noted that at present there are 10 women in an assembly of 45 deputies. In 1963 too, the first Tibetan constitution in exile was promulgated, which His Holiness insisted should include a provision to impeach him if necessary to demonstrate that no one should be above the law. In 2001 His Holiness semi-retired and in 2011 he fully devolved his political responsibility to the elected leadership. The Sikyong declared it a great honour to receive this award in His Holiness’s presence.
Next, His Holiness was invited to engage in conversation on the theme ‘Democracy and Hope’ with four young activists: Arzu Geybullayeva, a Journalist from Azerbaijan; Rosa Maria Payá of Cuba Decide; Azaz Elshami, a Sudanese Digital Activist and Rami Soud, a Jordanian Activist. The discussion was moderated by Brian Joseph, NED Senior Director for Asian and Global Affairs.
Azaz Elshami put the first question, asking His Holiness what spirituality meant to him. He replied that its essence is warm-heartedness, noting that the message of all major religious traditions is love. He added that the seed of spirituality exists in every human being and that compassion and warm-heartedness are the basis of our life.
Responding to Arzu Geybullayeva’s enquiry about hatred His Holiness said:
“Hatred and anger are part of our minds, they are among our emotions. However, the predominant human emotion is love, whereas hatred and anger are relatively short-lived. They don’t last. They change.”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama engaging in conversation on the theme ‘Democracy and Hope’ with young activists at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC, USA on June 15, 2016. Photo/Sonam Zoksang
When Rosa Maria Payá asked about justice and forgiveness, His Holiness told her that justice is essentially about protecting happiness and joy. Forgiveness is about foregoing anger in the face of wrong doing, even if you need to take counter-measures to stop it. Rami Soud wanted to know how, at a time when religion is being used to fuel conflict, its positive role can be restored. His Holiness replied that whether or not you accept religion is a personal matter, but if you do, you should do so seriously. Christians are taught to practise love. Muslims are enjoined to extend love to all the creatures of Allah—which includes those hostile to you. He admitted that there are philosophical differences between religious traditions, but stated that their purpose is to strengthen the practice of love.
He suggested that the long-term solution to radicalized youth is to expand education to include training in human values. He stressed that only by broadening education and making it more holistic will it be possible to prevent the 21st century being tarnished by pain and bloodshed like the previous century. He said:
“I believe in the power of truth and honesty. Since basic human nature is compassionate, there is hope.”
Asked to advise communities in exile, His Holiness expressed admiration for the Vietnamese refugees he has met, who, wherever they are, preserve their identity, culture and sense of community. And to a question about the Uighurs, he recalled the setting up of a committee in the ‘70s representing Tibetans, Uighurs, Mongolians and Manchurians enabling them to exchange experiences. He recommended that Uighurs adopt a determined non-violent approach to their struggle.
The meeting end with a loud burst of applause.
Bret Baier of Fox News interviewing His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Washington DC, USA on June 15, 2016. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
In a short interview with Bret Baier of Fox News, His Holiness told him that in his discussions with President Obama he had mentioned his commitment to promoting human values as a sound source of human happiness. He said he expressed the hope that in his retirement the President will also be able to work to foster inner peace through education.
Observing that Chinese objections to such meetings have become routine, His Holiness reiterated:
“We are not seeking independence; we are not seeking separation for Tibet. It can be in our interest to remain with the People’s Republic of China, but we need to be able to preserve our rich Buddhist culture, not just for our benefit, but to be able to serve the millions of Chinese Buddhists. And when Chinese workers come to Tibet to take part in development projects, but they should respect Tibetan culture and learn to speak Tibetan.”
His Holiness said he disagreed with the label ‘Muslim terrorist’ just as he objected to referring to ‘Buddhist terrorists’. He said neither Islam nor Buddhism teaches anyone to be a terrorist and religion cannot be used to justify such actions. He suggested we should refer to terrorists as just ‘terrorists.’
Finally, asked if he is optimistic, His Holiness said: “Yes, because basic human nature is compassionate. And because of that we should live together as human brothers and sisters.” As he left the building, friends and well-wishers were gathered on the pavement outside chanting prayers for his long life. Tomorrow, he will travel to Los Angeles.