No matter how you may feel about the man sworn in as President, there is something very exciting about a new presidential beginning. It’s sort of like a clean slate. Anything is possible. The realistic side of our brains knows that isn’t so, but there is an optimistic, uncharted side that says anything is truly possible.
The conventional wisdom is the second-term President has two years to get anything done, but I’m really not so sure that’s anything but a myth. Power always resides in the narrowest point in the funnel, and that is invariably where the President of the United States lives. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the President has only two years to launch any new initiatives, but the last two years he still has the power to say “no.”
As I look back over Obama’s first term, there are some significant and historic things that have happened. Most obviously, we have a black President, with a black wife and black children, and in four years the nation has gotten used to it. Where race seemed to be an enormous issue in his initial election, this time it just didn’t seem that much of a deal. In the eyes of most Americans, Obama’s race had moved into the category of the ordinary, and that is really an amazing change in four years’ time.
We’ve chartered our way through a deep recession and managed the stimulus and the saving of both the auto and financial industries successfully. Now the question is whether the rest of us will also recover in the next term. The issue of greater economic equality is one of Obama’s major goals and will determine how history will judge him. We can’t have one percent thriving and 99 percent limping along and call that success.
The election decided that Obamacare is here to stay and, by whatever name you call it, we finally have a national health care program. It probably will take 10 years to work out all the details and try to put some brakes on the costs. But rest assured, four years from now the most conservative of conservatives will be saying, “Don’t touch my Obamacare,” except they’ll just call it Republicancare.
We are on our way out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and hopefully four years from now we will be totally out. To this day I couldn’t tell you what either war was about, what we got for the men and woman who lost their lives, or where the two trillion plus dollars we spent went. It merely reaffirms what we already knew, that wars are expensive, easy to get into and tough to get out of, and if you’re going to have a war, you better have a war tax to pay for it or you’re going to run up big deficits.
America has changed. In a short four years, attitudes about gays and gay marriage have changed and become the majority opinion in America. True, it is generational, but the world changed and the young are dragging along the older generation, probably kicking and screaming.
In the next four years there are a few things that are going to change. For one thing, we’re going to get some major legislation related to immigration and a path to citizenship. I suspect it’s going to happen because the Democrats owe it to Hispanics, and the Republicans realize if they don’t get in front of this issue, they are going to continue to lose national elections. Interestingly, a few years ago President W. and Karl Rove understood that well, but the entire tea party movement, which has a strong nativist streak, knocked it off its wheels, but I think it’s going to happen sooner rather than later.
There are a few other issues that are going to be tougher; one is guns or ammunition control, and that’s always the toughest, because many people just love their guns. The other is climate change, and I’m just not sure the country is there yet. Last is the growing national debt. When you get past all of the silly posturing, it turns out we’re borrowing 44 cents of every federal dollar, so it’s pretty clear we’re living well beyond our means. Getting that under control is the toughest part, because politicians just love to be loved, and they all like to give out goodies, but none of them wants to be in front when it comes to taking the goodies away. So I suspect not much is going to happen on this front, at least for now.