President Obama was a good and a bad prognosticator about his future in 2009.
In the first two weeks after he was sworn in for his first term, he told an NBC journalist that if he didn’t deliver, he’d be “a one-term proposition.”
Obama knew better than anyone else that as the first African American president, a moderate to liberal Democrat, and a relatively inexperienced, untested Oval Office occupant, he would have to deliver—and deliver fast — on his reform promises.
He knew that he’d have to deliver with a hostile, unyielding GOP that would do everything it could to make his words about a one-term president a reality. Despite the GOP’s bad intentions for him and his worry about making headway on getting the economy moving and health care off the drawing board, he far exceeded expectations on both counts. And along the way he managed to deliver on his promise to wind down the Iraq war, track down Osama bin Laden, patch up relations with European allies, keep a civil dialogue with Russia and soften relations with the Muslim world.
This was more than enough to keep his neo-FDR coalition of youth, African Americans, Latinos, labor unions and middle class professional women who powered him to a smash victory in 2008 intact to win re-election.
This coalition reflects the fast-changing, multi-ethnic reality of America that the GOP still doesn’t grasp. They are stuck in a time warp thinking that they can win elections solely with white, male conservative and rural votes.
The 2012 win rendered Obama’s public musing about being a one-term president a false fear. His strong and diverse coalition gives him some breathing space to do what incumbents that win re-election want and hope to do, and that’s to sail back into office on the crest of both voter hopes and euphoria about the prospect of more change and reform.
There’s both promise and challenge here. In the first go-round, Obama — as many new presidents do — promised not to do political business in the old ways. It was the fabled man on the white horse coming to the rescue. This is, of course, just that — a fable. Real politics and an impatient public knock that storybook notion for a loop.
This happened the first time around when Obama’s approval ratings seesawed up and down on the wave of impatience, obstructionism and inflated expectations about his promise of making instant reforms. He won’t make that mistake again. He has a Democrat-controlled Senate that will make it much easier for him to reach across the aisle and get things done. Those things are the obvious: deficit reduction and tax, education and energy policy reform.
The crucial job that the voters in 2008 believed he could do best and still want done in 2012 is to make the economy right, rein in the Wall Street greed merchants, save jobs and homes, and open the credit pipeline for businesses. He must also continue to be the firewall against all efforts to gut Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.
His ability to accomplish these things didn’t fully happen during his first four years. The modest proposals that he put forward to attack these towering problems only gave ammunition to the GOP to rally millions to harangue, hector and obstruct Obama’s efforts.
The GOP still has a firm lock on the House, and Obama’s popular vote victory over Romney was just close enough to tempt some in the GOP to try to continue to subvert Obama’s agenda.
But Obama’s win gives him enough latitude to forcefully blend tact and political diplomacy with a strong-willed determination to get his stalled legislation and initiatives moving. He also has the added luxury of being able to expand his vision and agenda for the country.
This should include tackling the chronically high black unemployment rate, the widening income gap, drug and criminal justice reforms, comprehensive immigration reform and pouring more resources into the nation’s crumbling urban infrastructure.
Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and the following year, 2014, will mark the 50th year of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This gives the president a golden opportunity to open a long-neglected and much-needed dialogue on two daunting issues that have been glaringly absent from the nation’s public policy plate for decades — how to combat poverty and further strengthen Civil Rights.
Obama’s re-election has eliminated the need to appease and conciliate the avowed enemies of social and political progress and reform. His re-election won’t make them totally go away, but he’s firmly in the command seat now and can now fully govern the way he vowed to millions he would.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.