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How President Obama can now govern

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 11/20/2012, 5:45 a.m.

How President Obama can now govern

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.