Obama and the promise of four more years

What can and will this second-term president accomplish?
President Barack Obama holds up a pen as he speaks about the economy and the deficit, Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Barack Obama becomes the fifth President (and only the second Democrat) to be reelected to a second term since the end of World War II.  The post mortems have begun, but winning a second term usually ensures a place in history based on consolidating achievements. While, failure to obtain a second term often makes a one-term President appear as an accident of history.

While the popular vote numbers were close, Obama can claim to be the only Democrat since the war to win consecutive terms with over 50 per cent of the vote.  His victories in the electoral college were also decisive, giving him a clear mandate to deal with the major issues facing his administration.  On the other hand, the disappointed Republicans, and Mitt Romney, seemed to be taken by surprise with the result.

After that stellar first debate performance by Romney on October 3—against a lackluster President Obama—the polls did tighten dramatically. But the Republicans continued raising issues such as contraception, abortion, and rape—only to reduce their potential advantage on economic issues. In the end, those internal overly optimistic GOP polls lead conservative pundits like Karl Rove, Michael Barone, and Dick Morris to embarrassingly predict a decisive electoral college victory for Romney.

What the results did show was the superior quality of the Democratic organization under the leadership of Obama’s close circle of operatives, such as David Plouffe, David Axelrod, and Jim Messina. They fought a strong ground game, an effective and innovative Internet operation, and raised the art of micro-politics to a near science. The new winning coalition, which Obama’s team had been driving at for over two years, includes single women voters, minorities (Latino, Asian, and African Americans), and the youth.

Despite the initial Republican lack of introspection about the electoral loss, their continued justification of the no-tax mantra—and even lingering talk of the “fictional” Obama (the European socialist with the fake birth certificate!)—there is the possibility of bipartisan accommodation on the U.S.’s priority issues. The President must use the obvious momentum associated with winning a second term and begin using the bully pulpit as the instrument to build support and put pressure on the Republicans. Meanwhile, good sense Republicans like David Frum and Chris Christie, as well as NYT conservative columnist David Brooks, will hopefully be able to pull their party back from the more extreme elements.

We know that second-term Presidents soon become lame-duck occupants of the White House. Yet, Obama’s victory has ensured the safety of his first-term signature achievements—Obamacare, pay equity for women, student loan reform, financial reform, repealing DADT for gays in the military, and winding down the combat role of the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, there are plenty of crucial issues to tackle over the next four years—these  include dealing with the deficit and debt issue (the famous fiscal cliff is beyond the horizon), immigration reform, energy independence, climate change, and stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Once the Republicans digest this defeat, see its enormity and its ominous signs for the future of their party, its own leadership may soon conclude that it is in their interests to put country first and work with the reelected President.