By Elizabeth C.
WASHINGTON, D.C. IS A THRONG OF CELEBRATIONS AS BARACK OBAMA SWEARS IN FOR HIS SECOND TERM as President of the United States. The pomp includes performances by Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keyes, Ke$ha and more famous names. Because everybody loves a winner.
But Obama resumes the job with the nation’s ballyhooed political divide and an annual budget creaking under a $473.4 billion deficit. As the New York Times says it, “The gauzy hope of 2009 has faded into the starker realism of 2013. The Washington they promised to transform is as divided as ever.”
Yet the president’s 51 percent victory over Republican Mitt Romney provides him the capital to continue pushing his agenda during his second term. “We have permission to move this country forward” presidential advisor David Axelrod told ABC7. “We don’t have permission to put our feet up to celebrate renewed sense of purpose.”
Political media keep telling us that, duh, Obama is older, wiser. But this is me saying also thankfully less conciliatory to his political enemies. “A president who began his first term trying tirelessly to compromise with people who despise him completed it by finally standing up to them,” crows Salon‘s Joan Walsh. “As he takes the oath of office a second time…, it’s hard not to be optimistic. If Obama keeps up his January pace, his second term will make even more history than his first.”
That first term includes overhaul of the nation’s healthcare, withdrawal from Afghanistan, the slaying of Osama bin Laden, and a massive recovery bill that — and this is not hyperbole — staved off world economic collapse. Four years is a long time, and we forget how dire the economy was five years ago.
But history cautions that second terms define presidential legacies. “The odds are against him,” writes the Associated Press’s Tom Raum. “He’s the 20th U.S. president to serve all or parts of two terms…He’s also the third in a row to win a second four-year term. Both predecessors stumbled.” In their second terms, Clinton was caught with his pants down, Bush was paralyzed by his own dogma, Nixon was outed as paranoid crook, and Reagan proved a hypocrite in the Iran-Contra guns-for-hostages scandal.
Of course, it remains to be seen what challenges lie ahead for Obama, and what he’ll be actually be able to achieve. Will he be able to cut the ballooning national deficit? Reign in America’s bloated healthcare industry? Disarm the nation of its 300 million guns? Will he find his “moral center” to halt his “global assassination campaign”?
Check back in four years because history has its own path. And all we can be sure of between now and then is that time moves forward.