As a fiscal conservative with deep concerns about the long-term economic outlook of a country that continues to grow spending at an unprecedented rate, the inauguration could just as well have been a state funeral. After all, I believe we have embraced the European socialist model, and while I'd like to believe that we can swerve before going off the cliff, history tells us the only cure for socialism, once embraced, is economic collapse.
Nonetheless, there’s nothing more American than expecting and looking forward to a better future, so we listen in to get a sense of the priorities going forward. From an ag standpoint, we can be assured that the subsidization of ethanol will continue, and that agriculture won't be a focus of Barack Obama’s second term. A new farm bill may be passed by next fall, but budget constraints will shrink the farm portion of the farm bill.
One concern is the names being circulated for such key posts as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department, but the administration could be circulating the names of radicals to smooth the confirmation process for other appointments. But if the current list being floated is truly valid, we're likely to see a monumental shift in policy toward the left.
Many pundits claim Obama’s reelection doesn’t reflect a major shift of the country toward the left. They also say his surprisingly easy victory in the face of the worst economic record of modern times was a result of terrible Republican campaign strategy, poor candidates, and Obama’s charisma and likeability. Perhaps they’re right. Plus, there is a strong case to be made that this administration is granted great deference by the mainstream media.
Conservative strategists rationalize that Obama would never have been elected if he’d been vetted like previous candidates. I’m not inclined to believe that the election of the most leftist, and most aggressive statist ever elected, is simply due to likeability. I think Obama is correct in asserting that his victory reflects a fundamental shift in the direction of our country, and a strong mandate to move forward.
The curse of second terms
The popular sentiment seems to be that Obama’s second term, like most second terms, will find progress difficult on substantive issues, especially with a divided Congress. Pundits point to the fact that Obama has been the most partisan of any modern president, which isn’t a prescription for real or substantive accomplishment in a lame-duck second term. But I think they underestimate or misunderstand Obama’s goals.
The conventional wisdom is that second-term presidents have limited political capital and must act early in the term to utilize it. If Obama has limited political capital, he likely will be forced to use it early on in the debates over the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling. Pundits also point to Obama's unwillingness to collaborate, compromise or work with anyone who disagrees with him as a sign that he will be unable to effect change in his second term. They point to the fact that the only major legislative initiative he played a role in during his first term was health care reform, which remains largely unpopular among voters and was only possible with Democratic control of both houses of Congress.
I think many political watchers misunderstand Obama’s goals and that of his presidency, however. It may be true that, in his limited experience as a legislator, he never created any legislation of significance. And it may be true that his first term was devoid of any significant initiatives outside of health care. I reject the widely held view that he is a great campaigner, but an inept politician. I believe people have misunderstood his overreaching goals, and what he views as his legacy. To this end, his inauguration speech was instructive.
There was virtually no mention of the economy, creating jobs, truly attacking the federal deficit, or the desire to tackle big problems like immigration or entitlement reform. I agree with the pundits that nothing substantive will be done in these areas in the next four years, and that foreign policy will center on reducing our role as the world’s sole existing superpower.
I believe the next four years will be primarily focused on domestic issues. And the fact that the so-called big issues like the deficit and the economy won’t be addressed doesn’t mean that the next four years will be insignificant or lack direction. I believe Obama has far more vision than what he is given credit for; he is truly interested in transforming this country at a very fundamental level. And that means not focusing on the important issues of our time, but rather changing the beliefs, value and political landscape for future generations.
Instead of a first term that’s been characterized as undistinguished by proponents, and a dismal failure by opponents, I see one of the most successful presidencies of our time. After all, he’s fundamentally changed both the electoral landscape and the direction of our country, and I believe a second term unfettered by reelection concerns allows him to be even more aggressive in this direction.
I think Obama has a well-conceived plan to effect monumental change, and that this transformation is potentially a far longer reaching and impactful legacy than dealing with such issues as the deficit, the economy, jobs, or entitlement and immigration reform. In fact, not dealing with these issues is critical to achieving the long-term aims of the administration.
If the transformation of America is the goal, Obama has been far more successful than the two most popular presidents of recent times, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. His vision is far broader, and his legacy far more important, especially if he can continue to reshape the electoral dynamics to ensure the survivability and sustainability of this transformation.
Both sides of the aisle still largely reject the view that he is dedicated to the remaking of America, but I give him far more credit than that. I don’t believe he’s incompetent or inept, as the right believes, with nothing substantive to show for his efforts – except a hugely unpopular and unwise health care act. Nor do I agree with the left that he is merely a left-leaning moderate unduly characterized and largely misunderstood as the living embodiment of mainstream progressive ideology.
Instead, I believe he means what he says, that his priorities align with those goals, and that he is far more politically astute at effecting those changes than either side cares to admit. As a result, I reject the view that Obama’s second term will be like most presidents’ second term – a less effective version of more of the same. Divisive rhetoric and action on peripheral issues doesn’t indicate a lack of substance, vision or political acumen. It may be to your joy or chagrin, but Obama’s second term promises to be much like the first, only on steroids.