November 16, 2012

Obama's second term: an optimistic take

Op·ti·mism (n) - a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome1.

Optimism is the word that best epitomized the state of mind of many Americans (and other earthlings for that matter) after the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Facing the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, people didn't have many reasons to be optimistic. And yet they were. Running on a masterfully narrated platform of hope, for many the first black president of the United States looked like the Chosen one. Indeed, his first term offered a series of impressive achievements including a healthcare reform and killing Bin Laden. However, with a Republican controlled House and an economy in intensive care, he couldn't deliver on many of his promises, from significantly bringing down unemployment to peace in the Middle East and from closing down Guantanamo to being serious about climate change. And yet, Obama got reelected. So did the Republican majority in the House. The status quo remains. Are there any reasons to be optimistic this time around?

There are at least three of them. First of all, this is Obama's second and last term as president. He does not have to worry about his reelection chances (constitutionally there are zero) but rather about the footprint he leaves in history. Talking about footprint, he could focus on everything he was forced to neglect during the last four years including the carbon footprint his country leaves by not actively participating in the global climate change negotiations (believe it or not, they are still alive and the next meeting is quietly scheduled to be held in Doha later this month2). If the word that kept awake Obama at night during the last couple of years was “election” (or, more recently, “debate”), now it's going to be replaced by another the term: “legacy”.

The second reason to be cautiously optimistic is the reason to be pessimistic during Obama's first term: the Republicans. If stopping Obama’s re-election was the “single most important” goal for the GOP3, failing it means that it will have to reconsider the priorities. While the current one was the last campaign for Obama, for the Republicans the 2014 midterm election just got underway. And to be seen as obstructionists for another two years may not be the best tactic. While bipartisan understanding is still nowhere in sight, Republicans might be more cooperative this time. John Boehner's (the Speaker of the House) admission that he wouldn't make it again his mission to repeal the healthcare reform is a first step in that direction (Boehner's statement that „Obamacare is law of the land“ after the election actually comes a couple of months late since the US Supreme court confirmed the law in June).

And the third reason “to look on the more favorable side of conditions” for Obama's second term is that the economy is finally on a steady, albeit slow, path of recovery. Jobs are being created, the all important housing market is gaining traction and consumer's sentiment is at five-year high5. Presiding over the biggest economy in the world when its engines are running seems a much better prospect. The main reason he had to largely neglect important foreign policy issues was that Obama had to bail-out the auto industry and to look for jobs when they weren't any around. Now, if all goes according to plan – the US economy does not fall over the “fiscal cliff”, Greece does not implode, China does not dramatically slow down - Obama should be able to turn his focus on other affairs, both domestic (immigration reform, anyone?) and foreign (the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate for instance).

So this is how a presidential glass half full looks like. But as with every glass, who pays the tab at the end is what really counts.

1http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/optimism
2 http://unfccc.int/meetings/doha_nov_2012/meeting/6815.php
3 http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/07/10/mcconnell-stopping-obamas-re-election-still-single-most-important-goal/
4 http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/09/us-usa-healthcare-boehner-idUSBRE8A800420121109
5 http://thomsonreuters.com/content/financial/pdf/i_and_a/438965/2012_10_26_record_gains_in_consumer_confidence.pdf

Article at Project Firefly

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