After all of the pomp and cicrumstance, President Barack Obama has been officially sworn in for his second term. With an unprecedentally polarized Congress to work with and a laundry list of contentious fiscal and social issues awaiting him, will Obama's last four years be a lame-duck letdown or second-half surge? Our writers weigh in here. Photos of the authors by Sunny Kang / North by Northwestern.
I’m a Medill sophomore double majoring in American history and I’ve been liberal as long as I could remember.
While growing up in the far suburbs of New York City in a devoutly Democratic family certainly has its influences, the ideas of my parents’ party have always just made sense to me, even when we’ve butted heads about just how far these ideas should be taken.
To me, it makes sense to have a government that invests in and financially protects its citizens as long as they meet their end of the bargain. It makes sense to me to have a government that guarantees not only freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion. It makes sense to me to have a government that’s more concerned with preserving peace than projecting power.
But more than anything, I believe if politicians focused more on the good of their country and less on the good of their party, the actions that they’d take would make a lot more sense.
Welcome to John Boehner's nightmare.
After spending the past two years attempting to destroy any chance the President had at a second term, the Speaker of the House will now have to come to terms with four more years of Obama. And as if that wasn't bad enough, these four years will be dictated more by Obama's will than Boehner's barring a political disaster on the president's part or a renaissance by the Republican Party.
The significant margin by which Obama was reelected has plenty of rhetorical strength but gives Obama little political capital to work with when negotiating with Republicans. The House of Representatives also remains under strict Republican control, making any action attempted by Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate that much harder.
Even though Obama and the Democrats won't have the unilateral control of Congress they enjoyed before the 2010 midterm elections, the Republicans will be forced to be more open-minded to liberal ideas for one simple reason: the 2012 election.
It is true that Obama can't take the votes cast for him in November and use them to change the minds of Congressional Republicans. But if the GOP wants a serious shot at taking back the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016, they must take the message the nation sent them on Election Day.
With the emergence of the Tea Party, the Republicans have gradually shifted the political center farther to the right on the political spectrum with calls for drastic cuts to entitlement spending, reduced governmental influence on business and a reaffirmation of "family values." The Republicans have since adhered to this agenda monastically enough to bring the legislature to a standstill.
The political zealousness the GOP relied upon would have been justified if the American people chose a Republican president in 2012. But they didn't. Now the Republican Party is saddled with a reputation that can cost its most prominent leaders their seats in the 2014 midterm elections.
So what's the next move for the Republicans?
If they got into trouble by cementing themselves too far to right on the biggest issues of Obama's first term, they must be willing to bend to the left on the biggest issues of his second term. This means being much more receptive to Obama and the Democrats than they have been before.
So what does this entail?
The Stimulus Package, Obamacare and the Fiscal Cliff defined Obama's first term. This term will be defined by handling the debt ceiling crisis and immigration reform, two issues with major political implications for the Republican Party.
While taking care of the debt ceiling will involve even more bantering between the parties on an issue that's been virtually beaten to death, working with Democrats on meaningful immigration reform gives the GOP an opportunity to shed the damaging reputation it has made for itself.
Popular ideas for handling illegal immigration range from the ratification of the DREAM Act to instituting a more efficient guest worker program. If Democrats and Republicans can come together with a solution to a problem both parties have aimed to take on, the Republicans will be able to endear themselves to an incredibly important demographic that helped marginalize them on Nov. 6: Hispanic-Americans.
Hispanics overwhelmingly voted for Obama by a 71-29 margin in 2012. If the Republicans want any shot at retaking control of the federal government in 2016 or 2020, it's time they reach out to them, even if it means compromising on deep seated values by leaning to left.
A rational Republican Party would make these concessions to help secure a brighter future. However, if the GOP doesn't, it will be prevented from being strong and effective by the lack of unity that's been crippling the party.
The choice is simple for John Boehner and his fellow Republicans: If they want to beat the Democrats, they must be willing to join them in compromise.
I’m a Medill freshman from Cleveland, Ohio. I consider myself very socially conservative, and my Catholic upbringing certainly helped shaped this. My individual life experiences and introspection have strengthened these foundations, so my beliefs are the product of both religious and personal means.
I am slightly more moderate when it comes to fiscal matters, but I still fall within the realm of conservatism. Both my dad and maternal grandfather lost their fathers at a young age, so their stories of hard work and self-determination to make their own living have inspired me. I firmly believe in the power of the human spirit, and the oft-cited Chinese parable of “Give a man a fish...teach a man to fish...” perfectly sums up my belief on the government’s proper role. I am not opposed on principle to most federal programs, but I believe that their aim should be to make themselves unnecessary over time. The government should focus less on instantly solving its citizens’ problems and focus more on helping the people forge their own solutions.
History is not on Barack Obama’s side. No president in recent memory has had a second term more successful than their first. Bill Clinton met a girl named Monica. George Bush met a girl named Katrina. Nixon and Reagan struggled with Watergate and Iran-Contra. The so-called “second term slump” is almost as accepted as the Madden Cover curse, so President Obama needs to take conscientious steps to avoid a similar fate.
Unfortunately, with only a few days into his second term, warning signs of trouble are already looming. These past four years, President Obama has surprised many with the way he has worked toward the middle of the political spectrum. His inauguration speech on Monday seemed to obliterate his first-term centrist attitude.
It was certainly his most liberal speech as president, and some political analysts have called it the “most liberal speech ever." He attacked the issues of gay marriage, climate change and entitlements without trepidation. The inauguration is typically regarded as ceremonial, so it was shocking to hear the president launch so heavily into policy. It appeared to have the pretense of a companion piece to the upcoming State of the Union.
The aggressive tone of this first speech is vastly different from his first term bipartisanship. He pulled no punches, attacking conservatives in the areas they defend most bitterly. This spells trouble for the country as a whole. Needing an eleventh-hour compromise to avert disaster with the fiscal cliff crisis, Obama should be focusing on bridging the rift between the Republican House and Democratic Senate. Judging from the tone of his speech, he appears to be taking a much more obstinate approach to the presidency these next four years.
This second term could prove to be massively destructive to the already fragile relationship between Democrats and Republicans. The current issues our country faces cannot be wished away, and both parties will need to participate in order to resolve these fiscal, domestic and foreign policy troubles. By assuming a manner similar to Teddy Roosevelt’s self-proclaimed “bully pulpit,” President Obama will win himself no right-wing friends. Though hot-button issues like gun control need to be solved, they will not be won by adhering strictly to either party’s strict beliefs. Compromise is a necessity in politics, and Obama’s incendiary speech could very well be the catalyst for another four years of inter-party hatred at the executive and legislative level.
These cautious concerns improperly suggest that all of President Obama’s worries lie within the realm of policy. Unfortunately for the sake of all leaders, some dire circumstances arise completely out of their control. For example, Obama received much criticism for the BP oil spill in 2010, something which he did not cause in any way. Disasters like Hurricane Sandy will continue to plague the American coast from time to time, no matter what mysticism Al Gore continues to shower us with in the next few years. All of these incidents have the potential of destroying even a great president’s reputation.
With all these troubling maybes lurking on the horizon, Obama would do well to maintain his amiable ground on matters of policy. But, given the assertive nature of his inauguration speech, it appears that the opposite is already happening. If he refuses to yield even an inch of concessions on the key issues of gun control, immigration, et al., the country can expect four more years of morale-crushing gridlock. By choosing to take the fight to Republicans on their dearest causes, his bipartisan reputation is quickly beginning to rupture. If President Obama wishes to have a second term which history will remember as successful, he needs to follow two key steps. He must be willing to work with, not against, Republicans to address important matters of policy. He must also maintain a moral high ground and avoid betraying the people’s trust with a foreign or domestic scandal. It will never be smooth sailing (as he openly acknowledged in his speech), but President Obama can have a positive second term by maintaining a conscientious attitude.