When President Obama was elected in 2008, many believed American liberalism was about to make a comeback. The economy was in shambles, more than 40 million Americans had no healthcare coverage and the United States was involved in two unpopular wars. Barack Obama spoke of hope and change, as well as an activist government.
Throughout his first term, many on the American left were terribly disappointed that Obama failed to push the liberal agenda. Obamacare did not contain the public option; the stimulus purchase did not include public works programs; the Obama administration was increasing its involvement in Afghanistan.
By the November 6, 2012 election date, the American left made the only rational choice and voted to keep Obama in office instead of staying away from the polls. Many, realizing the systematic obstructionism of the Republicans, preferred to keep Obama in place rather than roll back many of the progressive policies created since the FDR years.
In his second Inaugural Address, President Obama laid out the most progressive agenda since FDR. Even John F. Kennedy did not go as far. The speech was philosophical in tone, militant in terms of priorities and delivered in a manner that many early Obama supporters would have wished. “We the people”, and the words ‘citizen’, ‘democracy’ and ‘equality’ figured prominently. It was clear Obama was talking legacy, but he was elaborating on an agenda for a changing America, and an America whose thirst for more change will not end with his term in office.
Gun control, immigration reform, deficit and debt issues will dominate the first half of his second term. Foreign policy will also continue its shift to a greater emphasis on soft power, diplomacy and multilateral engagement. A close reading of this speech, and you can understand even better the coalition that gave Obama such a sweeping victory. He has chosen to seize the moment.
The U.S. is the longest-living democracy, and the most difficult one to govern. Even when one party controls the White House and Congress, the President is subject to an array of checks and balances. But Obama will need more than vision and good intentions to succeed. He will need skill.
In the first half of his first term, Obama had trouble finding his footing in the complex world of Washington. In the latter half of his first term, he seemed more assured and more willing to use the bully pulpit. Since his re-election, Obama has shown a more pro-active and combative style. This can serve him well, as second-term presidents soon face lame-duck status.
Is this progressive agenda laid out so eloquently just a mirage? The GOP, going through its post-election pains, will not react favourably to such a blatant progressive agenda. However, the President seems to have grown in his job and appears more determined as we saw in the Hagel nomination as Secretary of Defense and the December fiscal cliff debate. At the end of the day, his agenda may well depend more on his political skills than his ideas.