Conservatives can take heart: President Obama has less time in the White House in front of him than behind him.
The rest of us hope that the next four years will be as successful as the past four.
Given the nature of second terms, Mr. Obama will have only a limited time, maybe eighteen months, to accomplish big things: Immigration reform, gun control, and implementing the first steps to tackle climate change.
These are big goals, but this is a president who already has achieved big things. His biggest accomplishment is fulfilling a dream of progressives since the Truman years: Comprehensive, universal health insurance.
To be sure, it’s not the plan many liberals favored. Instead of a single-payer system, we have a patchwork program drafted to appeal to conservatives who rejected it. Instead of simply extending Medicare to cover everyone, Congress enacted a plan aimed at getting states to participate, many of whom are balking.
But it’s a start, a step in the right direction.
The president has ushered the nation out of the worst economic crash since the Great Depression, putting it on the road to recovery. And he has overseen a financial reform measure, the Dodd-Frank reform bill, geared to assuring that the next downturn will be far less serious than the last one.
Perhaps Barack Obama’s most significant accomplishment is the most obvious one: He is the president. He is our first African American president, and as our first biracial president, he is a symbol of the changing demography of the United States.
It is a mark of progress that we have elected an African American president. It is a further mark that we reelected him. But it is also a mark of how far we have not come that his color continues to aggravate our political divide.
Yes, it is a sad truth that racism still pervades our society and poisons our political discourse. Racism explains the unprecedented hostility shown the president by some on the extreme political right: The birthers, those who persist in labeling him Muslim (though that ought not to be a slur), those who call him a socialist, a king, and worse, and those who cite a biblical verse calling for his murder.
Of course, the president can’t be blamed for his color. But his color and the racist response to it explains the biggest failure of his first term, his inability to fulfill his promise to triumph over partisan discord.
Not that he didn’t try. President Obama crafted many of the measures of his first term to appeal to Republicans, only to have them rebuff him every time. Just two examples of his attempt to enlist Republican assistance in major initiatives: Crafting the stimulus bill to include far too many tax breaks and not enough real stimulus spending and drafting a healthcare reform bill based on market mechanisms.
None of this is to say that all Republicans and all opponents of the president are racists. But it is a sad truth that today’s Republican Party is governed by its worst elements, not its better angels. Republican leaders repeatedly fail to shout down the most extreme elements among them, allowing those extremists to become the voice of the party.
Despite the unwillingness of the political opposition to engage with him, Mr. Obama is now in the strongest position of his presidency. He won reelection by a near landslide, and he has shown in recent months a steely resolve, largely missing for most of the first term, when negotiating (or refusing to negotiate) with the political opposition.
He also has shown more of a willingness to use the bully pulpit to advance his agenda, a tactic he will need to employ frequently during his second term if he hopes to accomplish broad gun control legislation and immigration reform.
It will be difficult, given a recalcitrant House of Representatives and a sometimes reluctant Senate. But don’t bet against Barack Obama: He accomplished big things in his first term; he appears poised to do the same in his second four years