Any predictions about President Obama’s second and final term are at best an exercise in futility because there are just too many unknowns ahead. One thing is certain, however: The president will continue to encounter Republican entrenchment. The calendar had hardly turned before they locked horns on the so-called fiscal cliff.
Pundits are still debating who conceded the most ground in the effort to pull back from this financial precipice. A good number of liberals believe that the president bent too much, particularly in allowing the income bar for the wealthiest to be raised to $400,000 for single breadwinners and $450,000 for couples -- a far cry from his original proposal of $250,000.
Even so, he was able to forestall considerable tax hikes for the nation’s middle-class and working poor. Most importantly, 2 million unemployed Americans were given a year’s extension on their benefits and this measure, like the other Bush era taxes, was set to end on Dec. 31.
Yes, it might be seen as a pyrrhic victory for the Obama administration, but any kind of victory over the obstinate Republicans, many of whom were ready to allow the country to go plummeting over the cliff into an even deeper recession, is worth celebrating.
Having avoided one precipitous edge, however, the administration now has to grapple with even tougher obstacles—spending cuts and the debt ceiling. If the Republicans conclude that they lost the first round in surrendering their stand on taxing the wealthiest, it’s not inconceivable that they will find other hostages when it comes to spending cuts. They have already indicated their demand for deep incisions.
These financial matters probably will trouble the administration for months to come without any real settlement. President Obama would be wise not to expend all of his political capital on these issues, as he did with health care during his first four years. Other agenda items need attention if his legacy is to go unblemished and not be entirely based on Obamacare, legislation that won’t go into full effect for another year or so, just about the time of the midterm elections.
Immigration reform and gun control cannot be overlooked in this final term. The recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., will keep a Bushmaster assault rifle in Obama’s dreams. Nothing has emotionally rocked this generally stoic president like the news that 20 children had been slaughtered, along with six adults. It was all he could do to keep from tearing up, as Speaker John Boehner is prone to do for even less.
The ongoing complexities of immigration reform in certain parts of the country should occupy more than a passing nod from our leader. The returns of November’s election, while not exactly a mandate, indicate a dramatic demographic shift that deserves serious attention.
Much of what will happen in this second term will depend on the team the president assembles. Two critical nominations appear to be on the docket already, with Sen. John Kerry as his next Secretary of State, replacing the soon to be retired Hillary Clinton; former Sen. Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary; and John Brennan as Director of the CIA.
Equally important is the person who will succeed Eric Holder as Attorney General if Holder decides that one term is enough. Given the tensions that arose around voter suppression and the Supreme Court’s handling of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, someone with Holder’s tenacity and passion is absolutely necessary to make sure the clock on civil rights is not turned back to Jim Crow time.
For those left of Obama—and in many respects that doesn’t call for too much distance—there continues to be outrage about the drones that are ostensibly geared to take out terrorists, but which, far too often, take many innocents as collateral damage. While the president has hinted about the prospect of transparency and Congressional oversight, there has been no concerted action in this regard and this remains a troubling issue for human rights organizations.
Troubling, too, are certain provisions of the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act that in too many instances fail to consider habeas corpus, the rights of due process, and injustices that mirror the reprehensible actions of stop and frisk.
And when, if ever, will the president follow up on a now seemingly ancient promise to shut down Guantanamo Bay? Closure here -- along with bringing the troops home from Afghanistan, some spending cuts at the Pentagon, and wage freezes for our gridlock-bound elected officials inside the Beltway—will help a great deal in gathering the revenue to close the ever-expanding deficit and repair America’s crumbling infrastructure.
There has also been uproar about pardons and on this Obama has been missing in action when compared to President Bush and Clinton. Black Americans especially are waiting to see what steps the president will take since millions are looking for, as the late, great James Brown would shout, “The Big Payback,” for their unwavering loyalty and for muting their complaints for four years.
Okay! Reparations and a pardon for Mumia Abu-Jamal, accused killer of a white police officer 30 years ago, are out of the question. But there are other actions that would be a nice nod in our direction, such as a walk through Harlem, invitations to the White House for African American journalists and business leaders, and a special piece of recognition for our struggling entrepreneurs, since they are, as Obama has stated again and again, the backbone of the nation’s economy.
A special shout-out for minority and women-owned businesses —beyond the tax cuts for small businesses—would be part of the president’s crowning achievement. This would resonate far longer in households where his picture has long ago replaced John Kennedy’s and, in some places, that of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. None of this is asking too much for folks who have endured all sorts of setbacks to watch “yo back.”
If there is one prediction to hazard, it is that President Obama will do something that will bring a chorus of “Amens” and make eight years unforgettably rewarding for Black Americans. But let’s not hold our breath on this. We may have to apply just a little bit of pressure to collectively exhale those “Amens.”