Four years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., for the first inauguration of Barack Obama as president of the United States. I was able to travel along as the president and vice president-elect rode the Abraham Lincoln Whistle Stop tour down to the nation’s capitol.
Excitement was in the air everywhere you looked and everywhere you turned.
Four years later there was still excitement in the air as President Obama took his oath of office for a second and final term on January 21. This time, the crush of people, though overjoyed at the making of history as the first African-American president was sworn in once again, was far smaller and more cautious in their views on what was to come.
There was much concern about changes that may or may not occur in the next four years. Elliott Stanley, a recent law school graduate, said he didn’t anticipate major changes that would benefit him. The president spent the past four years working through the fiscal morass he inherited from the previous administration, Stanley said, and will continue to battle with the stubbornly partisan legislative before he could make significant progress in other areas.
“I think he should be more decisive in his push for administrative gain than conciliatory,” said Stanley, who hasn’t been able to find a permanent job since leaving school.
Joycelin, a Washington D.C. resident who declined to give her last name, said the first-term sheen has worn off for the president, adding that he learned the hard way that there may well have been a decision by republicans in the partisan House of Representatives to “just say no” to any, or many, of his policies and proposals.
“He’s learned that whether he plays golf or not with the republicans he can’t win them over with his demeanor,” Joycelin said. And while President Obama, like all presidents, wants to leave a positive legacy, the looming fights over the debt ceiling and spending cuts as House republicans continue to refuse to “play nice” may derail his attempt to do so, Joycelin said.
Others cited persistent unemployment as a major worry. Many said they were pleased with the changes to healthcare engineered by the president, but fear this would be the only legacy of his historic presidency if the agenda of the republican majority in the House is to deliberately stymie progress.
A group of business owners who traveled from Florida, Ohio, Maryland and New York to attend the inauguration said President Obama has already secured his legacy with historic healthcare reform. They insisted, however, that in order to have a broader legacy of success, he has to ensure that the funding mechanisms to carry through on this reform are sustainable, and he has to manage the economy for the next generation, specifically by improving the nation’s aging infrastructure, fixing the weaknesses of our education system and immigration policies, and reforming so-called entitlement programs.