I wonder what President Obama thinks about his second term in office, and how will he feel when he looks back on his tenure? Pride? Satisfaction? Or regret?
The first term was one of diffidence, almost timidity: the promised healing of the nation and the solution – or start to it – to the debt problems have not occurred, and indeed the divisions between race and class are greater now, just as the numbers dependent on state support have grown too. Bureaucracy has increased and even the achievement of the promised Medicare system is so ringed by conditionality it is useless for many. On the other hand, he oversaw the killing of Osama bin Laden – commonly viewed as an achievement -, responded appropriately to national tragedies like Hurricane Sandy and the Connecticut school massacre, and was a good ambassador on the world stage, though perhaps not a world leader. Even now many of his people do not know what he really stands for, despite the early rhetoric.
If he had left office this week instead of being inaugurated, history might have judged him to be a caretaker president rather a leader, aloof and undynamic though well-intentioned, and of course marking his record as being the first black American president. He has a chance now to leave a memorable legacy through forcing change where it is needed; through proactivity rather than reactivity; through doing what is unpopular for the sake of his country; through real, global leadership. The world cries out for a leader. Already he is showing signs of a new approach as he insists upon reform of gun law, environmental and immigration changes and raising the debt ceiling even if, he says, it means using his executive powers to push them through. There was an aggressive, uncompromising tone in his inaugural address yesterday as he pledged himself to the future of America, as there has been since the election: he has nothing to lose now, except perhaps his reputation – and that is important to him.
As I look to the present and likely future, I wonder why anyone would want to be presiding over a split nation, massive fiscal problems and growing international terrorism in an unstable world. Even now there is huge status in holding the role, as well as wealth and power, but it may be too that president Obama aspires, genuinely, to bring unity, peace and prosperity to everyone. He bears a heavy burden for the next four four years, but if his heart and intent are pure, whatever happens in his presidency his soul will rejoice.