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Election 2012: How another Obama term might be different

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But it remains far from clear just what kind of mandate, if any, Obama will have gained from reelection, especially if he wins by a slim margin. After all, the Republicans – having lost the presidential race – will probably be embroiled in their own internal battles over the future of their party, and may be in no mood to give ground to a newly energized Democratic president, just as they weren't in the mood in January 2009 after Obama's first inauguration.

"Any kind of dream that it will be 'Kumbaya' up there and that gridlock will suddenly end and Republicans will work with him, that ain't happening," says Democratic strategist Peter Fenn.

But that doesn't mean Obama would give up. Far from it. During his first presidential campaign, in an interview with a Reno, Nev., newspaper, he portrayed himself as a Reaganesque figure who could change the trajectory of America. President Reagan, Obama said, "tapped into what people were already feeling, which was, we want clarity, we want optimism." The senator from Illinois suggested he would do the same.

Early in his presidency, Obama swung for the fences – and succeeded, against the odds, in passing the Affordable Care Act, despite the economic emergency he inherited and that still threatens his reelection amid lingering high unemployment and sluggish economic growth. A second term would present more opportunity for bold action, though more on Republican terms than when he first took office.

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