Four more years and still much to do


What Obama can achieve in his second term

Amid the buoyant talk of hope when Barack Obama took to the stage in Chicago in the early hours of Wednesday, there was also a sinking recognition of the country’s stark ideological disconnect.

“By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock,” he said, “or solve all our problems, or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward.”

Most didn’t need to be reminded. It was, perhaps, inevitable that a first term freighted so heavily with the promise of hope and change would partly sink under the weight of so much expectation.

Republicans were unco-operative with Obama from the beginning. But the president also shared blame for his failure to work constructively with them.

In his second term, the president has pledged to reduce the nation’s deficit, reform the tax code, fix its immigration system and free the US from dependency on foreign oil. Is there any reason to believe he can deliver in a second term?

There are some glimmers of hope. First, the political landscape has altered significantly for Republicans. The polls showed the party to be increasingly reliant on “angry, white, middle-aged men”, as some commentators put it.

In order to survive, the party will need to reach out more to women, younger people and ethnic groups. It will also need to rethink key policies on issues like immigration and women’s issues.

The Tea Party wing of the Republicans cemented its influence as 51 of its 55 candidates were re-elected. But they are not the force of old. They didn’t grow in size. And they helped alienate voters in the Senate race. If anything, moderates who are more likely to seek common ground with Democrats should feel emboldened.

Second, voters have had enough of policy gridlock and polarisation. Take the dreaded fiscal cliff: these are the steep spending cuts and tax rises that will come into force next year, unless both parties can come up with a deal. A failure to do so would most likely plunge the country into recession. Fear can be a great unifier when it comes to politics.

Third, Obama must learn from his mistakes and will need to get involved in deal-making and finding common ground with Republicans.