Second Term Brings Room for Improvement
Published: Friday, January 18, 2013
Updated: Friday, January 18, 2013 03:01
On Monday, Georgetown students will be among the millions filling the National Mall to watch President Obama take the oath of our country’s highest office for the second time. The inauguration is cause for celebration — at least of our democracy, if not our president and his policies. In the midst of the celebration, however, we must keep in mind just how crucial the next four years will be for the nation and for our generation in particular.
College students face an economy in which about one in two new graduates are either unemployed or underemployed. Sixteen trillion dollars in government debt and — more importantly — tens of trillions of dollars in unfunded entitlement liabilities threaten our future with massive tax increases and reduced living standards. We have a broken immigration system that encourages the brightest students from around the globe to come to the United States for college and take their skills and talents to other countries upon graduation. Health insurance premiums continue to rise, unabated by misguided reform that failed to address the open-ended demand for healthcare services that is at the root of our health cost problem.
Washington can fix these problems, and if our generation is to enjoy the same living standards as previous generations, Washington must fix these problems. If we are to arrive at real solutions, the president will need to fulfill an inspirational campaign promise that was seemingly ignored in his first term.
In the speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention that launched him into the national spotlight — and, eventually, the presidency — then-state Senator Barack Obama proclaimed to rousing applause, “As we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America.”
But let’s consider Obama’s first-term record of post-partisanship. Armed with a House majority, a Senate supermajority and extraordinary popularity upon taking office, the president had a historic opportunity to follow through on his stirring rhetoric and truly change Washington.
Instead, he chose to immediately alienate those whom he saw as political adversaries by pushing highly partisan stimulus, health reform and financial regulation bills through Congress.
After the 2010 election, in which voters made it clear that this wasn’t the transformative Obama presidency they had been promised, the president consciously chose not to make a Clinton-esque attempt to settle differences and move the country forward. Rather than working with his Republican adversaries, he sought to fight and vanquish them.
There is no doubt that the intransigence of many rank-and-file Republican members of Congress has contributed to the gridlock. But the fact remains that President Obama had a rare and golden opportunity to follow through on his promises of unity, and he has failed to do so. He came into office with virtually unlimited power to assert his legislative will, and he had a tidal wave of support from inspired voters at his back. But instead of working to change Washington, President Obama chose to make the first four years of his presidency an all-out partisan battle.
The result: A Washington in which eleventh-hour backroom deals to kick Washington-created crises down the road have sadly come to define “bipartisanship.”
It is well within Washington’s power to solve our problems, but arriving at real solutions will require the strong, post-partisan leadership that candidate Obama so inspiringly promised in 2004 and 2008. There is some reason to be optimistic; with a contentious reelection battle behind him and a fractured House Republican opposition in front of him, perhaps President Obama will become the face of a new, productive, pragmatic Washington that solves the problems of the day rather than leaving our generation to deal with the consequences of inaction.
Unfortunately, the recent lame-duck session of Congress indicates otherwise. Throughout the fiscal cliff debate, the White House demanded tax increases that had little impact on the deficit and shunned even modest entitlement reforms, such as indexing Social Security payments to the chained consumer price index, that would begin to chip away at the unfunded entitlement liabilities that, unaddressed, will drive our generation over an unimaginable cliff in years to come.
If the fiscal cliff posturing is an indication of what is to come in the next four years, President Obama’s second term will be marred by his continued failure to follow through on his promises of a post-partisan Washington. For the sake of our generation and our country, I hope that’s not what he envisions for the next four years when he takes the oath on Monday.
Alex Cave is a sophomore in the College. He is chair of the Georgetown University College Republicans.