What’s Left: Forward

In the last nine days, we’ve had a dizzying national discussion about why President Obama won reelec-tion, or perhaps better stated, about why Mitt Romney lost. We’ve heard about a Midwestern firewall, Electoral College advantages and demographic shifts, mixed messages and missed opportunities. After disap-pointing (to put it politely) losses in the key battlegrounds of Virginia, Florida and Ohio, the big question in the punditocracy is about the Republican Party’s future: in the battle of red and blue, what is red to do? But with the president making what some called an insufficient case for reelection and Romney failing to offer any policy specifics, it’s time to stop playing the red versus blue game. At this point, the discussion needs to shift away from what the 2012 elections mean for the parties, and start focusing on what they mean for America. To borrow Obama’s succinct-but-lame slogan, the discussion needs to look in a new direction: forward.

Many of us liberals have high hopes for a second Obama Administration. Key long-term issues like climate change, domestic energy policy, as well as immigration and entitlement reform have all gone ignored or underappreciated in the fallout from the Great Recession. But the continued focus of the Obama White House for the foreseeable future will to be on jobs, deficits and the economy. With the economy dominat-ing the agenda and with the political or practical possibilities of other policy initiatives unclear, what can we actually expect from Obama 2.0? First and foremost, a second Obama term means the institutionalization of his signature legislative accomplishments, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform. There will be no Obamacare waivers issued to states on Day One (as Romney had prom-ised). Instead, the president’s second term will oversee the rollout of key Affordable Care Act provisions such as the prohibition on discrimination by insurance providers based on gender or pre-existing conditions. By the time Obama leaves office, more Americans than ever will have access to health insurance. Romney also vowed to repeal Dodd-Frank, the financial regulatory bill passed in July of 2010. Most reasonable analysts considered that to be political posturing, but to ignore the differences in approach, sincerity and purpose that the different administrations would bring to fledgling reforms would be willfully na??ve. The nascent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which saw vehement Republican opposition to the nomination of its director, would likely have wilted under a Romney presidency. Instead, the agency will benefit from the support of an administration that has a significant stake in its success.

Furthermore, a second Obama term means that the ideological stance of the Supreme Court is, at the very least, maintained (assuming liberal Justices Breyer and/or Ginsburg retire). Replacing the aging Justices Kennedy (the swing vote) or Scalia (a staunch conservative) with more liberal counterparts would represent a tectonic shift in the court. So far, none of the four have indicated that they plan to retire, so hopes for liberal gains in the court may just be a fantasy. Last but far from least, four more years of an Obama Administration means four more years of repairing the American image abroad. President Bush’s rough-and-tough cowboy diplomacy failed America and the world. Now isn’t the time to confuse reconciliation with apology, and under the stellar leadership of Secretary Clinton, America has been showing the world that the age of being “with us or against us” is over. Even with Clinton’s imminent departure and the troubling recent develop-ments in the Middle-East/North Africa region, the administration’s overall posture toward foreign policy has been surprisingly adept.

The world is responding. It’s no surprise to anyone with basic manners that Obama beat Romney 50 percent to nine percent in a BBC world poll. Of the 21 countries polled, the only country polled to support Romney was the low-tax, family-values-oriented nation of Pakistan. Go figure.

In the end, the things mentioned in this article won’t likely characterize Obama’s second term. After all, implementing reform bills that have already passed isn’t an achievement, it’s an expectation. For Obama’s sec-ond term to really count, he will have to convince Republicans that they can compromise on policy without compromising on principle. He will have to show them that pragmatic moderation is better for America than ideological rigidity. He will have to move this country forward.

Contact James Bourne at [email protected].