Brown: Obama can (and must) do better
BY MARK BROWN January 21, 2013 6:48PM
President Barack Obama gestures during the inaugural parade walk down Pennsylvania Avenue en route to the White House, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, in Washington. Thousands marched during the 57th Presidential Inauguration parade after the ceremonial swearing-in of President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
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Updated: February 23, 2013 6:33AM
President Barack Obama embarked Monday on a second term that frankly needs to be better than his first.
That’s not a Republican talking. That’s a Democrat who has voted for our former senator from Illinois right down the line since he became a statewide candidate.
Maybe the folks who hate the president don’t realize it, but even the people who voted to return Obama to the White House for four more years are yearning for him to be more effective in this second go-round.
The country needs it, as does Obama if he is to improve his place in history beyond the distinction he earned at the ballot box four years ago.
For me, that doesn’t necessarily mean checking off all the touchstones on the liberal agenda, as the president somewhat surprisingly did in Monday’s inaugural speech.
Rather, it means keeping the country on the path to economic recovery — maybe even re-discovering prosperity — while finding a way to soften the partisan gap in Washington, in effect rekindling the original promise of his presidency.
Keeping Americans gainfully employed would help resolve many of the other issues nipping at Obama’s heels, including the violence in our cities. Just making Obamacare work could also go a long way toward easing their economic pressures.
That liberal agenda — gay marriage, immigration, guns, even climate change — is important to me, too, but I don’t see it getting far until the president has mastered the art of working with — or defeating at the polls — a Republican-controlled House of Representatives with a very different view of the world.
I can’t say that Monday’s “We the People” speech, profound as it may have been, got him off to a great start.
Its soaring rhetoric will be analyzed for decades to come, but its wisdom will be judged by the president’s success in reaching his goals for this new term.
They say Obama wrote the speech himself.
I can believe it. The message was highly nuanced, which is indicative of the president’s thinking. I found it necessary to re-read the transcript twice to better appreciate what I’d heard him say.
It was very clever of Obama to frame his remarks around his allegiance to the Constitution and our founding principles — the very matter that conservatives have attempted to exploit to rally opposition against him.
But I’m not sure the Constitutional law expert’s lesson on the evolving nature of our national understanding of those principles will be very persuasive to those he needs to reach to advance his initiatives.
In many ways, the president’s second inaugural speech struck me as an intellectual appeal — or rebuke — to a part of the population that has a very different intellectual take on the same issues.
If Obama’s priority is for everyone to come together, then why did he choose to stress many of the issues on which we are most divided?
We know this second term will be difficult, and we’ve read all the explanations about why any second-term president has only a small window to get anything accomplished before the shadow of the next election pulls him into the quicksand.
If it’s that impossible to get something done in a second term, then nobody should bother running for one, and they all do.
Polls say the president starts this second term with a measly 51 percent approval rating — and with no particular enthusiasm among a good portion of that 51 percent.
That’s not going to make it easy for Obama to take his case directly to the American public with campaign-style appeals on individual issues, as we are told he has planned.
“For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate …We must act knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall,” Obama intoned.
Those words could live in history, but only if the president can translate them into concrete political action between now and 2017.