It’s finally over.
The nastiest, most bitter and most partisan presidential campaign in recent memory has finally concluded after two straight years of “I approve this message” and super PAC ads dominating our television airwaves.
Now, the majority of us will forget all about presidential politics until the next nasty campaign begins after the 2014 midterm elections.
But for the new Congress, and the newly reelected President Obama, the job of nurturing our fragile economic recovery is just beginning.
The president’s agenda was stalled in the past two years by an obstinate Congress determined to block him at every turn. He’ll still have to deal with virtually the same party dynamics in the House (solid Republican majority).
“This is not hope and change,” “Meet the Press” host David Gregory said on NBC last night. “He’s been battered by the last four years.”
Now, he looks to four more years of the same. So why is it going to be any different?
Well, first off, he won’t have to spend all of his political capital on saving a cratering economy and passing health care reform aimed at guaranteeing universal coverage. In other words, the foundation has already been set. Even on autopilot, the economy will get better simply because of reforms like Dodd-Frank, the financial reform legislation that’s been the bête noir of the Tea Party.
Secondly, the looming fiscal cliff will offer Obama a unique advantage to tilt the playing field without having to do anything.
The scheduled tax hikes will raise the tax baseline, thus allowing Obama and the Democrats to deal with anti-tax Republicans with leverage on their side. In other words, Democrats can potentially dictate terms of fiscal policy even with split houses of Congress.
But that’s small potatoes compared to the overarching narrative of the election — Obama’s reelection is an affirmation that Americans believe government can play a role for good, and do not want, as conservative bellwether Grover Norquist like to say, to shrink it so small that it can drown in a bathtub.
And it might have taken an act of God to get that across.
Romney supporters have moaned about how Sandy stunted the former Massachusetts governor’s “momentum,” whatever that even means in electoral politics. And that very well may be true.
But what Sandy, and the president’s cool and competent response to the disaster, showed is that there are things that only the government can do. It showed how ridiculous Romney’s old plan to privatize FEMA was practically, and further demonstrated why many elected Obama in the first place — to provide steady and even-handed leadership in times of crisis.
The bump that he got from his response to Sandy was due in no small part to the tacit realization that the radical GOP agenda would make disasters even harder to recover from. Imagine if no government aid was forthcoming for people who’d lost everything. That’s Mitt Romney’s vision of America, and that’s the vision that the people rejected.
One of the toughest battles the president will face, and one in which he hasn’t shown enough political fortitude, is climate change. At this time in 2008, climate change was a relatively nonpartisan issue. But in the past four years, the GOP has been hijacked by climate change deniers, and Democrats decided to pursue health care reform over cap-and-trade legislation when they had a supermajority in the Senate.
Sandy is a sobering realization that climate change is indeed real, and an issue that must be tackled head-on. Obama showed that he has the leadership to lead us through a disaster. He has the next four years to show the same leadership in aiming to curb the disastrous trend of global warming.
But that’s a battle for another day. Obama’s win serves as validation for the sweeping reforms he put in place in his first term. We’re now set up to reap the rewards in his second.