The president's second term

The president's second term

January 21st, 2013 in Opinion Times

A painter touches up an entrance post outside the White House in Washington, D.C. on Friday in preparation for the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Today's public inauguration of President Barack Obama to a second term comes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and nothing could be more fitting. His tenure in the White House is surely the fruit of the legendary work of Dr. King and his peers, whose dedication to equitable civil rights for minorities laid the path for Obama's ascent to the presidency.

Perhaps the supreme irony is how deep the roots of civil rights now run in this nation. Though the Republican establishment worked hard to keep Obama from a first term, and even harder to prevent his second term victory, civil rights won and racial innuendo and division lost yet again.

Obama's second presidential victory, to be sure, required Herculean effort. From the very beginning, he had to confront the burden of the massive recession he inherited, and the lock-step obstructionism plotted against him in both chambers of Congress.

Indeed, his foes began planning in earnest to defeat Obama's re-election the very day that Obama began his first term. Even as the new president and his wife were attending the traditional inaugural balls four years ago, Washington's Republican leadership gathered in a restaurant to plot a strategy that would bar the nation's first African-American president from a second term.

Their effort called for record filibusters, defeat of Obama "as their number one priority," in the words of Senate Minority Mitch McConnell, and adoption of strict voter IDs in Republican controlled states. The voter ID plan hinged on hard-to-obtain documents -- yellowed or lost marriage certificates, original certified birth certificates -- that were clearly aimed at the elderly, the poor and the handicapped, just as stiff new residency rules were aimed to minimize students' voting.

Beyond that, the conservative bloc of the U.S. Supreme Court chipped in with its 2010 Citizens United ruling. That 5-4 decision opened the flood-gates to Super-PACS and multi-million-dollar campaign contributions from rich industrialists to defeat Obama's bid for a second term last year.

That Obama managed to win both the popular vote, and an overwhelming advantage in electoral votes, still doesn't sit well with Washington's Republican leaders. Now they're considering a move to revise electoral college rules to allow proportional division of each state's popular vote totals, on the hope that calculus would favor a Republican candidate even if he or she lost the national popular vote.

The GOP strategy will continue to build on unrelenting opposition to Obama's broader agenda. He wants to rationally wind down federal deficits through corporate tax reform as well as spending cuts. They will continue to insist on slashing the nation's safety net and earned entitlements, and threaten again to hold the nation hostage to another debt ceiling crisis to achieve that outcome.

He wants to pursue energy efficiency and carbon reductions at least partly through cleaner alternative energy. They're still bound to the dirtiest fossil fuels and in denial about climate change. He had rather enlist partners to leverage peaceful negotiation in foreign conflicts. The GOP is still ruled by neocon chicken hawks. The litany of division and filibuster drags on.

And now, Obama has taken the leap into the NRA briar patch, where the most despicable tactics will be used to blunt his new quest for sensible gun control rules. Last week, for example, an NRA ad used his daughters' attendance at a private school secured by the Secret Service to smear him as an "elitist hypocrite."

Given such relentless partisan attacks, Obama's inaugural address today may well be as somber as aspirational. There certainly are omens of concern. Joblessness remains too high at home, and Europe's contagious economy is trending downwards again. Hazardous conflicts with Islamist extremist loom in northern Africa now, as well as in the Middle East. The Taliban will make it hard to effect an honorable withdrawal from Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran will continue to present problems, and China's stability is problematic.

Obama's growth in stature, experience and leadership, however, promise a steady hand in the White House, and a constant vision for national goals that serve higher purposes for Americans and our allies abroad. If Republicans allow any sense of bipartisan cooperation, his second term could be exceptional. That is what the nation needs most, and it remains our hope.