Expect a Different Obama in Term Two

November 7, 2012

Well in the end Obama won easily, not that much the nail biter some predicted. Still while the Electoral College victory was decisive, the popular vote victory was small.  One question on many people’s mind including mine is: how could a guy like Mitt Romney come so close?

Not at all the type of person you would think most Americans would want to have running their country.  How could such an impressive figure as Barack Obama, with such a hopeful start to his presidency four years ago, do little more than limp across the finish line this time?

While much analysis will be done in the next days and weeks about the campaign strategies and tactics, the micro targeting, the ad campaigns and the massive spending. In the end they didn’t achieve all that  much, especially given their magnitude: the numbers really didn’t move that much.  The key question this time wasn’t who campaigned well, but whether Obama had governed well.   And obviously  many Americans, including so many who voted for him in 2008,  didn’t think so.

Yes he governed in challenging times, and inherited difficult circumstances.  But at one level it doesn’t matter the reasons why Obama was perceived by some to have done a poor job.  As the Obama campaign did, you could blame the congress, the economy or the wars he inherited. You can blame George Bush, or Wall Street.  But in politics “when you’re explaining you’re losing.”  To many voters your explanations are excuses.  If you’re an American who lost your job or lost your home, that’s what you are going to care about. If you live in a depressed city because your neighbours have lost their houses or jobs you are going to care about that , and you’re likely to think the guy at the top should have done more for you.

Tough times are tough for politicians, but still many of them succeed in them. They manage to get their agenda, or important parts of it, delivered, and they are understood by voters for what they could or couldn’t do under the circumstances. Obama did some of this, but not enough.  Almost always these successful politicians are perceived for standing up, win or lose, for some group a people, a constituency, region or a class.   Why didn’t this happen for Obama in a more significant way in his first term? 

Largely that’s no longer important.  What is important is term two.  And what is going to be important for the Democrats is not losing congress in 2014, or the presidency in 2016, both reasonable possibilities.   What’s also important for Obama is making his legacy the success of term two, not the popular vote split decision of term one.

So what will we see in the future?  I think we’ll see a more activist President, and a more combative President.   He will pick sides, more than he has done, and will put forward programs and solutions that he and his advisors think he can deliver on for the constituencies that the Democrats need to win coming elections.

 Close elections you win are a bit like firm but forgiving  parents: they make sure you’ve learned your lessons, but they also  give you another chance to do better.

Here’s hoping that Obama does.

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