Foreign policy, as it has for many presidents, may provide fertile ground for executive initiative. Indeed, as Obama told President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia, he would have “more flexibility” in international relations if reelected. Obama’s emphasis is expected to be focused on drawing down US troops from Afghanistan, where 66,000 are stationed, managing a declining Pentagon budget, and confronting the turmoil in the Middle East.
But second terms have also been marked by missteps and scandals. President George W. Bush had the leak scandal that ensnared Scooter Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney; President Clinton had the affair with Monica Lewinsky; President Reagan had Iran Contra; and President Nixon resigned in the wake of Watergate.
“I’m more than familiar with all the literature about presidential overreach in second terms,” he said in a White House press conference shortly after he won reelection.
Obama has said one of his goals is to be a more effective communicator than during his first term, a somewhat surprising resolution for a man who wrote a bestselling book noted for its eloquent prose and a politician known for his sometimes inspirational speeches.
“When I ran, everybody said, ‘Well, he can give a good speech, but can he actually manage the job?’ ” Obama said in a CBS News interview in July. “And in my first two years, I think the notion was, ‘Well, he’s been juggling and managing a lot of stuff, but where’s the story that tells us where he’s going?’ And I think that was a legitimate criticism.”
Using campaign network
A familiar figure appeared recently at the White House. Jim Messina, who managed Obama’s successful reelection campaign, was standing just outside the Oval Office. It was a reminder that Obama’s campaign machinery is one of his most successful legacies, and his aides are determined that it not lay fallow for the next four years. Instead, they want to make it the instrument of a successful second term.
Messina is planning to oversee the transformation of Obama’s campaign network, Organizing for America, into a nonprofit operation called Organizing for Action that will attempt to harness the campaign energy and put pressure on Congress in a way Obama aides concede they failed to do in the first term. The group has been hosting a conference for activists this weekend, in the buildup to the inauguration.
Current and former White House advisers say the first months of the term hold greater possibilities than many may realize. Four years ago, the Dow Jones industrial average closed at 7,949, losing 4 percent of its value and marking the worst Inauguration Day loss in the 113-year history of the index. Since then, the Dow has slowly but steadily risen, almost doubling its value from four years ago. On Friday, the Dow closed at 13,649. Now the emphasis is on bolstering the economy, not saving it from the brink.
Obama’s campaign will be redeployed to push the agenda of immigration, gun control, tax and entitlement reform, and global warming.
From a political standpoint, the Democratic coalition is continuing to be built in a way that could have impacts for elections to come.
Black, Hispanic, and youth voters went to the polls, in some cases in stronger numbers than four years ago. Now Obama’s second term will determine whether the voters who helped put him into office will also help him govern.
“We reoriented the way we approached things — not just engaging Washington, but taking it outside,” Carney said. “If you just spend your time sitting at the table waiting for congressional action, experience taught us it wasn’t always going to happen.”
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.