The New Yorker: What Will Obama Do?

April 17th, 2012

The New Yorker
April 17, 2012
Posted by Jeffrey Toobin




The odds seem fairly good that on January 20, 2013, Barack Obama will be inaugurated for a second term as President. Then what?

The President and his campaign have been strikingly quiet about plans for a second term. As a rule, all incumbents, of whatever office, run for reelection on their records rather than on their future promises, but Obama appears to have taken the strategy to an extreme.

The showpiece (to date) of the Obama campaign is “The Road We’ve Traveled,” a seventeen-minute video directed by Davis Guggenheim. It’s an entirely backward-looking production, featuring the President’s efforts to extricate the country from the financial crash, the bailout of automobile manufacturers, and the killing of Osama Bid Laden. The end of the war in Iraq and the passage of health-care reform get lesser billing. But the future—and Obama’s plans for it—get no real billing at all. In 2004, George W. Bush ran for reëlection based in significant part on his handling of the 9/11 attacks (and, of course, the Iraq war, which only later became deeply unpopular). But Bush had an agenda for his second term, too. He supported a partial privatization of Social Security, and tried to follow through on it early in his second term. The proposal foundered in 2005, but Bush could, and did, plausibly claim that his ideas received a mandate from the voters.

Non-incumbents, even members of the non-incumbent party, generally have an easier time getting more specific about what they would do if they were elected. This is true of Mitt Romney. He has promised to overturn the Affordable Care Act (if the Supreme Court doesn’t beat him to it) and to extend to the Bush tax cuts. Like most candidates, Romney is being somewhat cagey in his promises, as he demonstrated at a putatively off-the-record fund-raiser the other day—maybe he’d “consolidate” the Department of Education and another agency, maybe he’d just make it “a heck of a lot smaller.” As the leaked report of Romney’s remarks suggest, he understands the political risks of undue specificity. But the broad outlines of his plans are clear: lower taxes, cutbacks in social programs, and a still robust military presence around the world.

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