If the beginning of a first term is heralded with bold platitudes spilling over from the campaign trail, a second term usually marks the gritty realization of aiming for a legacy using what works.
President Obama declared himself “more than familiar with all the literature about presidential overreach in second terms. We are very cautious about that.” But is he doing anything about it? I posit that his very success will ultimately doom his prospects.
First, some background.
During his first term, George W. Bush passed the Patriot Act, waged the Afghan and Iraq wars, and passed his tax cut. He had ambitious plans to spend his reelection “political capital” by passing Social Security and immigration reform, but an unanticipated storm called Katrina ended any hope of getting things done.
Ronald Reagan signed his tax cut package, broke the air traffickers union, started his Star Wars program and managed to get assassinated in his first term. After that it was all downhill, with Iran-Contra and Bitburg intervening.
Richard Nixon started détente with the Soviet Union, established diplomatic and business relations with China — yeah, his was the first White House “Made In China” — and started the Environmental Protection Agency. That was all in his first term. His second term can be summed up in one word: “Watergate.” Or alternatively: “resignation.”
Eisenhower didn’t get much done during both his terms in office aside for mediating the end of the Sinai Campaign by Britain, France and Israel, and allowing the brief Hungarian revolution to be crushed by Soviet tanks. The press loved him for his press conferences — he gave an average of one every three days. And he was a devoted golf player. But his second term was every bit as eventless as his first.
Even FDR had a disappointing second term. He passed his New Deal in his first four years, spent his second term fighting a losing battle with the Supreme Court to save it, waged WWII in his third term and died in his fourth.
In his first term, Obama did remarkably well in fulfilling his campaign promises. He made history by being a black president, got Obamacare passed, ended the Iraq war, killed bin Laden and put two liberals in the Supreme Court.
But a second term is required to solidify his gains. Obamacare will be implemented starting next year, Iraq could blow up, al-Qaida is resurgent and his two liberals on the high court merely replaced two other liberals.
What is needed for Obama to make it to Rushmore quality is for him to do something epic. Save the union. Serve four terms. Chop down a cherry tree.
All unlikely. The Rushmore quarry miners don’t take out their tools merely for Obamacare. And being the first black president doesn’t impress them nearly as much as it does Thomas Friedman or John McCain. They demand real progress for their hard work.
Which is why Obama’s promised focus on guns will backfire.
With his election focus on Hispanics and women — he held a “Women’s Economic Summit” to highlight how the bad economy affects women — you would expect his first press conference to be a declaration for a general amnesty for all 13 million illegal immigrants. “Now let me be clear. I’d rather focus on the 300,000 million legal guns than on the 13 million voter wannabes who are just missing a paper.”
Gun legislation may be wildly popular across the country … except that it really isn’t. Polls show solid majorities for an assault weapons ban, but also for allowing law abiding citizens the right to their guns. The public wants Obama to “do something” —my favorite poll reply — but when it comes to specifics they want him to back off.
Americans, a poll showed, blame mental illness and violent video games for the Newtown massacre more than they do guns. As a matter of fact, guns come in fifth in a Fox News poll out last week.
Obama’s real problem is that those who support gun control are not absolutely devoted to their cause as gun rights activists are. Second amendment supporters are way more likely to be one-issue voters than gun control backers, giving Obama very little for his focus on guns.
Bill Clinton said last week that his biggest regret is passing an assault weapons ban in 1994. That gave Republicans the ability to gain a House majority for the first time in 40 years. Obama is heading down the same path. But he has no choice; his base demands it. And he will do it — and bring upon his presidency the Second Term Curse.