Months before his 2008 election, Barack Obama became a force greater than himself. The hair-pulling final days of the Bush Administration begged for vital, fresh leadership, and no person in modern political memory embodied that better than a young U.S. Senator from Illinois. A groundswell of twentysomething voters, an awakening of the American spirit — the Obama-as-vessel sensibility raised the expectations’ bar to a superhuman height. Its apex came in 2009 when the president was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” The subtext was clear: Obama was no ordinary leader at no ordinary time. He also wasn’t George W. Bush.
The anticipatory greatness and in-practice greatness never aligned. For supporters and opponents alike, the Obama Administration has taken too long to pull out of the Great Recession, too long to end two wars, and too long to corral a hidebound U.S. Congress hindered by a never-yield partisanship. At times incremental steps feel workmanlike and uninspired. Nevertheless, from passing Wall Street reforms and rescuing the U.S. auto industry, to ending the war in Iraq and repealing don’t-ask-don’t-tell, Barack Obama has moved the country forward. There is also the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that, for all the hand-wringing and Tea Party blowback, was a landmark achievement that will extend healthcare to 32 million Americans in 2014 and not reject coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions.
The Republican nominee, former Gov. Mitt Romney, is enjoying a bump in the polls after an impressive debate performance earlier this month. Romney’s political vision, including preserving the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy, rolling back Obamacare, advocating a troubling redo of Medicare, and opening up the West to more resource exploitation, is not consonant with what America needs in 2012. His shape-shifting style — Romney didn’t always disparage global warming and national healthcare — also makes him a risky, uncertain bet.
Over the next four years, President Obama must concentrate on spurring job growth and invigorating the economy. The latest unemployment figures, finally dipping below 8 percent, are promising but modest. The president’s tax package, including a middle-class tax cut that, unlike his opponent, doesn’t regard a $200,000 salary as middle income, is one avenue. On foreign and military policy, Obama will need to finesse force reductions that don’t compromise our capacity to respond and preempt international terrorism. The president might also build on his 2009 executive order to end the use of torture by keeping his campaign promise to shutter Guantanamo Bay.
Lastly, on conservation and the environment — administration policies characterized by anchorless muddling — Obama should let U.S. Interior Secretary Ken “seldom seen” Salazar quietly retire and replace him with a Westerner steeped in the personalities of Congress and the politics of America’s wild lands. Washington U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, for example, might be an ideal fit.
In 2012, The Herald Editorial Board recommends that voters re-elect President Barack Obama.