President Obama will commence his second term on Monday with none of the massive expectations that attended his first inaugural.
Back then it would hardly have surprised many of his most ardent supporters if he walked on water on his way to the podium. Expectations were set way too high for the son of a Kenyan immigrant and an 18-year-old unmarried mother whose inspiring life story had seen him end up in the most important job of all.
Four tough and bitter years followed, as did a hard re-election campaign that saw Obama win comfortably in the end over Mitt Romney, but presiding over a deeply divided country.
Few presidents entering office encountered such uphill conditions as Obama did with the American economy in freefall and two wars being waged on his watch. He did a decent job given those circumstances, passed a landmark health bill and stabilized the economy as well as ending American involvement in Iraq and setting a date for the Afghanistan departure.
So in some ways Obama begins his second term able to set his own agenda for the first time. He has made it clear that there will be bigger and bolder steps on this occasion, and he is far less inclined to endure the weekly dog fights with Republicans that characterized his first term.
In his press conference on Monday, he made the basic point that he won the election, that elections have consequences and that the GOP needed to realize that.
He has signaled a welcome determination to attack issues such as gun control and immigration, which are crying out for sensible legislation. There is encouraging news on immigration which will be of special interest to the Irish.
Meetings have been held with moderate GOP senators to frame a bill that might have a chance of passage after the do-nothing congresses of recent times. The GOP knows that its weakness with the Hispanic vote imperils any hopes they may have in future to win the White House.
At least at an intellectual level they do, but at a visceral level there still seems a deep strain of nativism especially in the House, and a determination to punish rather than legislate on immigration.
That would be a huge blunder, but so many of the House members on the Republican side care little for national issues and just want to ensure that they cannot be attacked from the right in a primary.
Whatever immigration bill is put on the floor, it needs to have an Irish dimension that will ensure that both our undocumented issue is resolved and that the potential for future flow is there.
You can be guaranteed that every other lobby group will have input into the immigration bill, which makes it imperative that the Irish lobby does too.
Obama understands clearly that a bill needs to be moved now, early in his second term if there is to be any chance of success. The critical part of the bill is the dynamic with House Republicans who can easily block his best efforts no matter what, but who will do significant damage to the party’s attempts to woo back a key Hispanic constituency.
A Democrat running for the White House now with Hispanics voting for him or her in similar numbers as they did for Obama has a guaranteed 240 electoral votes in their pocket, just 31 shy of a victory.
Such realities will not be lost on the GOP surely, but the party has made itself so resistant to change in recent times that they may well be.
Obama commences his second term with the best wishes of all decent Americans for success. It is no easy task he taken on, but it is less of a burden than what he faced in his first four years. We should all wish him well.
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