The brightest spot for me was the election of Elizabeth Warren to the Senate. Warren, who was reviled by the right wing as the backer of “moochers” and “takers,” won by a solid margin, indicating Americans’ support for consumer protections for banking and finance. In an otherwise murky political landscape, Elizabeth Warren stood out as a politician from a different era when leaders used to stand for principles. Warren has the passion and the spark necessary in a presidential candidate. I can only hope that she will run, and soon.
Democrats have widened their overall lead in the Senate. They have taken over California’s legislature. And Obama has won a mandate to carry out his policies.
His instincts for bipartisanship and consensus are healthy for our country; but he must develop the knack of playing hardball when necessary. He needs to work with Congress, particularly the stalwarts in his own party, to develop robust proposals that Republicans cannot and should not refuse. But if the Republicans dig in their heels, he needs to go the public to seek its support.
Surveys have shown that a majority of Americans believe in raising taxes for the rich, in controlling climate change, and in keeping programs like social security and Medicare intact. Polls also show that most Americans believe that the country is too divided, that politicians inside the beltway are out of touch with them, and that America can no longer afford to wage expensive fiascos like Iraq and Afghanistan. If the Republicans do not cooperate, Obama needs to publicize their obstinacy and let the American public send emails to Congress.
The tasks facing his second term are no less challenging than his first term. But he has the luxury to take risks now, since he will no longer be running for re-election. He can afford to be bold, to speak the truth, and to form an agenda for the new millennium.
During his first term, Obama remained secluded in the White House, neither reaching out to Congress nor the American public. It is only on the campaign trail that he finally took credit for gigantic achievements like rescuing the auto industry, preventing a financial meltdown, and passing healthcare reform, albeit limited.
Now, he can build on his accomplishments to further policies crucial for global survival. Climate change is the foremost among them. He must divert our focus from needless wars to the most important foreign policy issue of the day, namely, healing the planet before it drowns in floods. Obama hardly mentioned global warming during his first term. But now he must focus on it. Not only must America sign international treaties, but it must take leadership in guiding countries like China and India in the right direction.
The other priority for Obama is to get the best brains in the country together to brainstorm our economic policy. Why he did not do so in the first term, no one knows. Clinton’s 1992 slogan of “It’s the Economy Stupid,” remains as relevant today as ever. It should, in fact, be Obama’s tagline. If Obama does not formulate an economic policy to create jobs and restore America’s confidence, the right wing will push for its long-debunked supply side economics.
The administration must also oversee the smooth implementation of healthcare reform and the formulation of an immigration policy that is not too lax on illegal residents, nor too draconian.
Republicans will no doubt obstruct Obama every step of the way. But as the Chief Executive, Obama has at his disposal the one tool he knows how to use, namely communication. He must speak directly to the American public; he must inspire confidence and passion in his citizens; he must not be timid.
The election of 2012 was different from any other election in recent history because it signaled a sea change in American attitudes. For decades I have watched my adopted country get stuck in 1950s style debates on contraception, abortion, and family values while the world has progressed, so much so that America remains only one of three countries in the world without paid maternity leave. The other two countries are Swaziland and Papua New Guinea. Try to wrap your head around that!
In most countries today, free contraceptives are available as a part of public health campaigns while Americans still debate the issue. Leaders of America, the birthplace of feminism, still want to control women’s wombs by passing increasingly stricter legislation about abortion. Tax structures in America, too, have moved in a retrograde direction to benefit the aristocrats.
But in 2012 the American public sent a message to its leaders; that the country is ready to embrace the new millennium. That America must change to provide the moral and economic leadership the world sorely needs. In the post-World War-II era, America was a military superpower. But American adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have proven that the world needs a different kind of guidance now.
While Europe is plagued by financial woes and Asia remains in pursuit of unchecked economic growth, America is still the only country that can lead a global green revolution in alternative energy, sustainable development, and enlightened society.
Obama, the writer, the thinker, and the orator, has the vision and the insight to steer such a revolution.
In his first term, Obama’s role model was Lincoln, perhaps because he saw a country ideologically divided. In his second term, he should use Kennedy as his role model instead. He may never be able to change the opinions of retrograde politicians like Paul Ryan, John Boehner, or Mitch McConnell, but the world eagerly awaits his moral direction.
It is, after all, morning in America again.
Sarita Sarvate writes commentaries for Pacific News Service and KQED. Visitwww.saritasarvate.com