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A LETTER FOR THE SECOND TERM
A LETTER FOR THE SECOND TERM
Congratulations, Mr. President, you are our 17th Chief Executive to have been elected for two terms. Included in that group are the greatest presidents- Lincoln, Washington, FDR, Jefferson; a few good ones- Monroe, Jackson; a share of fair to mediocre- Cleveland, Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton; and some clunkers- Grant, Nixon, G.W. Bush. Which category will Barack Obama fall into when your second term is complete? Sadly, history is not on your side. Besides Washington and Monroe (Lincoln not getting to serve his second four years due to assassination), it is difficult to name a president whose second stint was as productive as the first. The past 40 years were particularly harsh in this regard. Nixon resigned in 1974, one year into his second term. The Iran-Contra and insider trader scandals tainted Ronald Reagan’s second go-around. Bill Clinton, of course, went through the impeachment process over Monica-gate in 1998, five years into his presidency. G.W. Bush was mired down in Iraq and Afghanistan, endured Hurricane Katrina, and watched the economy collapse before his second term mercifully ended. Thus, the portents for 2013-17 are not good, Mr. President, but hopefully you can be an exception to the sophomore jinx.
So far, you have shown to be a good fund-raiser and campaigner, with two electoral victories. You were proficient at public events and representing the U.S. overseas during the numerous foreign trips taken. Beyond that, I believe it would be a disservice to you and the country not to say the first four years were poor to mediocre at best. I voted for you twice and wish for your success. I am not qualified to give advice on how to be a good president, but would only suggest looking to your great predecessors to help guide your actions. The top ones- Washington, Lincoln, FDR, in particular- made tremendous sacrifices to help the nation through perilous periods. I am hard-pressed to cite a single example of where you, your administration, or the federal government in general has made a significant sacrifice to help the country during the Great Recession of your first term.
I realize that the system as it currently exists makes it difficult to get things done. You and members of Congress require the donations from Big Business to get elected and stay in office. Their influence makes measures such as the Stimulus package and Obama Care, though well-intentioned, less effective than they could be. Second terms are when presidents try to establish their legacy. You have said you want to be known as the Asian president, who increased our influence in that region of the world. Being the first Chief Executive to visit Myanmar is nice, but will mean little if the United States goes down the tubes. You did note on many occasions during the campaign that we needed to concentrate on nation-building at home. How much more exalted to be the president who championed a constitutional amendment to eliminate private funding of federal campaigns. Special interests are the bane of Washington, and the main reason stagnation persists there. Perhaps beckon back to the trust-buster Teddy Roosevelt for inspiration. He battled with some success the huge corporations that were strangling the capital in his day.
A primary job of the president is to explain to the people what needs to be done and why. In this regard, it may help to study Abraham Lincoln and FDR, the finest communicators the presidency has known. So much of the angst and anxiety concerning Obama Care seems to arise because nobody understands how it will work and be paid for. Things are probably only going to get worse as the implementation dates for the major provisions start to roll around in the next two years, unless, Mr. President, you tell the nation clearly what is coming and who is paying the bill for it. In addition, it is okay, could even be taken as a sign of strength, to admit Obama Care can be improved and streamlined. Unfortunately, proper communication was also very much lacking in the handling of the Benghazi tragedy. The following quote from Lincoln might provide guidance as that mess is cleaned-up and for future incidents: “Men moving only in an official circle, are apt to become merely official- not to say arbitrary- in their ideas.” You will be judged by posterity, Mr. Obama, not your staff or advisors. Grievous mistakes were made that resulted in the deaths of 4 Americans.
Errors honestly acknowledged are much more readily acceptable to the American people than the response the White House presented in the aftermath of the attack. I will not speculate on the motive for what at a minimum appeared to be a disingenuous effort to cloud the issue, and, at worst, could be construed as blatant lying to the nation. It is sobering and unsettling to think that someone believed maintaining a political narrative (al-Qaeda is on its last legs because we killed bin-Laden) or protecting your re-election campaign from damaging revelations were more important than the lives lost in Libya. Such a person or persons have lost touch with reality and are indeed arbitrary in their ideas. Throwing U.N. ambassador Susan Rice under the bus to try and calm the storm reflects very badly on your administration as well.
The fiscal cliff was averted, at least temporarily. Liberal pundits claimed victory for you, Mr. President, as taxes will rise on the wealthiest Americans, fulfilling your campaign pledge. I see little to celebrate in a deal that will not make a dent in the federal deficit, after all the time-wasting, unnecessary drama required to get it done. You chastised Congress for its inaction, before returning on vacation in Hawaii, but like your staff, no one in 100 years will remember John Boehner, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, or Mitch McConnell. History will note, however, that Barack Obama was president during an era when Washington behaved like a snail inching backwards. You are the Chief Executive. You need to lead. There was a blueprint that could have been followed (and still can) from the administration of the president you most like to compare yours to: Franklin Roosevelt.
I happen to agree that the rich should pay more in taxes after years of skirting the system through loopholes and deductions. You felt winning the election gave a mandate to raise taxes, but at the same time, the Republicans still control the House of Representatives, allowing them a say in the process. Stating, right off the bat, that any deal would have to contain a tax hike on the wealthy, ensured that gridlock and the fiscal cliff debacle would ensue. Why? Nobody won, the country lost. Pointless political posturing, unfortunately, seems the only plausible answer. When FDR took office in 1933, he wanted to increase federal spending dramatically for work programs to combat the Great Depression. To swing conservative Democrats and Republicans behind his agenda, he knew the government would have to sacrifice, to show Washington was doing its share. He slashed all government salaries by 15%, including his own. A drastic step, but extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. A similar gesture on your part, Mr. Obama, would have defused the whole fiscal cliff nonsense, and made a tax increase much more palatable to the Republicans. The air would also have been cleared for you and Congress to sit down and begin serious discussions on how to grow the economy, while reining in the deficit.
You have to show the nation that you are in earnest, Mr. President. A good start would be to cancel the post-inaugural festivities on January 20, once more following FDR’s lead. He and wife, Eleanor, thought it would be inappropriate to celebrate his second-taking of the presidential oath in 1937, when millions were still destitute from the Great Depression. You have been given a second chance to be a good president, Mr. Obama. Please seize it.