President Obama - Four years left to make good history
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Four years after his first inauguration, US President Barack Obama yesterday officially assumed office for the second time in a Capitol Hill ceremony that seemed more rooted in what is possible than the exceptionally optimistic and deeply emotional events of 2009.
Bruised by the cold lessons of over-reach, a certain sobriety supplanted the stardust yesterday.
Mr Obama’s second term did not open with the spine-tingling rhetoric of four years ago, or a cheering, flag-waving million-strong crowd in Washington. How could it? Four years of uncompromising and struggle with everything from the worst economic circumstances since the 1930s and seemingly unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may have tempered Mr Obama’s idea of what can actually be achieved.
The relentless, visceral Republican opposition in Congress must have been energy-sapping and deeply frustrating as well. Attempts to try to confront an economy in crisis were too often delayed because of philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans, so much so that it is fair to accuse Republicans of a bloody mindedness and opportunism that had a negative impact on the lives of tens of thousands of Americans.
It would be dishonest, though, not to acknowledge that some who believed his first victory was another momentous step along a long and difficult road towards an America where the ideal is the practice, where possibility and achievement march together, are not bitterly disappointed. How could they not be?
Who could have believed, on that brisk, promising day in 2009, that the detention centre at Guantánamo Bay would still be a blot on America’s record as Mr Obama was sworn in for a second term? Who would have believed that America’s fascination with guns would become such a lethal and divisive issue? Who would have believed that resolving something as daft as allowing citizens access to military-grade firearms would demand so much effort and political capital?
History will partially judge Mr Obama on what he has achieved since 2009, but will judge him fully on the balance sheet that cannot be finalised for another four years. The issues are many and daunting — two expensive and draining wars; building the Capitol Hill unity needed to make major advances in rejuvenating the US and world economies; immigration reform to recognise the reality of today’s America; the environment; growing terrorism across the Middle East and now North Africa; America’s relationship with an increasingly aggressive Israel; soaring illiteracy rates among America’s poorest communities; and the relentless march of China and that country’s almost insatiable appetite for raw materials are all issues that demand attention if nor resolution.
Mr Obama is not short of opportunities to make good history and, despite the disappointments of the last four years, or maybe because of them, it is still possible to belive that, by 2017, it might be possible to name him among America’s great presidents. Let us hope that, when that time comes, we can.
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