If Obama wishes to succeed during his second term, he must address the quagmire of DDG—deadlock, debt, and guns. His must build consensus within a deeply divided nation in which there is no longer a shared worldview.
What, then, will be Obama’s greatest challenges over the course of the next four years?
1. The Fiscal Cliff
Avoiding the fiscal cliff is a national feel good. But the true test of the president’s governing capabilities will be his ability to reduce the cost of the entitlement programs, pay down our debt, and still “grow” the economy even as he provides incentives for businesses, improves infrastructure, advances education, and facilitates America’s technological advantage throughout the world.
Only eighteen out of fifty states, as Alex Wayne pointed out, have agreed to set up health-insurance exchanges for uninsured Americans eligible for coverage beginning January 1, 2014. Consequently, the federal government will assume the lion’s share of responsibility for administering Obamacare.
According to Sally Pipes, the costs associated with funding Obamacare are significant, at least one trillion and possibly as much as $2.5 trillion in the first ten years it’s fully operational (2014-2023). In 2013 alone, five new taxes to finance Obamacare are being introduced. Another significant round of taxes are scheduled for 2014. According to the Manhattan Institute, just the excise tax on medical-device companies, which is slated to begin January 1, 2013, could result in as many as 43,000 layoffs and a loss of $3.5 billion in associated employee compensation.
Let’s hope that what should have been a simple health care bill to serve the needs of struggling Americans doesn’t become the whale that swallows Jonah.
3. Our Escalating Debt
Given the outcome of the 2012 presidential election, the question must be asked: Can Obama significantly reduce our exponentially increasing debt given that his supporters are committed to social welfare programs regardless of our nation’s ability to pay for them?
Conservatives think individuals must take responsibility. Progressives feel there is more than enough money to fund welfare programs and tend to believe that if wealthy people are taxed more that the nation’s fiscal problems can be resolved even when the financial numbers suggest otherwise. These perceptions are grounded in profound differences in worldview that won’t be easily reconciled even if we were to find a way to fund entitlement programs without significantly increasing the debt.
Perspectives about guns—as with debt, entitlement programs, and attitudes about work—are deeply rooted in worldview. But the issue of guns is even more fraught with divisiveness. Not only is the “right to keep and bear arms” specified in the Second Amendment of our Constitution, for many Americans it remains a deeply personal matter of choice based on foundational beliefs about freedom and individual responsibility unhampered by government and social restraints.
But if we could find a public policy solution toward cigarette smoking, balancing the societal health risks with the desire on the part of some Americans to smoke, why can’t we begin to find a solution to the issue of gun control? The gun industry has failed to regulate itself while innocent Americans are increasingly killed by shooters armed with assault-type weapons and semi-automatic guns. Now let’s hope that Obama can work with all interested parties to achieve an effective resolution to this terrible problem.
5. Ensuring that America governs from a position of strength rather than weakness.
For Obama, the end game isn’t, strictly speaking, national: it’s global. But the reality is that he wasn’t elected as a global leader. He was elected to represent American interests and ensure our continued success both nationally and globally. This must be done while simultaneously balancing the budget and modifying entitlement programs in order that they can serve the needs of both present and future generations of Americans. Let’s hope Obama realizes that without economic wealth there can be no government- mandated social justice.
Will Obama remember as he begins his second term that his job as president is to serve all Americans, not just those who may have elected him? A great president works hard to advance the dreams and opportunities of each and every one of us. We expect nothing less from President Obama.
Dr. Diana E. Sheets, an iFoundry Fellow and Research Scholar at the University of Illinois, writes literary criticism, political commentary, and fiction. You can view her work at www.LiteraryGulag.com.