It was one year ago today that President Obama won a second term in office and, in his victory speech, set forth a vision of the work that lay ahead.
“Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual,” Obama said. “You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together. Reducing our deficit. Reforming our tax code. Fixing our immigration system. Freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We've got more work to do.”
That checklist hasn’t changed much over the last year. Washington’s budget battles continue, comprehensive tax reform remains elusive and the president’s immigration reform has stalled out. The U.S. is, at least, set to overtake Russia as the world’s largest oil producer.
In his victory speech, Obama barely mentioned his signature policy achievement – the Obamacare reform that has, since the troubled launch of the HealthCare.gov site last month, wiped out any momentum the administration might have had coming off its victory in the government shutdown and debt ceiling standoff.
The Obamacare debacle has quickly pulled President Obama back to earth, leaving his approval rating in George W. Bush territory. Obama’s approval rating dropped to 39 percent in Gallup’s daily tracking poll Tuesday – the lowest it has been since October 2011, and one percentage point lower than George W. Bush’s approval rating at this same point in his presidency. Obama’s current approval rating is still higher than Bush’s second-term Gallup average of 37 percent.
What happens next, though, depends on whether the White House can get Obamacare fixed – and how quickly that can happen. But if history is any indication, the president’s second term is on a dangerous path. All of the two-term American presidents in recent history saw their presidencies derailed by scandal or by failures of leadership in their second term.
For Bush, the botched response to Hurricane Katrina and the disastrous Iraq war made him a lame duck in his second stint in the Oval Office. Bill Clinton’s presidency was derailed by the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Ronald Reagan’s second term was clouded by the Iran contra affair. And Richard Nixon’s time in office ended with his resignation over Watergate.
It’s still too early to make a judgment on how Obama’s presidency will unfold. Getting the health exchanges up and running by the end of the month as promised would be a good sign. But the true test of Obama's second term will come when enrollment figures are tallied in March. Without 7 million people signing up, Obamacare could well collapse under its own weight.
In other words, Obama still has time to salvage his second term and his legacy, but history doesn’t bode well.
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