The tone of the upcoming presidential inauguration is a far cry from the last. When President Obama was first inaugurated, we got uplifting rhetoric and the promise of hope and change that was proven, at best, to have been only partially realized over the last four years.
In place of hope and change, division and partisanship in Washington mark the president’s second inauguration. To some degree this is unsurprising as Obama was reelected more by an angry electorate that had no confidence that challenger Mitt Romney would offer a credible alternative. There was a begrudging sense that it was worth giving Obama a second term, but no great mandate.
What did not come in the campaign or the start of Obama’s second term is a vision for how we solve our intractable problems. Direction and specifics as to how we balance our budget, reduce our debt and deficit. A conciliatory plan for how we get out of our fiscal mess.
This is a far larger issue than just getting past the fiscal cliff or the latest incarnation of the debt ceiling crisis or how we fend off sequestration. What is our overall strategy to revive America?
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I have been a fervent supporter of the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan and think that offers the best framework available, but the President owes it to us to tell us what he is going to do and how he is going to get there with specificity. He will have to make hard choices on entitlements and, yes, compromise with House Republicans.
The American people need to have some sense as to what our nation’s foreign policy is and will be in the coming years. There has indeed been a reluctance to send troops and a willingness to use drones, but we do not have a sense of what the overarching policy of the administration is in terms of Iran, North Korea, Russia and China amongst others. We need these answers.
And we are in very large measure looking for leadership and a sense of what the president stands for. Whether you like him or not, George W. Bush told the American people what he stood for and what his vision was. We do not have that kind of clarity with President Obama beyond his support for the middle class which is no doubt important, but not an overall strategic vision for running the country.
The challenges we are facing now are extraordinary. Unemployment is still too high at 7.9 percent. The debt is at $16.4 trillion and the deficit at $1.1 trillion. We all know that something needs to be done about these unacceptable figures, but there is no plan to make any meaningful change.
It follows that at Obama’s second inauguration, the American people are looking for a specific vision of leadership, consensus building and a willingness to reach out to Republicans – even intransigent Republicans – who have not shown much inclination to bargain, but with whom the president must negotiate with for a better America in his second term. We have little chance of recovery and growth otherwise.