Obama Redux – A New Profile in Courage?

by George Kennedy on September 8, 2012

Obama Redux – A New Profile in Courage


In an immediate post-convention period, wavering progressives and independents, and some liberals, now feel more confident in supporting Barack Obama for a second term. This is despite a faltering economy. Obama now has to maintain their support. Romney, on the other hand, tenaciously clings to a strategy of ambiguity on every important issue: trust me and I will reveal my plans once I am in the White House.

Obama is the more known quantity and wavering voters may feel he is their best shot for the next four years. So, what could we be buying in Obama redux? Let’s return to the President’s Thursday night acceptance speech for clues. To begin, we saw a new profile in courage. The image he projected was of a proud, more confident, yet scarred, idealist-turned-realist; a president that has figured out how to wield presidential power in an age of extreme polarization and economic weakness. We saw a president acknowledge having fallen short in some areas but still confident he could finish what he started if we remained with him. This earned him a trust dividend he did not enjoy with many voters prior to the Democratic National Convention.

His spine has stiffened and he understands the value of political courage to Americans. If results are elusive, a president must have exhibited courage in their pursuit. It is all his supporters have to take home at the end of any issues’ debate. Should Obama regain the White House, he no longer has to fear governing as though he may lose.

On key pieces of legislation, to employ a sports metaphor, will Obama swing for the fences? Or, will he play an infield game? It is understood that any success he may enjoy in pushing important legislation through for his signature will depend upon which political party controls the House and the Senate.

There is perhaps a slim possibility several Republicans in both Houses may break ranks to support reasonable compromises. Depending upon the margin of an Obama victory (if that is the case), the GOP cannot take for granted the White House will be theirs in 2016 if the traditional stakeholders in government (the media, the public, advocacy organizations, and the press) begin to hold them accountable for refusing to cooperate with the President. One possible consequence of renewed obstructionism could be an intensive, widespread backlash against Citizens United and “corporate personhood”, perhaps led by the President himself. This would strike fear in the hearts of many Republicans. Also, the likelihood of another Clinton on the campaign trail in 2016 with a broad base of support from white women and independents might also resonate with other GOP presidential hopefuls.

The Power of the Bully Pull Pit: An Obama White House in a second term, in concert with newly-won allies, would likely focus more on the politics of success – infinitely more visible – than the invisibility of political process. FDR, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton mastered the craft of politics. If a second-term Obama has a shot at becoming other than a footnote in history (first African-American president), he, too, will have to master this dimension of his craft. Obama now appears prepared to take the offense and force his detractors in the Congress to work with him. A good place to start is to relaunch an earnest debate on the Jobs Act he introduced a year ago.

In fact, the President might be expected to take the gloves off and put the wood to the GOP to move the country forward, especially on job creation.

Meanwhile, the deadly troika of McConnell, Boehner, and Cantor (if he survives in November) will take their measure of the President – for whom they do not disguise their contempt.

The conversation now centers around where President Obama would take the country during a second term. Again, the speech by former President Clinton and President Obama’s acceptance speech are a good place to look for answers to that question. To paraphrase a well-known Democratic strategist, “It’s the economy!”

The President might take the bold step of proposing a 100-day “economic recovery plan” through a public-private sector alliance. Obama could offer tax incentives to those “to big to fail” corporations with billions in idle cash in offshore accounts willing to partner with the federal government to jointly fund domestic projects that put Americans back to work.

A modest second stimulus package funded with savings from a leaner and more efficient “defense” sector, combined with private sector funds, would provide seed capital to launch the recovery plan. Moreover, a recovery plan would inspire confidence among the ranks of the unemployed and on Wall Street. The reaction in global financial markets and among our principal trading partners also would be positive. The rest of the world is still invested in America’s recovery and in American success.

This new public-private initiative would focus on key sectors of the economy that create more good-paying manufacturing jobs, jobs in the energy sector (wind, solar and geothermal) and, jobs associated with rebuilding America’s infrastructure (roads, bridges, subways, sewer plants, airports and runways, hospitals, seaports, levees, water pipes, and fire stations).

We could expect the President to take the lead in proposing initiatives to put teachers, firefighters, police officers, nurses, and EMS personnel back to work. More public sector re-employment combined with new hires has an immediate impact on national unemployment levels and on state budgets.

There are other corollary benefits from focused presidential leadership. A more hopeful America turns outward, away from fear and division to inclusion and optimism as the economy and opportunity expand. We move away from “us” and “them” to community; a shared stake in more prosperity.

Federal funding for Medicaid would be sustained. The President has already promised never to degrade Medicare into a voucher program. Moreover, he would be a backstop to preserve and strengthen the full menu of women’s health care rights they depend upon to be healthy and in control of their lives. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) would remain the law of the land – a promise that provides a bulwark against “medical-bankruptcy” for tens of millions of Americans.

This country’s elderly and disabled, minorities, women, and youth would have a crucial partner in the White House, not just a detached Romney-style observer prepared to concede power to state officials whose goals are to quash the hopes, the dreams, and rights of millions of Americans.

Finally, America’s exceptional role in the world, already restored, would not be degraded by misguided American adventurism.

A second-term Obama would not undergo a complete personality and character transformation; let’s be realistic. However, a re-invigorated, emboldened President Obama would keep an eye on the outfield and, when it mattered, swing for the fences. There is that small matter of his legacy to consider.

President Obama, if re-elected, would again resurrect hope in the change he promised four years ago because the election will have validated Americans’ belief that their focus was on what’s best for them in the next four years, not on what transpired in the last four. In saving the president, they save themselves.

George Kennedy

George Kennedy is a retired senior Foreign Service officer with extensive international experience. He holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon and two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Mr. Kennedy was a political advisor to state and federal officials and has authored strategy pieces for Members of Congress and presidential candidates. He serves on the Advisory Board for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona.

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