As President Obama assumed office for his second term yesterday, we were encouraged to look forward, but we must also look back.
In his first term of office, President Obama signed landmark health care legislation, began to reform Wall Street, provided much needed stimuli to an ailing economy, had faith in the American auto industry, took hawkish banks out of student loans, toppled Gaddafi, ordered the mission to eliminate Bin Laden and did much more.
These major accomplishments are notable, but sadly those aren’t the only things I remember when I look back at Obama’s first term.
I remember Rep. Joe Wilson yelling, “You lie!” during the State of the Union. I remember Sen. Mitch McConnell proclaiming that the number one goal of congressional Republicans is to make Obama a one-term president, selecting gamesmanship over progress.
I remember Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor putting the United States’ credit rating in jeopardy in the debt ceiling fight of 2011. I remember Donald Trump and other “birthers” prancing around the country questioning the president’s citizenship.
I remember just last month, when given the option of protecting his speakership or finding compromise with President Obama, Speaker Boehner selected the former and nearly sent our country over “the cliff” and our markets into a spiral. Instead of meeting Obama in the middle with a comprehensive package, Boehner opted for “Plan B” and brought the country to the edge.
All of these stunts came at times when Americans were less certain about their future than ever. People looked for solutions. Instead they found gridlock and obstructionism.
The source of these problems is twofold. The first is the Tea Party, the latest splinter group in American politics.
Former U.S. Rep. Steven LaTourette best describes today’s Republican Party. LaTourette — a moderate Republican — decided not to run for a 10th term in Congress.
He explained to Washington reporters that he would not run again because there is no common ground left — that to rise in the party ranks as a Republican, you have to trade in “your wallet and your voting card” to the extreme part of the party.
The second source of obstructionism is the politics of winners and losers. Americans vote based on the political scoreboard, rather than on substance. Politicians know that the best pitch in an election cycle is “I stood my ground.”
In American politics today, meeting in the middle is not far from giving in to the other side. So instead of everyone giving a little, nobody gives anything and compromise is impossible.
I hope that when historians look back on the Obama presidency, they will see more than hyper-partisan vitriol and the politics of winners and losers.
We can’t historically rate his presidency yet, but Obama certainly deserves a chance to make his mark.
He has not had the opportunity to create a New Deal, Great Society, New Beginning or any lasting doctrine. This is not his fault — it is the result of partisanship, gridlock and vitriol.
Only 44 Americans know how the country looks from behind the Oval Office’s oak desk. History remembers the records of those that hold the presidential office far more than any public figure. We look back at the Reagan and the Bush years, not the O’Neill and the Pelosi years.
The issues on the horizon will give President Obama — as well as Congress — a chance to make a historic mark. Immigration reform, tax reform and gun control are all issues that will not only change the laws in our books, but also American culture — the way we perceive ourselves and our country.
Progress can be made, uncertainty diminished and equality better guaranteed if Obama and congressional Republicans give each other a fair shot.
In the next four years, the only thing I can hope for is a chance — something every president deserves. As a nation, we believed in “hope and change,” then again in “forward,” but now we must believe in a chance.
A chance for President Obama to meet a Republican Party in search of compromise and a chance to have a say in the history that will define him.
Adam Silver is a College junior and master of public administration candidate from Scottsdale, Ariz. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him @adamtsilver. “The Silver Lining” usually appears every other Thursday.
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