This year’s inauguration day represents something far different from the one that took place four years ago. While we heard about hope and change from a first term President Obama we now know that this vision for America wasn’t necessarily a pipedream, but was a concept that was certainly not realized over the last four years.
To be sure, there is a cloud of partisanship and infighting within Congress than hangs over Obama’s second inauguration. After the most divisive presidential campaign in recent memory this is not all that surprising, especially considering that Obama was reelected largely because the electorate rejected Romney and the extremism of the Republican party. Americans gave Obama a second term, but begrudgingly.
All of this raises the question of what we should expect from President Obama on inauguration day and what we need to hear from him. We have waited four years and sat through a grueling campaign for the President to tell us what his vision is for America and how we will solve our intractable problems.
As the fight over the fiscal cliff at the end of last year and the current negotiations over the debt ceiling have shown, we need a plan for how we are going to reduce our debt, deficit and reform entitlements now more than ever. The Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan – a plan that I have supported since 2010 – surely offers answers to our fiscal mess. Even a less aggressive version, like the plan Senator Kent Conrad has advocated for, would at least offer the American people direction and specifics and, indeed, hope for the future.
We need a strategy to revive America and the President owes it to us to tell us what his strategy is. And if there isn’t one as of yet, President Obama will have to compromise and work with Republicans to ensure that we have plan that doesn’t just kick the can down the road, but provides a long lasting solution to our fiscal mess.
The President must also make clear his vision for our nation’s foreign policy going forward. We are living in truly uncertain times and are facing great threats from a nearly nuclear Iran, from North Korea as well as Russia and China. We know that there has been a reluctance to send troops and a willingness to use drones, but what will the overarching policy of the next Obama administration be?
I was always skeptical of President Obama’s hope and change rhetoric. But it is at this inauguration, his second, that President Obama has the chance to be the leader that he said he was four years ago. He can give us a true sense of what he stands for, a crucial quality in any great president.
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 need a plan to do something about these figures. And the President is the only one who can give it to us.
This inauguration is all about specificity and precision. The promise of hope and change will not be enough to get through another four years – we need a realistic president who is ready to compromise and reach out to Republicans who have yet to show an inclination to cooperate but with whom the President must work with for all our benefit. This is the true challenge Obama faces and that which will make or break his legacy.