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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Signs of liberal hope in Obama’s speeches

Published: February 28, 2013
Section: Opinions

A little less than two weeks ago, President Obama gave his State of the Union address, 24 days after being sworn in for a second term. This annual, constitutionally-mandated event, once again affords us the opportunity to reflect upon not only what we Americans have thought of the term that had recently ended, but also upon the outlook for the next four years under the Obama administration.

Last November, after a long and bitter campaign, Barack Obama was re-elected president with 51 percent of the popular vote and 332 electoral votes. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party strengthened their majority in the Senate. Even then, Americans were probably justified in feeling a little underwhelmed and disappointed with Obama’s first four years. Obama made history in 2008 by becoming the first black president after running an organized and spirited campaign that inspired a generation. Despite his efforts, he only ended up being stonewalled by a united and increasingly conservative Republican opposition in Congress on a number of key initiatives.

Sure, the fact that the Republicans were so unwilling to compromise and so willing to undermine the president at any cost is not the fault of the Obama administration. There is no hiding the fact that he made a string of promises to the American people in 2008 and has thus far struggled to keep many of them.

Because of a sputtering economy, undelivered promises and an almost continuous state of deadlock in the nation’s capital, some expected the president to struggle for re-election or, at the very least, for the Democrats to lose control of the Senate. Yet, that did not happen. Obama’s campaign used the advantage of incumbency to build an early—albeit slim—lead that was never relinquished. Senate Democrats pounced on several mistakes made by Republicans in order to strengthen their position in the Senate, the result of which has sparked debate among political commentators. Did Obama simply run a smarter campaign operation? Was Mitt Romney too boring, too out of touch and too fundamentally flawed as a candidate to beat a president who naturally had more charisma and personal appeal?

While the answers vary greatly across the spectrum, the results seem to indicate that although voters were indeed somewhat dissatisfied with the first term, Romney and the Republicans had simply drifted too far right to appeal to the majority of voters as a viable alternative. Nevertheless, when all is said and done, the second term has begun and administration must now contemplate how to move forward.

I, for one, believe that Obama should take a firmer approach to his second term. Since he no longer has to worry about re-election, Obama can focus his energy on pursuing initiatives to which he is truly committed. As his Senate voting record demonstrates, Obama is a liberal-minded politician, and he should now be more free to be himself and to stick to his own principles.

The Inaugural Address and the State of the Union show encouraging signs of this. Even though I’m sure the Republicans had already prepared their critical remarks even before Obama wrote the two speeches, the president stuck to his liberal position in both. In his Inaugural Address, Obama reaffirmed his support for equal treatment of gay couples and advocated for increased investment in education. In the State of the Union address, he proposed raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour as well as instilling more programs to renew America’s infrastructure—all of which, liberals would be quick to support. The president should continue in this vein and govern more with his instinctively liberal conscience throughout the next four years.

Naturally, there are hurdles with this approach—as there are with any. The Republicans saw their continued majority in the House as vindication of their extreme conservative positions and have made it clear that they will continue to be unyielding and uncompromising in their quest to chip away at the size of government. If Obama pushes forward with liberal initiatives, bipartisanship is evidently not going to get any easier. I would, however, argue that given the state of the modern Republican Party, bipartisanship is practically impossible without doing something that would harm the country.

Sure, bipartisanship is a noble ideal to which to aspire, but an administration with sound policies that gets things done should not be sacrificed for it. Let’s not forget that the American people re-elected Obama after he instituted nationwide health care, banking reform and the allowance of gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. I encourage the president to call the Republicans’ bluff, for I believe that if the president sticks to the progressive policies that the country needs with a united Democratic Party, then the country will eventually come to recognize the good that he has done.