Can the next four years be better than the last with the same president in the same divided country?
Barack Obama won a moderately close victory over Mitt Romney on Tuesday. But oddly, nothing much has changed. The country is still split nearly 50/50. There is still a Democratic president, and an almost identically Democratic Senate at war with an almost identically Republican House, in a Groundhog Day America.Obama’s win did not really reflect affirmation of his first term, given that the president made only halfhearted efforts to defend Obamacare, the stimulus, huge Keynesian deficits, and his attempts to implement cap-and-trade. So if there is a second-term agenda, even Obama supporters don’t quite know what it will be.
Unlike the hope-and-change campaign of 2008, Obama’s theme this time around was that George W. Bush had been awful and Mitt Romney would be far worse. The Obama campaign spent almost $1 billion to brand the latter as a veritable felon who callously let people suffer without health insurance.
In textbook community-organizing fashion, Obama won the election by brilliantly cobbling together factions with shrill warnings of supposed enemies everywhere. Young women were threatened by sexist Neanderthal males. Minorities were oppressed by neo-Confederate tea partiers. Greens were in danger from greedy smokestack polluters.
Gays were bullied by homophobic Evangelicals. Illegal aliens were demonized by xenophobic nativists. And the 47 percent were at the mercy of the grasping 1 percent. Almost any American could fall into the category of either an Obama-aligned victim or a Romney-aligned oppressor.
How, then, can a reelected President Obama put the fractured American Humpty Dumpty together again after it has been shattered by such a nasty campaign? Certainly, it will no longer work for the president merely to wax eloquent on the need for more civility. Instead, his congressional opponents will expect more hardball Chicago politics and will probably reply in kind.
Yet Obama is going to need bipartisan help to solve a number of menacing crises. His $1 trillion deficits cannot continue for another four years without wrecking the country. A staggering national debt of nearly $17 trillion must also be reduced before our currency is rendered worthless and the interest on the vast borrowing overwhelms the budget. Sequestration looms, with massive cuts in defense and entitlements on the immediate horizon, reminding us that we can live neither with the disease of massive borrowing nor apparently with the medicine of radical cuts and higher taxes.
If most Americans are willing to consider allowing paths to citizenship for law-obeying illegal aliens who were brought here as children, then they should be equally adamant about deporting illegals who have committed felonies or have become wards of the state. But does anyone believe such a balance will really be the basis for compromise?
The dread of Obamacare has already helped to spike insurance premiums. No one yet quite knows how the massive wave of new regulations will affect patients, doctors, and hospitals. Nearly three years after the bill’s passage, the public is still not happy with even the idea of it.
Abroad, most believe that Iran will become a nuclear power unless it is stopped during Obama’s second term. Obama’s choices are bad versus worse: a nuclear-armed Iran bullying the Middle East with a sword of Damocles permanently suspended over Israel’s head, or a preemptive war to defang the theocracy, leading to an almost certain wave of terrorism in the Middle East and a flaming Persian Gulf.
There must be truth-telling soon over the terrorist killing of our ambassador and three other Americans in Libya. A mostly pro-Obama media — in fear of endangering the president’s reelection bid — postponed questioning the preposterous administration narrative of a spontaneous demonstration gone awry over an obscure video.
But the facts of the worst terrorist attack on Americans since 9/11/01 remain stubborn things and won’t go away. Al-Qaeda has not been dismantled, but is still killing Americans. Libya is not a model of a democratic Arab Spring, but mired in tribal chaos.
Key administration officials — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, especially — will have to explain why prior warnings from Libya were ignored, with fatal consequences. Others, like Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, U.N. ambassador Susan Rice, Vice President Joe Biden, and perhaps the president himself, must tell us why for so long they claimed that the violence was spontaneous, when they knew, or should have known, it was preplanned terrorism.
Yet not everything ahead is bleak. Vast new gas and oil finds could soon make America energy independent. The American economy is cyclical and may finally rebound on its own — if Obama just leaves it alone and stops regulating and borrowing.
Popular lore attests that insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. Let’s hope that the same Democratic president, the same polarized Congress, and the same divided country do something differently from what they did in the last, lost four years.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The End of Sparta. You can reach him by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2012 Tribune Media Services