Toward the end of his victory speech early Wednesday morning, President Obama returned to the candidate of four years ago, and even earlier. He echoed the words that propelled him onto the national stage, about the country finding ways to get beyond the clash of red and blue one to act as one. He didn’t attempt to recapture all of the hope and change. Those days have long passed, many lessons delivered, and some still to learn. Yet the ambition remains.
In his second term, the president would do well to aim big, fueled by a strong enough showing in the Electoral College, the first Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt to win re-election with 50 percent of the vote. Many familiar obstacles could stand in the way. Yet many problems are lined up, ready to be addressed — if only the parties can get past the permanent campaign and take time to govern constructively, yes, compromise.
At this point, you would think in view of the changing electorate Republicans would be ready to bridge differences on immigration policy. A framework long has been apparent. The same goes for the approaching “fiscal cliff” and deficit-reduction for the long term, the president signaling his readiness for a balanced package of spending cuts and tax increases. He may encounter the usual Republican resistance. What he must do better is frame the choices for the country, and in doing so apply pressure to the opposition.
Part of that involves building a less insular administration, tapping talented and formidable figures to help drive the agenda. He must develop better relations with the business community, deploying Bill Gates, say, who advocates accelerated research and development of new energy sources.
If such compromise proves elusive, the president still has much on his agenda, completing the considerable work he already has begun. Those who jabbed the president for lacking a plan for his second term missed a larger point. The landmark Affordable Care Act must be implemented. The same goes for financial regulation, expanding exports, meeting the mandate of the Clean Air Act and pushing forward changes in public education sparked by the Race to the Top.
These and other initiatives of the past four years deserved to be secured. In Ohio, the auto rescue may well have provided the margin of victory for the president. Yet it is many of these other elements, including changes to student loans, that point to the economic transition the state has launched and must sustain.
In this campaign, Republicans appeared determined to run against the first year of the Obama presidency, when the economy crashed around him, 4.5 million jobs lost. On Tuesday, a majority of voters preferred the measure of all four years. A strong foundation has been laid, and there remains the potential for something bigger.