Mr. Troy is Professor of History at McGill University, and the author, most recently, of
The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction, (OUP) and
Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents: George Washington to Barack Obama . His other books include: Hillary Rodham Clinton: Polarizing First Lady and Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s. He is a member of the advisory board of HNN. His website is giltroy.com. His next book “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight against Zionism as Racism” will be published this fall by Oxford University Press.
It Is Now Obamerica -- Barack is No Obamanomaly
Obama rally on election night in Chicago. Credit: Flickr/WCHI News.
On Election Day, Americans gave Barack Obama a second shot at immortality. Four years earlier, the achievement was in the election itself, the election of an African American who described himself as a skinny guy with a funny name. This time around, the achievement is going to have to be in the achievements.
Election Day taught those who had not already grasped this essential lesson that we now live in Obamerica. Obamerica is multiracial, not just white. It has many religions and many secularists, not just Protestants. It has many different forms of living arrangements, not just the mom, the dad, 2.2 kids, the white picket fence and the suburban garage. It is multicultural, multiethnic, less monolithic, more diverse sociologically, ideologically, politically.
Had Barack Obama lost, his election could have been dismissed as an Obamanomaly, a fluke -- or, more accurately, a premature warning. But the new America that Obama represents and leads was best illustrated in the competing optics of the two political party conventions this summer. The Republican convention looked like a Midwestern church social, overwhelmingly white, square, traditional. The Democratic convention looked like an urban club scene, multiracial, hip, progressive. And the numbers on Election Day confirmed this -- Obama’s army of African Americans, Hispanic Americans, young Americans, well-educated Americans, and women triumphed over Romney’s white-bread coalition of the well-bred -- and their wannabes.
Just as the classic American political movie The Candidate ends with an unexpected electoral victory and the unnerving question “What do we do now?” Obama must figure out “What do we do now?” Part of the answer is watch and wait. There is this phenomenon called the business cycle. Had Obama been forcibly retired this week, the 7.9 percent unemployment rate would have defined him. Now, he has four years to watch the markets continue to recover, and Americans retool, revive, and return to prosperity.
But passivity is not an option in 2012; waiting is not enough. The first major challenge Obama must face is the Republicans’ enduring enmity. The man who promised to change Washington and heal the nation cannot continue to be proof that Washington is gridlocked and the nation hopelessly divided. It is not just this looming “fiscal cliff” of nearly $500 billion in automatic cuts and tax hikes to fight the deficit. Obama’s legacy will be shaped by his ability to live up to his 2008 vow to create a new kind of politics. Blaming Republican obstructionism for his failure is not good enough.
In addition to fording the gap with Republicans and not falling off the economic cliff, Obama has to worry about the unemployment pit, the health care fog and the Middle East morass. Too many Americans are unemployed and need to rejoin the work force. Obamacare still remains too complex, and too undefined -- now the Ppresident has a chance to oversee its implementation. And the messes in Iran and Syria, Libya -- and who knows where next -- still loom large.
Finally, Obama has to worry about the second term curse. Second term presidents quickly become lame ducks -- and have recently run into real trouble: Richard Nixon with the Watergate hearings, Ronald Reagan with Iran-Contra, Bill Clinton with the Lewinsky scandal, and George W. Bush with the great crash. Presidential power starts ebbing as inauguration day ends. Obama has to figure out how to show the people that he is in charge, that he has a vision, and that he can do the difficult, complex but critical job, Obamerica just rehired him to do.