At noon today we will witness the inauguration of Barak Hussein Obama, the first African American to hold the Oval Office, to a second term as President of the United States of America.
At 12:01 the President will be the only politician in attendance looking toward the long term future of the country. Everyone else will be looking toward the next election.
And therein lays the conflict.
The president comes into his second term with the wind at his back. He was elected for the second time by a majority of the popular vote; joining FDR as the only two presidents to have achieved that level of support. Obama’s approval rating stands at 52%. 74% of Americans say they like him personally.
His Republican opponents are not fairing as well. The Republican Party approval rating stands at an anemic 26%. Their primary spokesperson, Speaker John Boehner, is looked kindly upon by only 18% of the people. The Tea Party caucus, which controls the Republican message, has a 9% approval rating.
One would expect that the president’s popularity with the people would allow him to move his agenda through the legislative process. However Obama’s opponents have refused to recognize his advantage in the polls and have blocked him at every turn.
Just yesterday freshman Republican Senator Ted Cruze, while appearing on “Meet the Press,” had the temerity to accuse the president of using the deaths of the Sandy Hook victims for political gain. Cruze has roughly five minutes experience in the senate. He is a “back bencher “to the “nth” degree. Yet he felt embolden by the current political climate to use his national television debut to attack the president.
Such is the climate in Washington...an atmosphere where crass political commentary is accepted and even encouraged. For if you are a political figure who dares to compromise across party lines you will be buried…if not in the press today then certainly at the polls in the next election.
The president shares some blame for this toxic atmosphere. It is well known that he is loathe to participate in the back room dealings of politics. He has been called out by members of congress, both Democrats and Republicans, for his failure to establish personal relationships with the legislative branch of government. He has been called the most insulated president in our history.
Certainly the president has reached out only to have his hand slapped away. But if you need to lose 30 pounds you can’t quit dieting after failing to lose the weight on the first day. Personal relationships evolve over time and personal relationships are important in Washington. It is no coincidence that Vice President Biden, and his decades of experience on the Hill, was called upon to lead talks on the fiscal cliff and why he has been the point man on gun control.
The president, whether he likes it or not, is a politician. This is the job he has chosen. Schmoozing, glad handing and back room deals are part of the job.
Today we expect to hear the same soaring rhetoric that has come to define this president. We expect that he will deliver a positive message about the future of the country. We expect that he will appeal to the collective “we” and what “we” can do if we work together toward a common goal. We expect that he will use his brilliant mind and inspirational rhetoric to inspire the country to renew the American dream.
The question is…when all the speeches have been given and the bands have stopped playing…will this president do the heavy lifting required to get things moving in Washington.
Every president contemplates his legacy. How will the history view his terms in office? The clock on the president’s second term is ticking. By every measure the president has 18 months to define his second term. After that the mid-term elections and lame duck status hold serve. The country cannot afford another tem of gridlock.
This president can affect change. His very presence behind the presidential seal is ample evidence of that. But it will require more than soaring rhetoric to move his agenda forward.
It is time for this president to come down from the mountain top…to do the basic, back room, nuts and bolts gritty work that is necessary to get things done for the country.
The clock is ticking…