By Moe Sihota
"I've learned from you, you've made me a better President."
Those were the most telling words from President Barack Obama's victory speech on election night (November 6).
Against the backdrop of a struggling economy and disillusioned electorate, the president had to contemplate the prospect of defeat. In the days following his lackluster performance in the first debate, the polls confirmed that his re-election was at risk. Under those circumstances, any politician would reflect on what he had done right and what he had done wrong. "Fear" as they say is a great motivator. Fear inevitably triggers a process of self-evaluation and introspection.
As it turned out, the president and his advisors were able to craft a strategy that took him to electoral victory. But the enduring effect of the election lies in what the president "learned" whilst he contemplated the prospect of losing the keys to the White House.
My guess is that we will see a bolder, more determined, more decisive president. It started with his election night speech—which was far more inspirational than his rather tepid speech four years ago. The president understands that he must leave behind a legacy which will serve as a lasting reminder to his supporters as to why they voted for him.
Foremost, Obamacare must be that "legacy piece". It is difficult to believe that a nation as wealthy as the United States does not have a public, universal, health-care system that mirrors that of Canada or the United Kingdom. The roadblocks that the insurance companies and Republicans placed in front of Obamacare were set aside by this week's electoral verdict. The president must move with both force and conviction to cement Obamacare into the social fabric of the United States. Just as, Canadian medicare is the lasting legacy of Tommy Douglas and the NDP, Obamacare must be seen as the lasting legacy of the president.
But that is not the end of it. There is space on the international stage for the president to play an instrumental role in two critical areas. First, the European debt crisis. With the greatest respect to the so-called "fiscal cliff" facing the USA, the European situation is a deeper crisis. In today's inter-dependent monetary environment, it is imperative that the United States, Germany, the U.K., and other allies evaluate policy options in a thoughtful, constructive, and mutually supportive fashion. It's apparent that deep cuts to social programs, massive layoffs, and sizable tax increases have eroded the chances of economic recovery in Spain, Greece, and elsewhere. A more balanced approach and engaged leadership is required.
Second, the looming crisis in Syria and Iran require the president's intervention. The U.S. has to some degree distanced itself from those matters during the months leading up to this election. But the president—who has set aside the "cowboy" like antics of George Bush—can be a formidable diplomatic force in bringing peace and stability to these nations.
This is not to say that the president should set aside an aggressive domestic agenda. There is much that he can do to change immigration laws and provide economic security to the Latino and ethnic base that provided him considerable support. There is much that he can do to enhance access to postsecondary education and further the cause of innovation, research, and development so that today's students are equipped to succeed in tomorrow's economy. And there is much he can do to tackle climate change by ploughing ahead with his agenda of clean energy, wind power, solar power, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
This past election was close because his electoral base worried that he had deviated from his messages of hope and change. Ultimately, they turned out in droves to offer him encouragement and a second mandate. The beautiful thing about politics is that sometimes you get a second chance. It will make him a better president.
Moe Sihota is the president of the B.C. NDP.