In 2008, President Obama inherited an economy that was nearly as history making as his election. He's had some significant legislative achievements in the past four years, but because of the economy's slow recovery, coupled with the resistance he faced from Congress, a question mark hovered above him throughout the campaign about whether he deserved another four.
Based on Tuesday's election results, voters abundantly believe he does. But now the bigger question is: Will they finally see the change they've been waiting for or will a second term be more of the same?
"You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours," the president said in his acceptance speech. "And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together: reducing our deficit; reforming our tax code; fixing our immigration system; freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We've got more work to do."
Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings believes that with fewer moderate Republicans in both chambers of Congress, there could be more obstacles. But hope springs eternal and he also believes there may be a greater spirit of cooperation. Because Obama won't be running for office again, he noted, "Republicans won't have to spend their time working hard to make sure he's not re-elected."
More important, in Cummings' view, is that his re-election will be considered a mandate, given all that he has overcome, from voter suppression efforts around the nation to a jobless rate of 7.9 percent.
"The public will have grown tired of Congress not resolving issues on their behalf and demand that there be cooperation," Cummings told BET.com.
But even if Republicans bring the same-old same-old to the next session of Congress, the Maryland lawmaker predicts that Obama will be bolder and more assertive.
"We've already seen that when he tried hard to extend an olive branch to the Republicans, they slapped it out of his hand. He now has no alternative but to spend more time going to the public, pushing his case for improving the economy," Cummings said, which he hopes will include a stronger African American or urban agenda.
Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, agrees. Citing the saying, "If you tell me how much you will take, I'll tell you how much you'll get," Cleaver suggested to BET.com that Obama should not be so compromising the second time around, which in the past has been a source of frustration for Democrats.
"Sometimes [Republicans] had him over the proverbial barrel, but I don't think it's any secret that House Democrats wanted him in a number of instances to stand tall and not back up," Cleaver said.
But according to Cummings, there will be a chorus of more liberal and progressive voices on Capitol Hill empowering and supporting Obama, in much the same way that tea party lawmakers have used their voices to push a far-right agenda.
"It's time for our progressive voices to become louder, demanding fair treatment of issues like Social Security and Medicare and jobs for those who've suffered substantial jobless rates," he said, adding that they will be freer to do so without having to worry that they're a threat to Obama's re-election.
It is rare for a majority of appointees to stay on for a second term. Their jobs are not only extraordinarily demanding of their time but often also less lucrative than work in the private sector. Their moving on enables a president to fine-tune his team, which Cummings said may give Obama an opportunity to build one that's "more diverse and reflective of the country and its viewpoints."
"Sometimes you don't know what you need until you've been through the experience," Cummings said. "I expect in a second term we'll see a lot more boldness."
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(Photo: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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