Obama's Failed Second Term?

At the moment, President Obama is juggling three different legislative priorities—a gun control bill, a budget agreement, and comprehensive immigration reform. Of the three, only the latter has any chance at passing Congress, and that depends on whether Republicans see themselves as winning any advantage from agreeing to the legislation. At Bloomberg View, Ramesh Ponnuru looks at the situation, and—based on the scant odds for success in each case—concludes that Obama’s second term has already failed.

He argues that “liberal policy gains have been sparse,” and that while liberals can “celebrate the rapidly increasing support for same-sex marriage,” it doesn’t have much to do with Obama. Ultimately, concludes Ponnuru, “It doesn’t look like he’s going to do much to advance” the “ambitious liberal agenda” presented in his inaugural and State of the Union addresses.

All of this is correct on the facts, but it strikes me as a narrow view of Obama’s second term goals. Yes, the White House wants movement on taxes, gun control, immigration reform and—additionally—climate change. And yes, odds are best that Obama will only get one of the four. But those aren’t his only aims for the next few years. More than anything, Obama’s second term will be devoted to securing the major accomplishments of his first: Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act. And in the case of the latter, full implementation promises to transform the landscape of American health care. It almost doesn’t matter if nothing else passes over the next four years; if Obamacare is successfully implemented, it will stands as a Rooseveltian triumph for its namesake.

Which is to say that Obama’s second term is only unsuccessful (thus far) if you limit your scope to legislation. If you expand it to his full priorities, things still look good. And if there’s anything that can derail this trajectory, it’s next year’s midterm elections. A Republican Party with full control of Congress is also one that can cause more trouble for the administration in almost all arenas of government, from setting the national agenda, to hampering implementation and blocking appointments. In which case, then you could say Obama’s second term is looking bleak.