Ever since he electrified the 2004 Democratic National Convention with a keynote speech, Barack Obama of Chicago had been marked as a man who might be destined for the White House. Destiny was fulfilled sooner than expected. The then-Illinois senator, a first-termer, was introduced to the next convention four years later as the nominee after a brutal series of primaries that saw him overcome candidates that included Hillary Clinton, the accomplished first lady who now is his secretary of state.
Now Obama seeks a second term, having weathered some early problems dealing with his own Democrats when they controlled Congress, and then running into a brick wall in a Republican-run House.
Yet despite congressional Republicans who vowed to make their first priority his defeat at all costs, the president has accomplished much in his first term.
Obamas policies, including his economic stimulus efforts, have helped to reduce unemployment and create jobs, and in many parts of the country (including urban North Carolina) even the housing market is improving. There is hope. If one doesnt believe it, ask workers in the auto industry, many of whose jobs were saved because of policies backed by the Obama White House.
Contrary to what his most vitriolic critics say, President Obama has much of which to be proud in this first term, and it goes beyond the catch phrase, The auto industry is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead.
Harry Truman, and virtually all presidents since, have talked about health care changes. Obama, in a painful fight, managed to go beyond talk, with a reform act that will likely put the vast majority of Americans under health insurance by 2014. Children with pre-existing conditions have been helped already, as have seniors, as have families who are allowed to keep adult children under 26 on their own policies.
Obama did give the order to eliminate the dangerous terror leader bin Laden in a risky commando operation. He has offered more benefits for veterans and incentives for businesses to hire them. The U.S. is out of Iraq and getting out of Afghanistan, in line with strategies to leave those countries responsible for their own security. The stimulus package did help people, though the deficit increased.
Thanks to Obamas effort to build relationships overseas, the United States has more influence and respect in Europe and elsewhere.
These accomplishments are all the more admirable considering the Republican House, bent on one goal and one only: getting this president out of the White House.
The president, should he win a second term, will have to move quickly on the national debt, perhaps adopting some of the recommendations on curbing the costs of entitlement programs in the Simpson-Bowles commission report. Is a financial cliff ahead? Some economists believe it is.
What is known is that the jobless rate, though it has declined, remains too high and that the president will have to address it -- again. Obama did bring a jobs bill to Congress, but Republicans, again determined to stop Obama no matter what, rejected it out of hand.
That proposal was a sort of microcosm of the endless confrontations Obama has faced with the GOP leaders in the House. If the president returns to office, one hopes Republicans will get the message, and be more open to compromise. Their own credibility, after all, has been damaged as theyve focused only on beating up the president.
Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, rose in politics as a conservative-leaning moderate. He supported a health care plan in Massachusetts, the state he served as governor, that was the model for Obamas reform plan. His views on abortion rights were in the moderate mainstream. He demonstrated some ability to work across partisan aisles.
And yet, in his campaign against conservative rivals for the GOP nomination and as the contest with Obama took shape, Romney has appeared at times to be a tea partyer, blasting Obamacare and vowing to repeal it, flirting with the privatization of Medicare and Social Security.
That wasnt working, and Romney has pivoted toward the center seeming to declare many past positions inoperative. In the last presidential debate, focused on foreign policy, he sounded positively Democratic, and hes dialed back his earlier rhetoric even on health care reform. He seems uncomfortable dealing with the radical right elements in his party, and yet he cant afford to distance himself too much.
The nominee has pegged his hopes to a pledge to create jobs, citing his record in private business. But there is a stark difference between creating wealth for oneself and others, and creating jobs. Companies often increase their profitability by squeezing out workers, or outsourcing jobs overseas.
Romney, born to privilege, also erred (though he didnt know it) with secretly recorded comments to a group of donors that 47 percent of Americans were dependent on government and perfectly happy to be so.
That the group included those on Social Security and in the military didnt seem to occur to him, and he later apologized. But it is fair to wonder if he meant what he said, the first time.
Barack Obama has no trouble relating to the concerns and ambitions of average people, for he came from a modest background. His social programs, his education agenda, his vow to cut middle-class taxes, all point to that understanding.
If re-elected, there is no reason to think that he will not continue to be concerned for the middle-class and the disadvantaged, and that his domestic focus will be on helping people who need it while strengthening the countrys economic underpinnings. Combined with a successful foreign policy, the case is strong: We believe President Obama has earned another term.