Have you noticed President Obama recently? There is something different about him ever since he won re-election. No, I’m not talking about the fact that he looks older than when he took office. It’s something that comes with being the first Democratic president since Roosevelt to win elections by more than 51% twice: Swagger. You saw it in his post-election press conference and the way he handled the fiscal cliff fight at the end of 2012. He might as well have this song playing when he walks on stage. And it’s a good thing he has this new attitude because there are some real battles and challenges ahead.
Next week’s State of the Union address will provide the President his first real opportunity to lay out his policy agenda for his second term. Assuming there is no drama (like, I don’t know, someone rudely interrupting him) this speech will be a clear and crucial step is setting the agenda for the next few months. There are two things we know for sure that he is going to talk about: guns and immigration reform.
After the tragedy at Newtown, there is, for the first time in decades, real momentum around doing something about gun violence in this country. Public support is strong for government action on things like universal background checks and limits on magazine rounds. In addition to spurring people to action, Newtown has shed a light on the gun violence that happens on a daily occurrence in this country; violence that often goes unnoticed in urban neighborhoods by the rest of society. The killing of Hadiya Pendleton last week in Chicago – a promising young woman who had just marched in President Obama’s inauguration – received national attention that maybe it wouldn’t have a year ago. So despite the NRA’s bluster, I remain optimistic that something will be done here.
The debate over comprehensive immigration reform will also be front and center in the coming weeks. After years of talk and promises, something may finally be done on this issue, and you can thank the results of the 2012 election for making that happen. The Latino vote showed up and made their voice heard. They weren’t going to sit by and let the right demonize them and block any movement on reform. And it seems like Republicans actually listened; you see moderate and reasoned legislative proposals coming from some of them – it’s enough to give me hope! That’s not to say that there won’t be strong opposition, especially in the House. And don’t be fooled by outside groups trying to pit Blacks against Latinos. They don’t have your best interests at heart, trust.
These two issues alone would be enough to tie up an entire legislative session, but there are countless other pressing issues that Congress and the President will have to deal with. There’s a budget battle, with the looming threat of a government shutdown on the horizon. Republicans seem to think that folks won’t care if the government shuts down for a while, but they must have short term memories. It didn’t work out so well for them last time. And considering that a disproportionate percentage of government workers are African American, a shutdown hurts us more than others.
In addition, there is the persistent problem on unemployment in this country. And as we all know, the unemployment rate for Blacks has been consistently higher than that of all other races for decades. The President put forward the American Jobs Act last year, but Congress predictably blocked it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he proposed another jobs bill in the coming months.
These next few months will be a challenge for President Obama, despite the wind at his back from the election results. He faces an opposition still smarting from November and from the President’s deft handling of the fiscal cliff fight. Hopefully the few moderate voices left will finally force the extremes to the side so some real work can get done for the American people. We’ll see.