by Jules Witcover
There is something about the start of a second presidential term that induces talk and speculation about the incumbent's eventual "legacy." Such notions are usually based on the president's accomplishments in the first term plus expectations -- or fears -- of what might yet come.
In most cases in recent times, the optimism that greeted the first term was dampened somewhat by the beginning of the second term. Bad economic times, war or other foreign policy intrusion, or some personal presidential shortcoming had taken a toll.
The two previous second-term presidents,
A gush of near-adoration marked the 2008 election of
Yet barely six months into Obama's second term, much of the bloom seems off the presidential rose despite his re-election. His prime legislative accomplishment of the first term, enactment of the Affordable Care Act (much denigrated as "Obamacare"), still faces full implementation. And danger signals for it lie ahead in the second term.
Many states appear to be balking or slow-walking the creation of the bureaucratic devices to service or lure buyers of health insurance, amid warnings of a future nightmare. Meanwhile, the Republican leaders in
The ambitious effort to enact stiffer gun control legislation sparked by the Newtown grade school tragedy could not overcome the gun lobby, even as dogged Vice President
Further fiscal cliffs loom as the mutual suicide pact labeled sequestration hangs on. At the same time, the prospects for a second-term prize of significant immigration reform have encountered House Speaker
In foreign policy, pressures have built to pull this reluctant president into a greater commitment to assist the complicated forces bent on ousting President
All this has hindered his ability to pursue his original agenda, obliged as he has been throughout his first term and now into his second to deal with the economic and foreign policy disasters he inherited. First it was digging out of the Great Recession born in part of
The one acknowledged achievement above any other was the finding and killing of
So the matter of Obama's "legacy" remains anybody's guess right now, as the sand in his presidential hourglass inexorably runs out on the three-plus years left to him in the Oval Office. He has to hope that the 2014 congressional elections will throw him a strong enough lifeline to bring him to shore in time to achieve more of what he sought in those sunny days when "Yes we can" was not yet a mockery.