The final two-plus years of the Obama presidency look to be a torturous obstacle course with little or nothing to be accomplished and repeated attempts to roll back those legislative pieces that are already in place. The 2014 election appears bleak for Democrats, who may even lose control of the Senate. The resulting Congress is almost certain to be even more recalcitrant in working with President Barack Obama than the current one.
However, Walter Isaacson in TIME magazine writes of an Obama legacy and even points to an agenda for Obama's final two years.
Isaacson cites two major achievements as central to an Obama legacy: the restoration of the country's financial system and making health care accessible to all Americans.
He doesn't mention any foreign policy achievements, and it is difficult to find anything specific to point to at this time as a positive and lasting development. Yet I would still contend that the next two years offer real possibilities for progress, and should the Senate go Republican, foreign affairs may be the one area where Obama might have the greatest possibility for making some lasting contributions.
A nuclear pact with Iran is well within the realm of possibility. Progress with Russian relations and a stronger government in Ukraine could well happen. A more stable Iraq with a new and more unified government is achievable and could foster some success in reining in the Islamic State militant group. Even progress toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians is not impossible. Both sides are already beginning to realize they cannot remain in a perpetual state of war. In short, the world could actually look better and more stable two years from now than it does now. There could even be a viable Obama Doctrine.
Getting back to domestic issues, Isaacson makes clear that restoring the financial system will not mean a great deal if inequality, stagnant wages and continuing unemployment remain the rule. Health care is in danger from 1,000 cuts of legal and political efforts.
Herein lies the potential agenda for the president in his final two years in office. Already, inequality is becoming the rallying cry for everyone from Pope Francis to Paul Ryan. Isaacson encourages the president to make inequality the focal point of the remainder of his term. Americans believe if you work hard, you should be able to feed your family and earn a decent living. Highlighting the fact that this is no longer true in America is a direction Obama should pursue.
As far as health care is concerned, the suggestion is that the president might consider a state-by-state tour, fighting to preserve access to health care for all Americans. I believe the failure of so many states to provide health care to its needy citizens even though the money already exists to do so is a disgrace. If a clear message is given, I believe Americans would respond to the injustice. Americans don't want to give up benefits they have already received. When Obama is taken out of the equation, most Americans agree with what the Affordable Care Act offers the American people.
My concern is whether or not this president still has what it takes to pursue such an agenda effectively over the next two years. Isaacson notes that the easiest course of action for him would be to accept the fact that Congress will do nothing and therefore to just sit above the fray and ride out the next two years, then return to Chicago and get on with his life. There are times in the recent past when it appeared to me that Obama is willing to do exactly that. He seems tired, frustrated, and wary of wrangling with an obstructionist Congress.
Yet I agree with Isaacson that there remains much good that can still be done. Obama owes it to those who voted for him and believed in him, as well as those who didn't, to continue to give everything he has to the job. He also owes it to his country to roll up his sleeves and continue to work for the things he believes in until the end of his term, no matter how much criticism he may get from those who remain hostile. Nothing else will be good enough.