Battered yet still popular after a bruising first term, US President Barack Obama was to raise his right hand yesterday to be sworn in for another four years as the leader of a country that is, perhaps, as politically and socially divided as at any time since the US Civil War more than 150 years ago.
When Obama first took office as the 44th US president, many Americans hoped the symbolism of the first black man in the White House was a turning point in the country’s deeply troubled racial history. He vowed to moderate the animus that was engulfing the country, but, four years later, the nation is only more divided.
Obama guided the country through many crushing challenges after taking office in 2009: ending the Iraq war, putting the Afghan war on a course toward US withdrawal and saving the collapsing economy. He won approval for a sweeping healthcare overhaul. Yet onerous problems remain and his success in resolving them will define his place in history.
He faces fights with opposition Republicans over gun control, avoiding a default on the US’ debts, cutting the spiraling federal deficit and preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapon.
Obama began his second term at noon yesterday, the date and time specified by law. He was to take his oath in a simple White House ceremony and today, he will repeat the oath and give his inaugural speech on the steps of the US Capitol before hundreds of thousands of people. He is then to make the traditional journey down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.
Americans increasingly see Obama as a strong leader, someone who stands up for his beliefs and is able to get things done, a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press showed.
The survey found he had a 52 percent job approval rating, among the highest rankings since early in his presidency. His personal favorability, 59 percent, has rebounded from a low of 50 percent during last year’electoral campaign.
Domestic issues, notably the economy and healthcare, dominated Obama’s first term, but there were also critical international issues that could define his next four years.
The president may have to decide whether to launch a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, something he is loath to do. Washington and its allies believe Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, though Tehran says its program is intended for producing electricity.
Obama has vowed to keep Iran from crossing the line to nuclear-armed status, but insists there is still time for diplomacy. However, Israel is pressuring him to take military action sooner rather than later.
Obama will also have to deal with the civil war in Syria, Israel-Palestinian tensions, a chill in relations with Russia and a series of maritime disputes in Asia. The administration has long talked of making a “pivot” toward Asia after the US has directed much of its energy to the Middle East in the past decade.
Yet, as Obama has begun setting the course for his second term, the political battles at home continue to dominate his attention. He faces tough opposition from Republicans, especially from among its Tea Party wing — lawmakers determined to shrink government and reduce the taxes.
A fight is brewing on the need for US Congress to raise the limit on US borrowing. Republicans now plan to avoid a fight in the short term, but they will raise the issue again before the summer and will again demand steep spending cuts to reduce the government’s debt. Obama has said he will not allow them to hold the US’ economy hostage.
Beyond the debt-ceiling debate are other big budget fight such as the looming automatic cuts to defense and domestic programs, originally scheduled for Jan. 1, that will kick in in late winter unless Congress and the president act. In addition, the US budget runs dry in March, leading again to a potential shutdown unless both sides agree on new legislation.