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We may see more ‘flexible’ Obama during second term

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT

WASHINGTON – Remember when President Barack Obama whispered to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in March that he would have more “flexibility” after his November re-election? Oops, the microphone was on during that private conversation; we heard it. It was one of those red-hot moments for the president during a nuclear security summit in Seoul, South Korea.

Now, that the United States’ red-hot election is official, Obama has gained that coveted second term in the White House, defeating Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

So, what will Obama do with his agenda? What should he do? Does he have any energy left after such a contentious campaign battle? And how will he be received the second time around?

Lanny Davis, who served as White House special counsel to President Bill Clinton, has great expectations for Obama’s second term. “I expect the Senator Obama and the man who ran for president in 2008 to come back,” said Davis, who also served on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board for President George W. Bush. “That’s the man from the center who is a uniter.”

Davis believes Barack Obama Act II will be similar to Bill Clinton Act II — minus a Monica Lewinsky scandal, of course. Without the specter of another re-election hovering, Obama essentially will be a free man. “You will see a better Barack Obama because he won’t have to worry about pleasing his own base. He can do his own thing.

“In his second term, President Clinton passed the welfare reform act with the Republicans, and he balanced the budget with Newt Gingrich.”

Those actions were opposed by Clinton’s liberal base.

Obama likely will face even more daunting economic challenges during his second term. Alex Brill, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, and a former member of President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, says Obama should curb massive spending and focus on deficit control.

Brill offered this advice: “Every one of the last four years, our country has seen deficits over $1 trillion, and the fiscal outlook remains stark. President Obama’s . . . best option for promoting economic growth will be to strive for solutions that are sustainable over the long run. Unlike the president’s stimulus legislation, we need long-term solutions that reduce entitlement spending and establish a tax code that doesn’t distort choices and slow growth.”

As for the “fiscal cliff” — also known as the package of major tax hikes and spending cuts that are scheduled to be implemented on New Year’s Day unless a deal is consummated — Brill says a “failure to act will push the economy into recession in 2013. I hope Democrats recognize the fragile state of the current economy and the danger posed by failure to resolve the ‘fiscal cliff’ this fall. With regard to taxes, it’s not more cuts that we need. It’s a better tax system that we need.”

Like Davis, Roger Wilkins, the nation’s first black assistant attorney general in the U.S. Justice Department, sees tangible signs for increased optimism during Obama’s second term. Wilkins believes Obama’s survival skills will produce a philosophical dictum that will embolden his leadership status with the American people. In other words, Obama has gained much-needed cachet as a result of weathering a blistering campaign challenge from Romney and the Republicans.

“I think people will recognize what he’s gone through in order to get his second term,” says the 80-year-old Wilkins, who served in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration from 1965-68. “He’s proven to the American people that he has the backbone to stand up to the biggest battering in the history of presidential politics.”

Peter Morici doesn’t offer a rosy picture on the four-year economic outlook of GDPs and CPIs. Morici, the guy with the glasses and bow tie who appears on numerous financial TV shows, is a professor of economics at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith’s School of Business.

He predicts there will be a quick uptick in the economy after the election and into the spring, but it will be short-lived. “The prospects for an improved economy are not there,” Morici says. “What he proposes is the same old Obama. What he’s tried hasn’t worked.

“I fault him for not trying different things, new things.”

The bottom line: Morici believes Obama had enough time in his first term to make an economic difference. “Our growth rate should be better than 1.5 to 2 percent,” Morici says. “It should be 4 to 5 percent.”

Growth means jobs. Morici says the economy must create 350,000 to 400,000 jobs per month in the next three years just to reduce the unemployment rate to 6 percent. “And we can’t have a new recession,” he added.

Davis says Obama’s second term should begin with a unification quest. “You begin bargaining to unify the country,” he says. “With your liberal views, you try to find a consensus. You ask the other side, ‘Where are you willing to go to find that sweet spot?’ And you work a deal from there.”

With that, perhaps Obama soon will reach across the aisle to Republicans and utilize that self-expressed “flexibility” quotient.

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