When Barack Obama takes his second oath of office as president Monday, he will be pledging to lead a country very different from the one he took the helm of four years ago.
The hope his campaign promised permeated the air in January 2009 when he first took office, with the notion the next four years would be unlike any we’d ever seen.
That was true – but perhaps not the way it had been imagined.
The recession made unemployment and property foreclosures rates soar. We witnessed the bailout of the auto industry while millions struggled to survive day-to-day. Recovery has been shaky.
We lost more than 1,400 troops since January 2009 in wars including Iraq and Afghanistan.
Politics rose to a new, ferociously partisan level, with the conservative tea party and the liberal Occupy Wall Street representing vastly differing viewpoints. More money was spent in elections than ever before, but the same let’s-get-dirty-during-the-campaign tactics that define our political system were apparent as ever.
Droughts, hurricanes, snow and tornadoes left death and destruction as they stormed their way throughout the country. There were tragedies beyond comprehension, including the assassination attempt on a member of Congress and the murder of 20 schoolchildren.
We could fill the entire editorial page with defining events of the past four years, and still leave some out.
There were triumphs and moments of happiness and grace, too. But to say the hope promised four years ago was delivered would be a stretch.
Yet Inauguration Day contains an inherent element of hope. It is a new beginning, and an opportunity to refocus and reset goals. Obama will grasp onto that in his speech, which will no doubt be stirring and lay out a promising plan for the next four years. But presidents are defined by what they do, not what they say.
If there’s a promise Obama needs to make – and keep – this term, it’s to be a builder. He needs to be the chief architect of a budget blueprint that will put the country on a stable financial path.
To accomplish that, Obama needs to build coalitions in Congress so compromise is achievable. And he needs to build trust and faith with the American people, so that when the sacrifice demanded of its citizens come, they understand it’s for the good of all.
It’s going to be a painful process. It might require raising taxes. It certainly will require significant decreases in government spending, perhaps even eliminating entire programs.
A serious discussion on the need for a constitutional amendment requiring an annual balanced budget is warranted, because figuring out how to balance the budget is necessary if we are to leave a brighter fiscal picture for future generations.