The celebration continues as President Obama has been re-elected to a second term. The country has narrowly avoided the catastrophe known as President Mitt Romney and the Ryan budget, and African-Americans are proud to have re-elected the nation’s first black president to a second term.
So what can the president’s African-American base expect from a second term?
Chances are that it won’t be much different than the first term, considering the House is still in control of Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), but that doesn’t mean that a lame duck President Obama won’t be able to do anything to help the black community.
President Obama’s closing argument during the campaign reflects a stronger, wiser president that isn’t going into this second term with the rose-colored glasses of bipartisanship.
In 2008, the president ran on hope and change and entered the White House as an historic figure with historic pressures.
Now that the country has had four years highs and lows, Obama isn’t looking to his adversaries for help to get things done in Washington.
Obama seems much more aware that if Republicans don’t want to work with his administration in the second term then, that’s fine, but he will fight for working families without them.
At a certain point, the Republican party recalibrating after an embarrassing and yet extremely predictable loss for the White House, will become fractured and the handful of moderates left will make an effort to an actual constitutional oath of participating in the governance of the country.
Aside from the coming fiscal cliff, there are two stand out issues that President Obama could focus on in a second term: poverty and the Supreme Court.
With more people living in poverty than ever before, President Obama has a unique opportunity to force the Republican party to work on anti-poverty measures or face an even more uphill climb to winning national elections every again. More and more of the middle class are falling into poverty and many African-Americans are facing the same struggles, drowning in debt and unable to make any headway.
President Obama’s voice is not only needed to begin this conversation in a second term, it’s essential. The nation’s first African-American president is uniquely suited to speak on these issues, being able to relate more than other presidents to those American families who live paycheck to paycheck and struggle for years and years to pay back student loan debt.
Both the president and first lady could be vocal advocates for anti-poverty programs, unlike those from the previous War on Poverty, that actually help the poor, instead of scapegoating them in a debate over government spending.
Another area where President Obama’s victory will be critical for the next generation is how many vacancies open up on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The under-reported and yet most important aspect of an Obama victory over Mitt Romney is the future civil and women’s rights will no longer be at risk under a staunchly conservative Court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, will likely be the first to retire during Obama’s second term and the president will likely replace the long time liberal justice with another liberal. The key shift will come when and if another of the older male justices retire.
The most likely of which is Justice Stephen Breyer, age 74, and another left-leaning justice. If President Obama truly wants to impact his legacy in a big way he will choose a black woman to replace Justices Ginsburg or Breyer. While symbolic in nature, the impact of the president nominating the nation’s first African-American woman to the Court cannot be overstated. This would contribute to President Obama’s long lasting legacy, appointing three women to the nation’s highest court.
While essential to avoid setting the country civil rights progress back 50 years, African-Americans shouldn’t have high expectations for an Obama second term.
Without a Democratic House or a Republican party willing to work with the president at all, change will again be slow in a second term, if any change is even possible.
The historic importance of changing the narrative around poverty and federal programs which directly impact people of color can and should be on the agenda for a second term; that shift will be important and could force the radicals out of the Republican party’s decision-making ranks.
And while not necessarily the hope and change promised on the campaign trail five years ago, the narrative around poverty and working people combined with the protection of the Court’s progressive accomplishments is still plenty to look forward to over the next four years.
Progress is progress.
Follow Zerlina Maxwell at @ZerlinaMaxwell