It’s finally official, but hardly surprising. Barack Obama wants another term.
Few people in Washington expected anything different. But Obama’s announcement Monday by Web video does mark the official start of the 2012 campaign—one that's been off to a slow start among Republicans. Obama, with all the trappings of the presidency, has an advantage with travel, name recognition, and the lack of a dirt-digging primary opponent. And polls show him besting several GOP challengers. But his assembled team building the re-election infrastructure in Chicago won’t be taking many chances. Based on the murmurings of administration officials and the expectations of White House reporters, here’s a look at the arguments Obama is likely to make for four more years.
We’re Fixing the Economy Last week’s economic report showed an unemployment rate continuing to fall— incredibly slowly. It’s not good enough, but it still is progress, Obama will say. Defending the actions the administration took—especially the $987 billion Recovery Act—will fall to Joe “the stimulus sheriff” Biden, who will be fortified by a team of crack researchers preparing colorful graphs showing lines with positive slopes. Obama the president had trouble arguing the hypothetical that “we’d be worse off if I did nothing,” but Obama the candidate might have better luck. Any Republican will publicly doubt him, but would only be able to offer the same hypothetical that he or she would have done any better.
Have You Heard About Health Care? Most partisans either love or hate Obama’s controversial policies. But some of the independents who occupy the valuable middle ground can still be swayed. Don’t know what to think about health care reform? Here, look at this video about a family it saved from disaster. Doubt the success of the auto bailout? Read this story about GM bouncing back. From the stimulus to the war in Libya, Obama’s oppo researchers will be armed with reasoned explanations in snazzy multimedia packaging.
Look at the Debt Clock Seriously, look at it long and hard. Obama is likely to embrace the problems posed by the annual deficit and long-term debt, laboring to show that he’s more concerned about America’s fiscal issues than his GOP challenger. But the difference between them, Obama’s team will say, is his level-headed approach to solving them. Where someone like Paul Ryan wants to cut $4 trillion dollars over the next decade by taking a knife to Medicare and Medicaid, Obama may head toward the more populist ground that we can’t turn our backs on our seniors—and will hope to pick up their votes.
A second term gives the president significant leeway to move beyond fear of re-election, and Obama’s team will woo the party base and valuable donors with a new list of wants.
Second Term, No Strings Attached George W. Bush staked his re-election on the rationale that “you don’t change horses midstream.” Obama’s will be something akin to “so much more to get done.” A second term gives the president significant leeway to move beyond fear of re-election, and Obama’s team will woo the party base and valuable donors with a new list of wants: Immigration reform that is fair and works. Energy and climate policies that actually have teeth. Gun control that makes sense and solves perennial problems. Even with an unfriendly Congress, Obama could still use things like executive orders and signing statements to install new policies—something the president won’t directly say, but will intimate.
Change Takes Time The old “hope” and “change” campaign message was the work of senior adviser David Plouffe, who’s now in the West Wing to retrofit the message. When Republicans hammer Obama by pointing out that Washington is more dysfunctional than ever, the president’s team will hit back with a simple message: patience. Campaign volunteers will be given a list of ways Obama has made Washington more open and transparent, like posting White House visitor logs online, speedier responses to Freedom of Information Act requests, and the administration’s Open Government Directive. But the big change doesn’t happen in two years. In fact, they’ll say, it takes more than four.
Daniel Stone is Newsweek's White House correspondent. He also covers national energy and environmental policy.