It is no cliché to note that while all presidents ardently desire second terms, they are more often a curse than a blessing. Most of those who have been elected twice in the last century have seen their presidencies run aground for various reasons. George W. Bush had Katrina and the Iraq quagmire. Bill Clinton had Monica Lewinsky and impeachment. Ronald Reagan had Iran Contra. Richard Nixon had Watergate. Lyndon Johnson had Vietnam. Amid the pomp and hope of new beginnings of a second inauguration day always lurk the threat of unseen or dimly understood disasters that sink presidents who leave the presidency as wounded lame ducks worn down by the cares of office. That’s the challenge facing Barack Obama after being sworn in today for another four years in office.
The president’s opponents can comfort themselves after their shocking defeat last November with the thought that he will inevitably be capsized by the usual second term nightmares that have brought down his predecessors. But that is an assumption, not an argument. Throughout his career Obama has often defied the laws of political gravity and it is by no means impossible that he should do so again. If the economy actually begins a recovery or he is able to pass some kind of immigration reform or a gun control package and begin the process of reforming entitlements while avoiding foreign disasters, Obama could be that rare species of president who does not spend his second term explaining failures or scandals. That’s a tall order, but amid clear signs of future disaster, the president does have some factors that would argue in favor of his success.