The great compromiser?

This column, it turns out, was not the most right it has ever been in predicting a Mitt Romney victory and, as you might have heard elsewhere in the media, Barack Obama is to be president for another four years. How might Obama’s second term differ from his first?

Presidents who are freed from the need to worry about re-election usually have two motivations: they can pursue their true instincts, but they also give a lot of consideration to their legacy. Some people argue that second term presidents can pursue the national interest without having to worry about grubbing for votes. There’s some truth in that, but politicians are always motivated by the national interest. They, mostly, believe in things because they believe those things are right. And a politician pursuing his true instincts may – or may not – be closer to the real interests of the nation.

Is Barack Obama better able now to pursue a grand compromise to sort out the long-term fiscal crisis facing the US now that he doesn’t need to worry about re-election? Will a president with a renewed mandate really be more willing to compromise than he was before? 

Well, maybe, but he has to make compromises with Congress, and no-one in Congress is term-limited. Most have every intention of seeking re-election. Maybe Obama is better able to compromise, but if his opponents in Congress are less flexible, is he really willing to give up enough to make such a deal? And if he is, will his party colleagues in Congress let him do so?

And why should we assume that, left to his true instincts, Obama will pursue more moderate and compromising policies than before? Such evidence as there is suggests those real instincts are further from the political center than the policies he has actually pursued. He made it clear in the Democratic debates in 2008 that his true preference in healthcare was for a single payer model. Obamacare came about after political realities had forced him to compromise.

The last president rather over-interpreted his mandate when re-elected. Bush, arguably, had a slightly better mandate. His Electoral College margin was much slimmer, but his popular vote lead was similar, and his party extended its control of Congress. His re-election was much more decisive than the 2000 nailbiter, whereas Obama lost two states he had won in 2008. 

But what, then, of the desire to pursue a legacy? Some sort of settlement of fiscal issues would certainly qualify. If a genuine long-term settlement could be achieved, it would be remembered for years.

The problem with such an objective is that the president will naturally fear that any compromise he made would not turn out to be a long-term deal. He could abandon his own preferences for the sake of a deal only for his opponents, or his successors in his own party, to subsequently break the deal. Budgets are only agreed for a year at a time.

The great in-built advantage that liberals have in these debates is the notion of ‘entitlements’ – the idea that spending on certain programs continues forever unless Congress changes the law. To compromise on this would be to give away a lot. And, yet, without at least some movement on that question he will not secure a deal.

Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at


  1. Look at the picture here of Obama. Let’s go back to the elieoctn of 1948. Truman ran against the do-nothing Congress and Dewey’s image as the little man on the wedding cake. All the Republican House has to do is pass multiple bills ending Obama regulations and rescinding Obamacare authorizations which the Senate can reject or pass on to Obama. Obama can take over Dewey’s image as a Black figurine on a overly costly wedding cake. The figurine can stand motionless watching the debt clock move up the debt. The figurine can stand next to one of the Rev. Wright with Marriage of convenience and common goals. . Or the figurine can stand next to one of Michelle with a banner Let them eat cake while we splurge. Or there can be two Obama figurines holding hands on a cake with My only true love lasts forever.

  2. It\’s posts like this that make sruinfg so much pleasure

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