With his second inauguration, Barack Obama will become the first president since Dwight Eisenhower to renew his tenure after having won more than 51 percent of the vote in two consecutive elections.
More importantly, in a political sense, he will be the first Democrat since Franklin Delano Roosevelt to have won mandates from the majority of the American people in two consecutive elections.
This is the perspective that Americans should bring to the inaugural festivities. We should expect a great deal from Barack Obama. Despite four years of battering by Fox News and Limbaugh and the Tea Party and Mitch McConnell, he has been re-elected with a higher percentage of the popular vote than John Kennedy in 1960, Richard Nixon in 1968, Jimmy Carter in 1976, Ronald Reagan in 1980, Bill Clinton in 1992 or 1996 or George Bush in 2000 or 2004.
Obama’s mandate extends beyond himself. His party has increased its Senate majority and Democrats earned 1.4 million more votes in House races than Republicans. Gerrymandering and money kept Republican control of the House, but that opposition party is in such disarray that the president really does have an opening to make something of his mandate.
Obama must seize that opportunity as an essential part of making the case for bold executive orders and a bold legislative agenda that will bring not just the hope but the change he promised in what now seems like a very distant 2008 campaign. The president has in the transition period since the 2012 election displayed a willingness to push harder, to go bigger, and it has yielded significant progress not just on gun-safety issues but in the long struggle against the Republican austerity agenda that makes a diety of deregulating away consumer and environmental protections, tearing the social safety net and cutting taxes for wealthy campaign donors.
To consolidate that progress, and to assure that his second term will be as visionary and activist as his 2012 campaign promised, Obama must, like FDR, use every opportunity to give voice to the agenda—not just in his inaugural address but in his February 12 (Lincoln’s Birthday) State of the Union address.
To do this, the forty-fourth president would be wise to note his electoral connection to the thirty-second, as a Democrat who after a difficult first term has earned as second term with a mandate to govern. Yes, times and circumstances are different. Obama does not have the “New Deal” Congress that Roosevelt did, but neither does he face quite the economic challenge that FDR did.
But Obama’s responsibility in 2013 is the same as Roosevelt’s in 1937: the president must turn America’s attention toward its democratic vistas. He must tell the people that not just he but they have accomplished something. And that they can accomplish much, much more in the next four years.